When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, most would agree the roast turkey is the star of the table. But what about the accoutrements? You know, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potato casserole, the stuffing, and the cranberry sauce… These dishes are no less important. And while most people are pretty cool with turkey, which Thanksgiving side reigns supreme is the subject of much debate.
In the South, no Thanksgiving is complete without corn pudding and bacon-infused Brussels sprouts. Midwesterners love their green bean casserole, and no New England table is complete without Parker House rolls. But beyond the regional divide, some folks will pile their plate with candied yams and glazed carrots while the person sitting next to them at the table will feel like that is a waste of some much-needed macaroni and cheese space.
In a world where not all side dishes are created equal, which one truly reigns supreme?
To find out, The Daily Meal looked at our list of essential Thanksgiving sides and put them on the table (figuratively) and debated our favorites. Some were passionate about sweet potato casserole, while others thought they were unnecessary when pumpkin pie is for dessert. Others were steadfast in their defense of Brussels sprouts, and some found them too mundane for a meal as special as Thanksgiving. But there were a few sides we all agreed were beloved must-haves for Thanksgiving. And the result of our debate is our ultimate ranking of Thanksgiving sides.
Different families have different vegetables that are on the Thanksgiving table. Some opt for roasted root vegetables, like parsnip or beets. Others go for family-friendly options like broccoli or cauliflower. No matter what vegetable is on your Thanksgiving plate, take the minimum amount. You can have veggies with your chicken or steak any ol’ day of the year. This is Thanksgiving, and it demands something spectacular!
Sure, candied yams are easy and delicious, but they can be quite redundant. Between sweet potato casserole and sweet potato pie, this vegetable is well represented on the table. You don’t need something this #basic for Thanksgiving.
We swear! We don’t hate vegetables. It’s just hard to get excited about them for Thanksgiving. At least glazed carrots add a lovely sweetness and bright color to any plate. However, a similar function can be fulfilled by more time-honored favorites such as sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, making these carrots an easy side dish to ditch.
Whether you go for canned cranberry sauce (with the ridge marks intact) or a homemade cranberry relish recipe, this stunning red side is a must-have on Turkey Day. But is anyone particularly passionate about this? Not really. You need cranberry sauce to make your all-brown plate look merry and bright and to help cut all of that savoriness with a bit of tart sweetness. While we appreciate everything cranberry sauce does for Thanksgiving, it’s a supporting player, not a star.
While this is a staple on any Southern Thanksgiving table, cornbread is more than adequate but not an absolute must-have at every Turkey Day feast. It’s scrumptious on its own but fails when you have to mix it together with other items on your plate. The subtle sweetness and crumbliness of a good homemade cornbread can clash with the flavor of your gravy or overpower your turkey. We’ll save the cornbread for our barbecues.
Brussels sprouts have had a resurgence as a weeknight dinner vegetable in recent years, but real folks know these have been at the Thanksgiving table for years. When perfectly roasted and doctored up with bacon and some maple syrup, these mini cabbages are the essence of fall and the winningest green vegetable we can think of for Thanksgiving.
On its own, corn is a below-average Thanksgiving day side. Nobody is out here checking for corn on their plate. But this seemingly mundane vegetable is actually essential for the perfect Thanksgiving Day bite. Pile on some mashed potatoes, gravy and turkey on your fork, dip that in some corn, and you have a savory, slightly sweet combination that is pure holiday bliss. The supporting role of corn is just as important as the stars of the day.
Sweet potato casserole emerged from the South to become a bona fide Thanksgiving classic. Though some may find this dish a little too sweet to be on a dinner plate, it’s hard to pass on a side with frickin’ marshmallows in it.
Macaroni and cheese may not be what you would consider a classic Thanksgiving side dish, but for kids and people who don’t like fall foods, it’s an absolute must-have. Few things are more comforting than a gooey, creamy, and perfectly cheesy homemade mac and cheese. And even the bake and eat stuff from Stouffer’s is a winner.
Some may find the roll to be one of the humbler offerings on Thanksgiving, but hear us out! What other dish will be able to soak up all that savory, rich gravy that has spilled over from your turkey and mashed potatoes? What other dish will serve as a perfect palate cleanser between the macaroni and cheese and the turkey? None but the humble roll.
Our favorite vegetables on Thanksgiving are the ones that don’t taste like vegetables at all. And as vegetables-that-aren’t-vegetables go, it’s hard to beat a classic green bean casserole. This iconic dish is salty and creamy and features those irresistible crispy little onions. We prefer the Midwestern Thanksgiving classic, the canned green bean casserole. It’s earthy, perfectly mushy and so easy even the kids can help make it!
Mashed potatoes are a staple side for many families throughout the year, but Thanksgiving is really time for these creamy, fluffy, pillowy piles of heaven to shine. The mashed potato is a beautiful binder for picking up the perfect forkful of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and (yes) corn. It’s the perfect vessel for holding a big ol’ vat of gravy. It’s the definition of comfort food and everything you ever needed or wanted.
Now, you may not think of gravy as a Thanksgiving side dish, but it’s the most essential thing to have on your table beyond a perfectly-roasted turkey. Plus, if it were socially acceptable to drink gravy straight from the boat, we totally would. Gravy makes everything better all the time always, but this is especially true on Thanksgiving. Without it, mashed potatoes would be boring, rolls would just be plain ol’ bread and turkey would be naked. Gravy ties all of Thanksgiving together and demands more respect and fewer silly gravy mistakes.
The only essential Thanksgiving side dish that’s more important than gravy? Stuffing. Seriously, why don’t people eat stuffing for dinner every single night? OK, maybe it’s because it’s half butter, but that’s what makes it so darn delicious. Nothing warms your kitchen and your soul quite like a stuffing made with vegetables that have been stewed in a pound of butter for an hour, bread that has been perfectly toasted in the oven and then tossed all together in the perfect autumnal seasonal blend. Our mouths are watering just thinking of the best stuffing recipes ever.
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