Outsider readers, consider yourselves members of our esteemed jury for the next several minutes as our Playoff Committee gets all lawyerly and defends their picks for the Best Thanksgiving Side Dish.
While turkey is king at most Thanksgiving tables, the sides are the real show-stealers. Mom’s dressing or Grandma’s stuffing? Uncle Whit’s canned cranberry jelly or Aunt Mary’s homemade cranberry sauce? Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, mac and cheese—the list goes on and on.
Before you reach your verdict based on the sides we’ve just presented, let our staff state their cases.
1. Mashed Potatoes
There’s no Thanksgiving without turkey. But in an Irish household, there’s no anything without potatoes. Much of what we consider Thanksgiving comfort food in America is born of Southern cooking. And Southern cuisine was heavily influenced by the Irish. Having a Thanksgiving spread without mashed potatoes in at least one form borders sacrilege. Prepare them how you will, but know this: if family members show up to a table without mashed potatoes, they will question it. Give your feast several potato dishes, and there will be no speaking at all. Only devouring.
Pass the stuffing. Pass the dressing. I never know what to say. Before the Internet existed, people gobbled and squabbled over this Thanksgiving cornerstone’s qualification each year. Then, Facebook happened. And everyone’s aunts and mamas felt the need to educate us through heartfelt posts about the differences in this Turkey Day dish’s taxonomy. I gotta tell ya, I don’t care what you call it. Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, hell, even dinner rolls get all the carb acclaim. But guess what’s over there, ready to balance out that turkey bite when you’re tired of the other side dishes? That’s right. It’s the dressing. Or the stuffing. I’m not sure anyone really knows anymore.
3. Cranberry Sauce
There are two sides to this, well, saucy side. Boiling real cranberries in sugar water until they burst into a mushy pulp, or sliding a log of jellied sauce out of can—ridges and all. Wherever you fall on the cranberry spectrum, the last thing you will hear at the Thanksgiving table before saying grace is, “Where’s the cranberry sauce?” Sure, it’s just an accentuation for the bird, but when you’re making dry turkey sandwiches on Friday, you’ll sauce your bread—and be thankful someone in the family always craves the cran.
4. Sweet Potatoes
When it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes, it doesn’t get any better than sweet potato casserole. The sweetness balances out all the savory flavors on the plate—or will help those who avoid cranberry sauce (sorry Jim), choke down dry turkey. You can have mashed potatoes or stuffing/dressing/soggy sage-flavored bread any day. Sweet potato casserole, though, is reserved for special occasions. Folks will disagree on the proper topping: marshmallows vs. candied pecans. However, people with sophisticated palates will tell you that the best sweet potato casserole has both. It doesn’t matter how you top it, just don’t put it on the dessert table.