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Ultimate Sheet Pan Thanksgiving for Small Gatherings

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Simple, delicious, and all on one easy to clean baking dish – this Sheet Pan Thanksgiving dinner is definitely something to be thankful for!

Two baked cornish hens are placed on a sheet pan with veggies and smashed potatoes.

Shake things up this Thanksgiving with this easy to make sheet pan dinner! And if you’re a Thanksgiving purist who doesn’t want to change your traditions, that’s okay too, because this easy dinner is delicious on a normal weeknight too.

Perfectly cooked cornish hens are nestled between deliciously roasted root vegetables and salty smashed potatoes. As if that wasn’t enough, a medley of herbs and butter flavor everything to mouthwatering perfection! When it comes to sheet pan dinners that both impress yet are easy to make, this one’s the real deal.

Whether you make this sheet pan dinner as your Thanksgiving dinner or just enjoy it on a lovely Monday evening, you’re going to be so glad you used this recipe! It’s filling, nutritious, and scrumptious as can be. Plus, only one sheet pan means less clean up afterwards, and that’s ALWAYS a win in my book.

Why this sheet pan Thanksgiving works

As a table and family of two, I always find it hard to make smaller Thanksgiving meals because everything out there is geared towards large gatherings.

Of course, traditionally, that is what it is – large gatherings. However, times have shifted to smaller, more intimate gatherings. Additionally, with the pandemic last year, we couldn’t gather as large groups as we had in the past.

This sheet pan Thanksgiving is the perfect meal for small gatherings because it feeds about 4-6 people, if you add on additional Thanksgiving sides.

You can also just make this for two and it is the most filling and nourishing Thanksgiving meal! You definitely won’t miss that turkey and copious amounts of side dishes (plus all those dishes at the end of the night!)

Herbs and butter are drizzled on top of a roasted cornish hen.

What you’ll need

For the cornish hens:

  • Cornish hens – About 3 pounds each is perfect. You can usually find these birds where the frozen turkey is around holiday time or during non-holiday season, I have found it in the poultry section.
  • Veggies – A small yellow or white onion and plenty of fresh garlic.
  • Herbs – Fresh sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage are what you’ll need.
  • Olive oil – I like to use extra virgin for the best flavor.
  • Seasonings – Just a sprinkle of salt and cracked black pepper will do the trick!

The smashed potatoes call for:

  • Potatoes – I use steam in bag potatoes to keep it extra easy, but baby boil will also work.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

For the roasted veggies:

  • Carrots – Peel and slice up 4 large carrots.
  • Brussel sprouts – You’ll want to halve them, not shave or quarter them.
  • Butternut squash – This root veggie always reminds me of Fall!
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Additional ingredients you’ll love:

  • Butter – You can use salted or unsalted, whichever you prefer.
  • Garlic – I grate the garlic on a microplane zester– this helps the garlic melt into the butter.
  • Herbs – Fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage come together to create the most wonderful herbaceous medley.

Ingredient substitutions

  • You can swap out whatever roasted veggies you want. I used root veggies and brussels sprouts because they’re my favorite to roast but you can swap it out with broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, or another vegetable you like. Try to keep it to the heartier veggies and not something like tomato or mushrooms as they will have too much liquid come out and may steam your vegetables instead. If you really want to roast tomatoes or mushrooms as your vegetable side, use another sheet pan.
  • If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can use dry but you may need to use a little less because I tend to find that dried herbs (depending on brand) are more potent than fresh.
Two cornish hens are presented on a white serving plate with potatoes, root veggies and fresh herbs.

Ingredient information and tips for success

Cornish hens:

  • Cornish hens have great flavor and cook very easily! Before cooking, make sure to fully thaw the hens and remove any giblets. It also helps the skin become extra crispy if you pat the hens dry with a paper towel before adding the olive oil. 
  • Stuffing the cavity of the hen with onion, garlic, and herbs helps flavor the hen from the inside out. It also helps the hen keep its shape while roasting. Feel free to swap out whatever herbs or vegetables you have on hand– leeks, carrots, celery, parsley, or shallots are all delicious. 
  • Olive oil helps the skin brown, but also helps the salt and pepper stick to the hen. 
  • Make sure to season the hens all over with salt and pepper– I highly recommend kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Smashed potatoes:

  • I’m using steam-in-bag potatoes but you could also boil baby potatoes. The goal is to cook the potatoes until they’re fork tender so they smash easily. 
  • Olive oil helps the potatoes brown and crisp in the oven. 
  • Kosher salt seasons the potatoes and enhances their flavor. Feel free to season to taste.

Roasted vegetables:

  • I’m using multi colored carrots, butternut squash, and brussel sprouts for this sheet pan dinner but you could use any root vegetables you like– parsnips, beets, or sweet potatoes would also be delicious. The key is to cut all the vegetables into one inch pieces so they cook evenly. Like mentioned above, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans would be great alternatives as well.
  • Just like the potatoes, the olive oil helps the root vegetables brown without burning. Feel free to substitute your favorite neutral cooking oil. 
  • Salt helps bring out extra moisture in the vegetables so they caramelize in the oven. It also helps enhance their natural flavors!

Additional ingredients:

  • Butter adds great flavor to the hens, vegetables, and potatoes. It also helps all of the elements caramelize as the butter solids brown in the oven. 
  • I grate the garlic on a microplane zester– this helps the garlic melt into the butter. Minced garlic tends to burn in the oven. If you don’t have a microplane, I recommend substituting the grated garlic for one teaspoon of garlic powder. 
  • Fresh herbs are the key to a delicious Thanksgiving! I’m using a combination of my favorite poultry herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage) but feel free to use what you have on hand!

Equipment:

The key to this sheet pan dinner is to not overcrowd the pan!

We want the vegetables to roast, not steam. I’m using a half sheet USA PAN and everything fits perfectly. If you have smaller baking sheets, you may need to divide the vegetables between two sheets so they don’t get overcrowded.

You’ll also want to use a rimmed baking sheet. If yours is flat and unrimmed, you risk (in fact, you will) all juices and everything running off into the bottom of your oven and burning!

If you’re using a dark baking sheet, make sure to keep an eye on the cornish hens and vegetables as it will cook slightly faster than on a light colored baking sheet.

Root vegetables are cooked and presented next to cornish hens.

Frequently asked questions

How can I make the skin on the cornish hens crispy?

I get it – I LOVE crispy skin on both cornish hens and rotisserie chickens. It’s the best part!

Honestly, the secret for getting the crispiest skin is simple. Just thoroughly pat the chicken dry with paper towels right at the beginning of the process, and you should be good to go.

If you still desire an even crispier skin, turn on the boiler near the end of cooking to crisp and brown the skin further. You make want to remove the roasted vegetables prior to the broiling process.

Can I skip the salt with the roasted root vegetables?

If you want to keep this recipe low-sodium, salt can definitely be omitted.

However, the salt helps to caramelize the root vegetables as they roast, so you may want to consider adding just a small sprinkle to aid in that process.

How can I tell that the cornish hens are done cooking?

I would highly suggest getting a meat thermometer. My favorite is the Thermapen as it is extremely accurate and there is hardly any delay in reading.

You’ll want to stick the thermometer between the drumstick and the breast area because there’s a lot of bone there and it takes longer to cook that area. If that area reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit, you are good to go. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven; the cornish hens will continue cooking for a bit so if you leave it in the oven further, you risk drying out the hen.

I am not suggesting this (do what you feel is comfortable), but I have often pulled out my hens when their internal temperature is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit because I know while they rest, they still cook and I don’t want to dry out my meat. This is just me and again, I am not suggesting you do this, especially if you don’t want to risk any food borne illness.

Two cornish hens are presented on one half of a baking sheet with potatoes and root veggies on the other half.

Wash that sheet pan, because you’ll want to use it again soon!

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Sheet Pan Thanksgiving

The ultimate Thanksgiving recipe for small gatherings! Made all on one sheet pan, you will be so thankful hardly any dishes!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 4
Author: Julie Chiou
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Ingredients 

For the Cornish Hens:

  • 2 Cornish Hens, about 3 pounds each
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sprigs sage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

For the Smashed Potatoes

  • ½ pound steam-in-bag potatoes, see ingredient notes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Roasted Root Vegetables

  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1” pieces
  • ½ pound brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1 ½ cups butternut squash, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Additional Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated (see ingredient notes)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage, minced

Instructions

For the Cornish Hens (75 minutes before serving)

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F. Create a foil bowl that is ⅓ the size of your sheet pan, making sure it is large enough to hold the cornish hens.
  • Remove any giblets from the cornish hens and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  • Add half of the onion, two cloves of garlic, and one sprig of thyme, rosemary, and sage to the cavity of each hen.
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the skin of each hen and rub it evenly over to coat.
  • Sprinkle over the salt and pepper, making sure to coat the hen evenly.
  • Tuck the wings under the hen and secture the legs with kitchen twine. Place the hens breast side up in the foil bowl on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the sides.

For the Smashed Potatoes (while the hens roast)

  • Microwave the potatoes according to the box directions, just until they’re tender.
  • Allow the potatoes to cool enough for you to handle them. Wrap the potatoes in a towel and smash them gently– just until they’ve burst open. You want to keep them intact as much as possible!
  • Set the smashed potatoes aside until ready to use.
  • For the Roasted Root Vegetables (while the hens roast)
  • In a large bowl, combine the carrots, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, olive oil, and kosher salt.
  • Set aside until ready to use.

Final Roast (60 minutes before serving)

  • Remove the hens from the oven and add the smashed potatoes and root vegetables, making sure to spread them out so they roast not steam. Drizzle the smashed potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  • Roast for an additional 15 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and flip the smashed potatoes and vegetables.
  • In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, grated garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Brush ⅓ of the mixture over the cornish hens and drizzle the remaining butter over the root vegetables and smashed potatoes.
  • Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are golden brown and the internal temperature of the hens reaches 165°F on an instant read thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and baste the hens with juices from the pan. Allow the hens to sit for 10 minutes before carving or serving.
  • This sheet pan can be kept warm in a 200°F oven for up to 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

Ingredient Notes – Cornish Hens

Cornish hens have great flavor and cook very easily! Before cooking, make sure to fully thaw the hens and remove any giblets. It also helps the skin become extra crispy if you pat the hens dry with a paper towel before adding the olive oil.
Stuffing the cavity of the hen with onion, garlic, and herbs helps flavor the hen from the inside out. It also helps the hen keep its shape while roasting. Feel free to swap out whatever herbs or vegetables you have on hand– leeks, carrots, celery, parsley, or shallots are all delicious.
Olive oil helps the skin brown, but also helps the salt and pepper stick to the hen.
Make sure to season the hens all over with salt and pepper– I highly recommend kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Ingredient Notes – Smashed Potatoes

I’m using steam-in-bag potatoes but you could also boil baby potatoes. The goal is to cook the potatoes until they’re fork tender so they smash easily.
Olive oil helps the potatoes brown and crisp in the oven.
Kosher salt seasons the potatoes and enhances their flavor. Feel free to season to taste.

Ingredient Notes – Roasted Root Vegetables

I’m using multi colored carrots, butternut squash, and brussel sprouts for this sheet pan dinner but you could use any root vegetables you like– parsnips, beets, or sweet potatoes would also be delicious. The key is to cut all the vegetables into one inch pieces so they cook evenly.
Just like the potatoes, the olive oil helps the root vegetables brown without burning. Feel free to substitute your favorite neutral cooking oil.
Salt helps bring out extra moisture in the vegetables so they caramelize in the oven. It also helps enhance their natural flavors!

Ingredient Notes – Additional Ingredients

Butter adds great flavor to the hens, vegetables, and potatoes. It also helps all of the elements caramelize as the butter solids brown in the oven.
I grate the garlic on a microplane zester– this helps the garlic melt into the butter. Minced garlic tends to burn in the oven. If you don’t have a microplane, I recommend substituting the grated garlic for one teaspoon of garlic powder.
Fresh herbs are the key to a delicious Thanksgiving! I’m using a combination of my favorite poultry herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage) but feel free to use what you have on hand!

Equipment Notes

The key to this sheet pan dinner is to not overcrowd the pan! We want the vegetables to roast, not steam. I’m using a half sheet USA PAN and everything fits perfectly. If you have smaller baking sheets, you may need to divide the vegetables between two sheets so they don’t get overcrowded.

YOUR NOTES

NUTRITION FACTS

Serving: 1 serving | Calories: 726 kcal | Carbohydrates: 33 g | Protein: 44 g | Fat: 47 g | Saturated Fat: 11 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 24 g | Cholesterol: 230 mg | Sodium: 2551 mg | Potassium: 1481 mg | Fiber: 7 g | Sugar: 8 g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: thanksgiving entrees, thanksgiving recipes
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