America’s Favorite 10 Thanksgiving Side Dishes

by Ella

Thanksgiving, a time-honored American tradition, is synonymous with the warmth of family gatherings, expressions of gratitude, and, of course, a feast that celebrates the harvest season. While the centerpiece may be a succulent turkey, the diversity and richness of side dishes often steal the spotlight. In this extensive exploration, we’ll delve into the culinary landscape of Thanksgiving and uncover America’s favorite Thanksgiving side dishes, the recipes that have stood the test of time, and the regional variations that add a unique flair to this beloved holiday.

Understanding the Tradition:

Thanksgiving in the United States traces its roots back to the early 17th century when the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans came together to share a harvest feast. Over the centuries, the menu has evolved, reflecting the cultural tapestry of the nation. From the Northeast to the Southwest, each region has contributed its own culinary traditions to the Thanksgiving table.


America’s Beloved Thanksgiving Side Dishes:

1. Mashed Potatoes:


A true classic, mashed potatoes are a staple on Thanksgiving tables across the country. Creamy, buttery, and comforting, they serve as the perfect canvas for gravy or as a sidekick to other dishes.


2. Stuffing (or Dressing):


Whether it’s cooked inside the turkey or baked separately, stuffing is a quintessential Thanksgiving side. Made with a delightful blend of bread, herbs, vegetables, and sometimes sausage, it adds a savory and aromatic touch to the meal.

3. Cranberry Sauce:

Tangy and sweet, cranberry sauce is a vibrant addition to the Thanksgiving spread. Whether homemade or from a can, its bright flavor provides a delightful contrast to the richness of other dishes.

4. Green Bean Casserole:

A mid-20th-century creation, green bean casserole has become a nostalgic favorite. With its combination of crisp green beans, creamy mushroom soup, and crispy fried onions, it adds a satisfying texture to the meal.

5. Sweet Potato Casserole:

Sweet potatoes take center stage in this indulgent dish. Topped with a pecan or marshmallow crust, sweet potato casserole strikes a perfect balance between sweet and savory, earning its place as a cherished Thanksgiving side.

6. Macaroni and Cheese:

While not traditionally associated with Thanksgiving, macaroni and cheese has secured a spot on many holiday tables. Its gooey, cheesy goodness appeals to all ages and adds a touch of comfort to the festive meal.

7. Gravy:

Although technically a condiment, gravy deserves an honorable mention. Made from the drippings of the roasted turkey, gravy ties the entire Thanksgiving meal together, providing a savory touch to everything it touches.

8. Cornbread:

Cornbread, in various forms such as muffins or a classic loaf, is a Southern favorite that has made its way to Thanksgiving tables nationwide. Its crumbly texture and slightly sweet flavor complement the savory dishes on the menu.

9. Brussels Sprouts:

Brussels sprouts have experienced a renaissance in recent years, becoming a trendy and healthy Thanksgiving side. Roasted with bacon or glazed with balsamic reduction, they bring a modern twist to the traditional feast.

10. Pumpkin Pie:

While typically served as a dessert, pumpkin pie often makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table during the main meal. Its spiced pumpkin filling and flaky crust embody the flavors of fall.

Regional Influences:

Thanksgiving side dish preferences can vary significantly across regions, reflecting the diverse culinary heritage of the United States.

1. New England – Cranberry Relish:

In the Northeast, cranberry relish takes precedence over the more traditional cranberry sauce. Made with fresh cranberries, oranges, and sugar, this zesty relish adds a burst of flavor to the Thanksgiving plate.

2. Southern Cornbread Dressing:

In the South, cornbread dressing often takes the place of traditional stuffing. Flavored with sage, onions, and sometimes sausage, this soulful dish reflects the rich culinary history of the Southern United States.

3. Midwest – Wild Rice Casserole:

The Midwest embraces wild rice as a Thanksgiving side dish. Often mixed with mushrooms, herbs, and sometimes sausage, wild rice casserole offers a hearty alternative to traditional stuffing.

4. West Coast – Quinoa Salad:

On the West Coast, where health-conscious choices are prevalent, quinoa salad has gained popularity. Packed with vegetables, nuts, and a light vinaigrette, it provides a refreshing and nutritious addition to the Thanksgiving feast.

Mashed Potatoes (Champion)

Mashed potatoes have earned the coveted title of America’s favorite Thanksgiving side dish for several reasons. Their creamy texture, buttery flavor, and ability to complement almost any main course make them a universal crowd-pleaser.

Regional Influences on Mashed Potatoes:

Despite its widespread popularity, the preparation of mashed potatoes can vary across different regions of the United States, adding unique touches to this beloved side dish.

1. Rustic Skins-On Mash (Southern Tradition):

In the South, it’s not uncommon to find mashed potatoes with the skins left on. This rustic variation adds a earthy flavor and a slightly chunky texture, paying homage to traditional Southern cooking.

2. Creamy and Whipped (Northern Preference):

Northern states often lean towards a creamier, whipped version of mashed potatoes. With the addition of cream, butter, and sometimes sour cream, this style results in a velvety-smooth consistency that pairs exceptionally well with savory gravies.

3. Loaded Mashed Potatoes (Everywhere!):

Across the nation, the trend of loaded mashed potatoes has gained popularity. Mixing in ingredients like cheese, bacon, chives, and sour cream elevates the humble mashed potato into a festive, indulgent dish.

4. Garlic-Infused Mashed Potatoes (West Coast Twist):

On the West Coast, it’s not uncommon to find mashed potatoes infused with the bold flavor of roasted garlic. This aromatic addition brings a sophisticated touch to the classic dish.

The Evolution of Thanksgiving Side Dishes:

Thanksgiving side dishes have evolved over time, influenced by factors such as cultural shifts, culinary trends, and dietary preferences. While the classics remain beloved, contemporary variations continue to emerge.

1. Vegan and Vegetarian Options:

As dietary preferences evolve, so do Thanksgiving side dishes. Vegan and vegetarian options, such as plant-based stuffing or dairy-free mashed potatoes, cater to a diverse range of dietary choices.

2. Gluten-Free Alternatives:

With the rise of gluten-free diets, there’s a growing demand for alternatives to traditional stuffing and pies. Gluten-free stuffing made with rice or quinoa flour and crustless pies are becoming more commonplace.

3. Incorporating Global Flavors:

Embracing the multicultural tapestry of America, some households infuse Thanksgiving with global flavors. Dishes like curry-spiced sweet potatoes or kimchi Brussels sprouts add an exciting international twist to the traditional meal.

Family Traditions and Personal Touches:

Thanksgiving is a time for cherished family traditions and personal touches that make the holiday unique for each household.

1. Family Recipes Passed Down Through Generations:

Many families have heirloom recipes that have been passed down through generations. Whether it’s a secret stuffing recipe or a special cranberry sauce, these dishes carry the essence of family history.

2. Creative Twists on Classics:

Culinary creativity comes to the forefront during Thanksgiving as home cooks experiment with new twists on classic dishes. Truffle-infused mashed potatoes, bourbon-glazed sweet potatoes, or sriracha-laced green bean casseroles showcase the endless possibilities.

3. Potluck Style Celebrations:

In the spirit of community and shared responsibility, some families opt for a potluck-style Thanksgiving. Each guest brings their favorite side dish, creating a diverse and collaborative feast.


As we unravel the diverse tapestry of Thanksgiving side dishes, it becomes evident that the holiday table is a reflection of America’s rich cultural mosaic. From the traditional favorites that evoke nostalgia to the contemporary and globally inspired creations that reflect our ever-changing culinary landscape, each dish has a story to tell. This Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables laden with an array of side dishes, let us celebrate the traditions, diversity, and creativity that make this feast a true reflection of the American spirit.



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