Chef Orchid Paulmeier shows off the stars of this year’s One Hot Mama’s Thanksgiving menu. COURTESY ONE HOT MAMA’S

It is crazy how we round the corner past Halloween and Thanksgiving always seems to come up on us so quickly as adults.

It’s in direct contrast to my memories of Turkey Day growing up in Maine. My mom was an amazing cook, but especially as my three older sisters became adults, I know she was bored just cooking the same old dishes for Dad and me. 

Thanksgiving was the day to step out of the box, and boy, did she ever shine. 

The day itself – and especially the slow roasting of the turkey – always felt like slow motion. We’d watch football until we were called on to be stuffing testers or to whip the mashed potatoes. This epic spread mostly just seemed to appear out of thin air. Mom always made it seem so effortless. 

Even here in the Slowcountry, it feels like a mad dash to find the right turkey and a crazy hassle to make the meal. Nailing the Thanksgiving turkey is a crowning achievement for sure – one of my favorite photos of all time is my wife, Debbie, posing with the first-ever turkey we cooked in our Bluffton home. 

It is one of the purest smiles I’ve ever seen from Deb, our first time hosting the annual family rotation after years of hitting the road for the holiday week.

For the past decade, we’ve been hosting my in-laws. Every year, Deb and I look at each other during post-bird cleanup and mouth the same words: Never. Again. 

But this is truly the first year – outside of one or two collapse of plan issues over the past 26 years that landed us at Boston Market or Cracker Barrel – that we considered having someone else cook the meal for us.

I like to consider myself up to date on most things around here, but I have to say, the shear volume of restaurants that do Thanksgiving to-go packages here is astounding. That’s likely due to the Sun City crowd that’s long since graduated past cooking on Thanksgiving, but it has been shocking to hear about folks in my generation and younger punting on the kitchen duty this year. 

I get it though. As blessed as we are down here, we’re all rushing to keep up on our collective hamster wheels of life.

We came across 46 different Turkey Day packages that offer all the trimmings for just about every size gathering you’re hosting. But what makes each of these offerings stand out? For that, we turned to our “blue ribbon panel” to whittle down their favorites of where to turn when you have the hankering for some turkey without putting on the apron.

Most of the order deadlines are around Nov. 18 this year, with some a bit earlier. Check each individual website for details.

Downtown Deli (1223 May River Road, 843-815-5005, downtowncateringcompany.com) was one of the pioneers of the concept here. Chef Ryan McCarthy prepares a dinner for two including pre-sliced turkey breast, buttery mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. The 6-to-8-person spread includes a not-cooked 10-to-14-pound herb rubbed turkey and the same set of fixin’s. Beyond that, there is an array of a la carte sides from pigs-in-a-blanket appetizers to cranberry chutney, apple and country sausage stuffing and sweet potato casserole.

Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Café (93 Arrow Road, Hilton Head Island, 843-785-9118) has been the go-to island to-go Thanksgiving spot for half a century. The Love Bird dinner for two is one of the best bang-for-the-buck feasts you will ever experience. Shrimp bisque, turkey gravy, stuffing, two stuffed spuds, green beans and oven-roasted carrots, balsamic beets, candied sweet potatoes, half dozen rolls, cranberry compote, four pieces of pie and cookie treats all included. Signe will give you an 18-pound turkey feast with a little bit more notice.

Southern Graces at Hewitt Oaks won a large number of raves from our panel, but their four-to-six-person feast is sold out already for this year. Check out southerngraces.com a few weeks earlier in 2023. 

A pair of of SERG restaurant staples also won raves from our taste testers. Orchid Paulmeier’s annual eight-person feast at One Hot Mama’s (available at both the Bluffton and Hilton Head locations, onehotmamas.com) includes fried or hickory-smoked turkey, pan gravy, cornbread and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry mandarin relish and Martin’s potato rolls. There are packages that include glazed ham and Texas beef brisket as well. 

Frankie Bones (Bluffton location only, 843-757-3423, frankiebones.com) includes a choice of salad, chicken noodle soup or butternut squash and apple soup and a 20-pound bird and three-pound portions of sides that will feed up to 12 people. 

Eats and Sweets (7752 West Main Street, Ridgeland, 843-645-0888) won a surprising number of mentions from the 278 crowd, all telling us this meal is worth the drive. There are dinner options serving six or 10 people, both include a deep-fried turkey, giblet gravy, cranberry relish, a bread choice of croissant or dinner rolls, a choice of pumpkin or sweet potato pie, and a choice of three sides that include mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing sweet potato souffle.

Chef B’s Eatz (843-405-0645, chefbseatz.com) also won multiple shoutouts from our panel. The traditional turkey meal serves up to 10 people and offers an option of an oven roasted, smoked, Southern fried or honey fried turkey. Sides include stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, candied yams, honey rolls, cranberry chutney and peach cobbler. Chef Bridgette has an array of dessert and side options available, as well as a la carte honey ham, turkey wings, oxtails, fried chicken, and sides ranging from fried oyster stuffing to collards and gumbo.

Chef Christy Pinski and her crew at Sippin Cow (843-757-5051, sippincow.com) also earned a mass of shoutouts. Her main meal offers the standards (turkey, potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread and pumpkin pie) and a la carte sides include oyster pot pie and candied bacon sweet potato.

If you’re looking for a Cajun twist, Kenny B’s French Quarter Café (843-785-3315, eatatkennybs.com) offers an eight-person package that includes a 12- to 14-pound turkey cooked with a Cajun or traditional roast, and a sides package that includes mash and gravy, mac and cheese, jambalaya, green beans, cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, cornbread, choice of gumbo or she crab soup, and choice of pumpkin or apple pie. This tends to sell out quick as well, so get to dialing if you want to go this route.

Others earning honorable mention from our panel include Da Shack (843-757-0876), Butcher’s Market (843-815-6328, butchersmarketbluffton.com), Food Savvy (843-295-3284, foodsavvyllc.com), Squat N Gobble (843-757-4242, squatngobble.com), The Sugaree (843-290-8585), Lowcountry Fresh (843-815-2780, lowcountryfresh.com), Paulie G’s Barbecue (pauliegsbbq.com), Choo Choo BBQ (843-815-7675, choochoobbq.net) and Cahill’s Market (843-757-2921, cahillsmarket.com) in Bluffton; and Lulu’s Kitchen (843-648-5858, lulukitchen-hhi.com), Whole Foods (843-842-0700), Annie O’s (843-341-2664, annieohhi.com) and Mama Joy’s Kitchen (mamajoyskitchen.com) on Hilton Head Island.

I did a story on holiday pie ordering in 2021 (see page 32 for a reprint or look it up on blufftonsun.com). Short story: Get on that today. The supplies and the window to order is even smaller there. And there are places open for in-person eating, too. That’s a whole other story, but for starters, try reservations at Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, Frankie Bone’s, Nectar Farm Kitchen, Kyra or WiseGuys.  

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. timwood@blufftonsun.com.