The 10 best classic Thanksgiving dishes, ranked
Some people say turkey is delicious. These people are wrong.
We eat turkey at Thanksgiving not because it is the tastiest poultry or the easiest to cook, but because the bird's large size allows us to feed many hungry people all at the same time.
In fact, baking a turkey is a labor-intensive exercise that requires time and practice to do well. Yet most American households only bake one turkey per year. This is why most Thanksgiving birds emerge dry and bland, often requiring the saving graces of gravy. If it weren't for decades of tradition, you would be hard-pressed to find a household that wouldn't mind skipping the messy process of prepping and baking a cumbersome turkey.
The exception to this rule is deep-fried turkey, which emerges from the backyard Lazarus pits coated in hot peanut oil a transformed and inarguably more delicious creature. The downside, of course, is that deep-frying a bird carries the risk of setting your home on fire. Such is the nature of turkey: The bad frequently outweighs the good.
9. Corn bread
Simply the best of the breads, all of which otherwise fail to crack the top 10. Corn bread strikes a harmonious balance between sweet and savory that can complement just about anything. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that rolls are an OK carbohydrate substitute. Don't be fooled.
8. Green bean casserole
A relic of post-World War II efficiency, the humble green bean casserole was created in the mid-1950s by the Campbell Soup Company. It is a comfort food in the truest sense that accomplishes the improbable: It makes icky green beans palatable. Such innovation is why the casserole has carved out a place for itself in the National Inventor's Hall of Fame.
7. Mac and cheese
It has been brought to my attention by my colleagues here at The Week that many households do not indulge in the gooey, al dente perfection that is homemade mac and cheese. To which I say: Are you people insane?
I make mine with jalapenos and add pancetta, which anecdotal evidence suggests is always a worthy contribution. There are never leftovers.
6. Mashed potatoes
You can load them with garlic. Or infuse them with rosemary. If you'd like, you can fashion mashed potatoes into a bed for your turkey, or sculpt them into a concave vessel for gravy. Such versatility is truly American, and should be celebrated as such.
Ham is moist, flavorful, textured, and requires little work to do well. It is the inverse of turkey. Simply rub with brown sugar or bathe it in cola — preferably both. Ham is as underrated as its cousin bacon is overexposed.
4. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows
Fun fact: Sweet potatoes are a near-perfect health food. They are packed with Vitamin A, B6, and fiber — and can help you lose weight. Realistically speaking you probably won't — especially with a fluffy bed of marshmallows layered on top. But it's a comforting thought.
The gravy boat is the most sought-after dish on the Thanksgiving table. A thick, hearty gravy can save even the blandest of meals. Think of it this way: Would you rather have a carving of turkey breast without gravy, or no turkey at all? The answer should be clear.
Turkey merely provides a cavity for stuffing, Thanksgiving's true centerpiece. Stuffing is a reward, akin to delectable candy packed into a tasteless Butterball piñata. Stuffing is so good, in fact, that we willfully eat it out of the rear end of a dead animal.
Perhaps you are a pecan pie person. Or maybe pumpkin is more your thing. Sweet potato pie is sublime. All are excellent choices. Each slice is an edible, triangulated vessel for whipped cream, or, if you are ambitious, ice cream. Need to excuse yourself and change into sweatpants? Sure thing. Because pie.
Pie is the light at the end of the tunnel, the reason we push ourselves and "make room." Each bit of flaky crust filled with nature's caramelized sugar is a testament to human perseverance. Pie is a triumph.