- Stable (as in: does not spill).
- Solid (as in: is not liquid or gel, for air travel).
- Sturdy (as in: does not smush).
- Can be served at room temperature. (The fewer demands you put on the host’s kitchen, the better.)
- Won’t spoil easily. (You can use a cooler or an insulated container, but better safe than sorry, let’s not give the entire extended family food poisoning if we can help it.)
Bread. It’s not what we necessarily think of as a Thanksgiving staple, but freshly baked rolls are an undersung Thanksgiving hero. (They’re also great to have around for leftovers sandwiches.) They can be warmed up quickly or served room-temp, and they can survive plenty of jostling as you travel. And homemade bread is impressive! Dinner rolls are a classic, but biscuits are nice and rich, and cornbread is very on-theme.Cranberry sauce. It’s crazy easy to make, and as long as you’re not beholden to the cult of the can-shaped jelly, homemade cranberry sauce is surprisingly good. You can make it classic, with bourbon and vanilla, or a million other ways. Make it ahead of time, cool it in the fridge, pop it in a high-quality Tupperware—the leak-proof kind—and you’re good to go. (Just not on as a carry-on on an airplane.) Salad. I know—Thanksgiving salad?? But when your plate is piled with rich, hot, salty, savory foods, you’ll be grateful for a bit of crispness, a little acidity on your palate (and some fiber in your guts). For travel, go with a sturdy salad that won’t wilt—an autumnal slaw or shaved Brussels sprouts, or a room-temperature roasted vegetable–based dish (transport the delicate greens separately and combine right before serving). Dessert. In the realm of sweets, cookies and bars can withstand more jostling—and are your best bet if you’re traveling by plane—but everyone knows that the real star of Thanksgiving is pie. And if you’re going to commit, you’ll want to get yourself a pie keeper and make sure it doesn’t get knocked upside-down. Provided you’re transporting it in the proper carrier—something that will really set your dessert up for success—pies are generally solid, pretty spill-proof, and good at room temperature.
Casserole. Odds are this will need to be reheated, but if your host has the oven space—or you’re traveling a short distance and can start with it hot from home—this is a huge contribution to the meal. Green bean, sweet potato, stuffing, or a nice gratin—take your pick. And get a casserole dish with a snap-on cover(and maybe even its own insulated bag!) so you’re not trusting too much to aluminum foil. You don’t want to spend Black Friday power-washing sweet potato out of the trunk of your car.