The Top 10 Thanksgiving Side Dishes

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

As we approach the holiday season and really any season, it is always good to find something cheerful that will put a smile on your face. As you read this article, I hope that is what you will find.

Every year when we gather for Thanksgiving, we share food, enjoy family (most of them), and in my house we watch football (this one is non-negotiable). We know with Thanksgiving, the turkey has become the star of the show, the lead singer, if you will. Any talented singer usually performs with backup singers, and so it is with the turkey.

While turkey may be the star of the table, for me Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes. So in honor of this wonderful holiday, which is one of my favorites, I want to give you my ranking of the top 10 side dishes for Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Alex Raths

The Top 10 Side Dishes for Thanksgiving

The Top 10 Side Dishes for Thanksgiving

10. Green Bean Casserole

I put this at number ten, but I have never had green bean casserole (don’t look at me funny). My roots are from the south and the Caribbean. We eat green beans, just not made in this fashion. However, this dish is so popular among many people, so I included it. I also thought it would be a good idea to have a vegetable on the list. But don’t worry carb fans, this will be the only vegetable on the list. There are so many delicious carbs and since the plate has limited space, we don’t want to give up that precious real estate to too many vegetables. I can deal with those every other day of the year; Thanksgiving is the exception.

9. Ham

Right off the bat, I know exactly what you are saying. Ham is not a side dish. Well, it all depends on who you ask. My wife is from Barbados and when they make ham for the holidays, it is not considered a main dish. It’s a side dish, and you need to have other meats besides it. So in honor of my Bajan wife, even though they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Barbados, honey, I finally got it. Ham is a side dish.

8. Candied Yams

I know you are saying “I thought you said no more vegetables.” To that I reply, have you ever eaten a candied yam? To make these, you need dark brown sugar, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Basically, you are eating sweet potato pie without the crust or whipped cream. For that reason, the candied yam does not qualify as a vegetable, but it comes in at number eight on the top 10 side dishes for Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Louis Hansel

7. Mashed Sweet Potatoes

7. Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Are you wondering why we have sweet potatoes on this list twice? It’s because every self-respecting sweet potato lover knows there is a difference between candied yams and mashed sweet potatoes. This dish is a casserole with pineapples, marshmallows, and even some pecans sprinkled on the top. If we are going to be honest, this is just another way to cheat and have dessert before dessert.

6. Rolls/Bread

I was tempted to put rolls higher up the list, but I will keep them at number 6. For the rolls to qualify, they must be hot, preferably homemade (even though there are a few superb store-bought brands). They also must be so deliciously soft that you may even think about skipping the butter. But it’s Thanksgiving, so why would you skip the butter? While the best rolls don’t need butter, for hot rolls butter is like bacon and as we know, everything tastes better with bacon. 

5. Rice and Peas

Here I go again mixing up Caribbean traditions with an American holiday. Well, forgive me, but not only is my wife from Barbados, I also have family from Barbados. Don’t worry, my wife and I are not related – we checked. (Somehow, we thought about this after we were married, so we were glad that everything checked out.) With any holiday, people from the Caribbean are going to have a rice dish. By the way, you can tell where someone is from by whether they say rice and peas or peas and rice. If it’s rice and peas, they have Caribbean roots. If it’s peas and rice, they don’t. If they say peas and rice, I can’t tell you where they are from, but I know they are not from the Caribbean. Thanksgiving is not complete without some type of rice dish and there is not one better than rice and peas (now you know I have real Caribbean roots.)

Photo credit: Unsplash/Sheri Silver

4. Gravy

4. Gravy

Gravy is the gift that keeps on giving for Thanksgiving. You can put it on everything. When I talk about gravy, I mean only the homemade stuff. Leave those store-bought gravies in the store. You can make the best gravy from the pan drippings from your cooked turkey, so don’t waste those. Good gravy is an absolute necessity for Thanksgiving, so don’t short on the gravy. 

3. Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is the silent assassin of side dishes. It is usually so non-descript, but it can make everything taste better. If you have not done this before, add a little cranberry sauce to whatever you pick up on your fork and it will lift the flavor. I even put some on my hot roll (with butter, of course). You don’t have to believe me. Just try it and you will see for yourself.

2. Stuffing

Some people call it stuffing, others call it dressing. Either way, this ranks number two on the top 10 side dishes for Thanksgiving. Stuffing is just some type of bread that gets seasoned nicely and just adds some depth to the dishes. You can decide whether you cook it in the bird or out. I like mine out because then you can get some crusty pieces on the top. Regardless of how you cook it, this is the second-best side. By the way, try this with a little cranberry sauce. You won’t be disappointed.

Photo credit: Flickr/Glory Foods

1. Mac and Cheese

1. Mac and Cheese

When it comes to the top side dish for Thanksgiving, hands down number one is mac and cheese. I know everyone claims to have the best mac and cheese recipe out there. While I commend you for defending your territory, unfortunately, it is not true. The reason I know this is that my mom has the best mac and cheese recipe I have ever tasted. Just for the record, I have tried a lot of different mac and cheeses. I have even had the Bajan version, which they call macaroni pie. I am not saying they weren’t all good. I am saying they weren’t the best (hi mom). Regardless, no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without some hot, cheesy, crispy edges on the top mac and cheese. That’s why it lands number one in the top 10 side dishes for Thanksgiving.

Final Thought

Hopefully, you enjoyed my list, and I am sure I have now just created the latest social media controversy (maybe not). If you have a different top 10, then feel free to share it with me. I also offer an apology to all my vegetable loving friends for not including more vegetables on the list. I do like vegetables (I have a newfound love of brussel sprouts). But when I thought about the list, I thought of the foods that, if they are missing, it would not feel like Thanksgiving. Sorry brussel sprouts, I love you, but you haven’t reached that level yet.

In all seriousness, God’s words says this:

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

As you gather around your tables this year, remember all the things you have to be thankful for. Mostly don’t wait until Thanksgiving. Let that become part of your everyday life because we have a lot to thank God for. On behalf of my family, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Now go and make some rice and peas or peas and rice depending on where you come from.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Hermes Rivera


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