When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, most would agree the side dishes are the star of the show. Yeah, a turkey is fine and good and essential, but that humble bird is elevated by the other foods around it on the plate. But, not all sides are created equal. So, we had to ask: Which Thanksgiving side dish truly reigns supreme?
To find out, The Daily Meal looked at our list of essential Thanksgiving sides, put them on the table (figuratively) and debated our favorites. Some were passionate about sweet potato casserole, while others thought it was unnecessary. 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 this definitive ranking of Thanksgiving sides.
Different families have different vegetables that are on the Thanksgiving table. Some opt for roasted root vegetables, like parsnips or beets. Others go for family-friendly and healthy 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.
Creamed spinach is an easy way to get a ton of nutrients into your dinner, if you’re into that sort of thing. But there’s nothing particularly special or festive about this side. It’s best saved for the steakhouse.
Sure, candied yams are easy and delicious, but they can be quite redundant. Between sweet potato casserole and sweet potato pie, yams are well represented on the table. You don’t need something this #basic for Thanksgiving.
We swear that 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.
While this is a staple on any Southern Thanksgiving table, cornbread is more than adequate but not an absolute must-have at every holiday 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.
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. Sure, you need cranberry sauce to make your all-brown plate look bright and to help cut all of that savoriness with a bit of tartness and citrus, but it’s a supporting player, not a star.
Brussels sprouts have had a resurgence as a weeknight dinner vegetable in recent years, but for some folks, these have been at the Thanksgiving table for years. When perfectly roasted and doctored up with bacon and maple syrup, these mini cabbages are the essence of fall and the best 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 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. Like cranberry sauce, corn plays a supporting role, but it’s an important role.
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. Even the frozen versions are generally pretty good.
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.
Some may find the roll to be one of the humbler offerings on Thanksgiving, but hear us out. What other side will be able to soak up all that savory, rich gravy that has spilled over from your turkey and mashed potatoes? What other side will serve as a perfect palate cleanser between the macaroni and cheese and the turkey? What other side will let you enjoy a mini Thanksgiving sandwich with your Thanksgiving dinner? None but the humble roll.
Mashed potatoes are a staple 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 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.
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.
Now, you may not think of gravy as a Thanksgiving side dish, but it’s one of the most essential things to have on your table beyond a perfectly-roasted turkey. Let’s be real, if it were socially acceptable to drink gravy straight from the boat, we totally would. Gravy makes everything better all the time, 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 deserves more respect.
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 loaded with 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 slowly cooked in butter for an hour, and bread that has been perfectly toasted in the oven tossed together in the perfect autumnal seasonal blend. Our mouths are watering just thinking of the best stuffing recipes ever.
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