Food is the best and most important part of Thanksgiving.
Getty Images / GNVozd
Let’s be honest: the best and most important part of Thanksgiving is not the holiday’s historical context - it’s the food. The American holiday has a set list of traditional foods that we don’t always get to eat year round, and the anticipation is what makes the meal extra special. In honor of the upcoming holiday, we ranked Thanksgiving stapes from worst to best.
Turkey might be the most popular Thanksgiving food, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post
Turkey might be the most popular Thanksgiving food, but it’s far from the best. Frying the bird tends to produce a better result than the classic oven-roasted method, as the meat is juicier and falls right off the bone. But no matter how the meat is prepared, it’s still a little bit on the blander side. Gravy definitely helps bring out the flavor, and gravy made from the turkey itself is much more rich and delicate than store bought. While turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, and is needed to complement the other dishes, it’s the least exciting part.
The dish is sometimes made with Funyuns. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Green bean casserole is a must-have at Thanksgiving, but every recipe is different. Many call for a can of cream of mushroom soup and a bag of Funyuns - yes, the crunchy onion chip found in most vending machines - to be sprinkled on top. Sometimes the creaminess of the mixture adds to the already slimy texture of the green bean, resulting in the casserole being one of the only uneaten foods on our plate.
According to Bon Appetite, the best way to avoid a slimy casserole is to make a roux - a flour and butter base that serves as the starter for most sauces and soups - and pan fry cremini mushrooms along with some onions and several sprigs of thyme.
9. Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce is best when it doesn’t come from a can. JASON LOWE
For years, American households have been haunted by the slimy, gelatinous type of cranberry sauce that comes in a can and has to be gently wiggled out. It’s a hot debate, but the best cranberry sauce is homemade on the stove. Ditch the can, buy fresh cranberries, and simmer them with red wine and honey. This makes for an actual sauce, rather than a cylinder of jello that you have to slice.
8. Pecan Pie
When made right, the pecan topping can taste just like candy. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Pecan pie is a Southern delicacy that combines brown sugar, butter, and nuts for a sweet filling that tastes better than candy. Some recipes call for bourbon or chocolate, which can result in an overly sweet or odd-tasting dessert. The secret to a flawless pecan pie is adding corn syrup and molasses, which allows for a caramel-like filling that melts in your mouth, and toasting the pecans ahead of time.
Bread goes with every meal, but it tastes especially good when dipped in gravy. Getty Images
Of course bread can be eaten at every meal, no matter the holiday, but there’s something special about dipping a buttery dinner roll in hot turkey gravy. Dinner rolls are the perfect finishing touch to an already full Thanksgiving plate. They’re the only dish where preparation doesn’t matter - store-bought or homemade taste equally as great when smothered in butter and eaten in tandem with some sweet potato casserole.
6. Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes taste incredible when served with turkey gravy. Pixabay
Mashed potatoes can be eaten any time of year, but there’s something special about adding them to a plate of turkey and smothering them in that brown turkey gravy. It can be tempting to go for a pre-made box or tub, but the best mashed potatoes are made by hand. It’s a laborious process, sure, but the end result is always worth it. Making them from scratch allows you to add in all the butter and milk and salt your heart desires. Plus, using a potato ricer instead of a regular masher makes for a creamier, lump-free dish.
5. Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese can be eaten any time, but it tastes great when mixed in with other Thanksgiving staples. Shutterstock / P Maxwell Photography
Nothing beats baked macaroni and cheese, especially on Thanksgiving. The trick is in the cheese sauce: get your pot, make a roux, and then slowly add in shredded cheddar, gouda, gruyere, or all three. When it’s time to bake, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and add some Panko breadcrumbs.
4. Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie can be served at Christmas dinner as well. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Pumpkin pie is a seasonal treat that deserves to be on display at the bakery every month of the year. It tastes best when made from scratch, but many make the mistake of buying a can of pumpkin, adding some spices, and throwing it straight into the crust. It’s a custard pie, meaning that the secret to a lush, rich filling is incorporating egg. Instead, use a whisk or stand mixer and beat a few eggs into the pumpkin.
Top with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy.
3. Brown Gravy
Homemade brown turkey gravy is so much better than the stuff than comes in a can. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Everyone knows that mashed potatoes pair well with brown gravy, but mashed potatoes with turkey gravy is a whole other story. Turkey might be the least exciting dish in a Thanksgiving spread, but the gravy it makes is outstanding. Simply collect pan drippings from your turkey, strain out the solids, and add to a roux. It’s those pan drippings that make for a rich, savory flavor that can’t be found in a store-bought jar.
Brown gravy can be drizzled over every part of your plate, even sweet potato casserole.
Stuffing is great whether it’s been cooked inside the bird or on the stove. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Whether it’s been cooked inside the bird or it comes from straight from the box, stuffing is always great. It’s bread, but better. The herbs, spices, diced up vegetables, and broth make it a savory staple. No Thanksgiving plate is complete without a side of stuffing next to a helping of turkey, and it tastes even better when drizzled with brown gravy.
1. Sweet Potato Casserole
Sweet potato casserole is perhaps the best part about Thanksgiving. Getty Images
Sweet potato casserole is, hands down, the best part about Thanksgiving. It’s easy to make, it provides a sweet complement to the other savory dishes, and it tastes like heaven. The combination of candied yams and browned marshmallows make for a rich, gooey, and sugary treat.