Best Thanksgiving Sides: Top 7 Holiday Dishes, According To Experts

Thanksgiving is an important annual tradition for many American households. Gathering family around a vast feast can be a time of great joy. Thanksgiving can also be a harrowing experience for first-time hosts and inexperienced cooks. That’s why our list of the best Thanksgiving side dishes aims to demystify the tastiest holiday menu items.

It’s the biggest Thanksgiving debate outside of roasting or frying the turkey — which side dish is the best? In a classic holiday season battle, a new survey finds nearly half of Americans crown mashed potatoes as their favorite — just narrowly beating out stuffing. Meanwhile, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce also make the list of the most popular choices. The survey also found that many Americans will be keeping their eyes peeled for dishes containing sweet potatoes, as three in 10 consider them to be underrated.

As much as we all love to have endless side dishes, it can be a challenge to lay out a Thanksgiving feast on a budget. A new survey, commissioned by CouponFollow, found that the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is now 64 percent higher than it was in 2002. On average, Americans are spending $251 on their Thanksgiving feast. If you’re looking at the cost of the ingredients alone, shoppers have to pay nearly $88 to get everything they need for dinner.

Whether you want to wow your guests with the classics or try something new, sides are just as important as the turkey for this holiday. Every American household has their own take on their Thanksgiving traditions. Despite the numerous choices and culinary variations, there are a few select Turkey Day side dishes that could be even more popular than the turkey. Our sources helped us rank the best Thanksgiving side dishes. Let us know your favorite sides in the comments below!

Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner (© mizina –

The List: Best Thanksgiving Sides, According to Foodies

1. Mashed Potatoes

For many American families, mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving are mandatory. Herbed, topped with crunchies, or served simply with butter; this dish is sure to please. thrillist claims, “It’s hard to deny the appeal of the majestic spud, especially when it is mashed and creamed to fluffy perfection. We are all blessed that we have the opportunity to have our tongues swaddled in a blanket of velvety potato innards. And if we’re being honest, there are very few foods that can be pummeled to death in the kitchen and still turn out incredible.”

Mashed potatoes and gravy
Mashed potatoes and gravy (Photo by Parnis Azimi on Unsplash)

bon appétit relates a prep-in advance method, “If you always feel rushed, this make-ahead mashed potatoes recipe is a lifesaver. The Thanksgiving side dish can be prepared two full days in advance without compromising the supremely velvety results.”

Paste reviews, “The mashed potato evangelists out there need to calm down. Of course mashed potatoes are delicious; how can you not like mushy carbs drenched with butter and cream? But let’s be real… they need to be combined with other ingredients on your plate to shine as the flavor vehicle they are.”

2. Stuffing

Stuffing or dressing is a sublime combination of bread, herbs, and savory broth. In November and December, stuffing has its moment in the limelight. bon appétit raves, “This classic Thanksgiving side dish goes out to all those whose holiday table isn’t complete without an herb-infused, chicken brothy, crusty bread–based stuffing. We see you; we’re here for you.”

mixed vegetable in tray
Cranberry Stuffing (Photo by Chelsea Shapouri on Unsplash)

The Promethean praises, “This savory blend of bread, crumbled sausage, and spices practically melt in your mouth. But the best part, by far, is when the top pieces get crispy and stick together. Plus, having a turkey on Thanksgiving without stuffing would feel criminal.”

Dang Dude, What The Heck? exclaims, “I love a traditional stuffing, even boxed versions, but I’ve recently come around on cornbread stuffings. Even more so if the chef decided to pop some sausage in there. That’s a true meal. Feel free to use a heavy hand on the sage too. Sage never hurt anyone.”

3. Gravy

Gravy is often the thickened cooking juices from the turkey. Today there are many store-bought brands available as well as vegetarian options. Paste says, “You may not think of gravy as a side dish of its own; some of us may even think of the gravy as nothing more than a condiment. But, alas, the gravy dish is the most important part of the entire Thanksgiving spread. Gravy belongs on literally everything.”

Gravy (Photo by Photo by victoria on Unsplash)

Mass Live describes, “Gravy is the savory spark that turns Thanksgiving dinner from an endless starch march into a savory symphony. There’s no Thanksgiving problem that gravy can’t fix. Turkey’s too dry? Gravy. Someone put veggies on your plate? Hide them with gravy. The in-laws are trying to change the channel from the football game? Cover the remote control in gravy. That will stop them.”

mashed elaborates, “All aboard the gravy train! Gravy is many people’s favorite part of Thanksgiving. It adds so much flavor to mashed potatoes and softens the drier cuts of turkey. While it may be a given that gravy is on the table, it wasn’t always so easy to come by. As per ‘The Atlantic,’ once upon a time, gravy was exclusively made by melding meat drippings with starch and water to make a savory, fatty addition to the table. Yum, yum, yum, simply put.”

4. Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole is a creamy, savory, crunchy delight. This dish can be simple, or it can be intricate, limited only by the desires of the cook. Food Network comments, “If you’ve always wanted to serve a green bean casserole at your Thanksgiving feast, but weren’t sure where to begin, this top-rated recipe from Alton Brown is the one for you. To take his casserole to the next level, Alton uses hearty mushrooms, thinly sliced onions and buttery panko breadcrumbs. Talk about some good eats!”

Green Bean Casserole (Photo by Phil King on Unsplash

For The Win adds, “Vegetables can sometimes be a challenge to eat, especially on Thanksgiving. So what if you smother them in Campbell’s mushroom soup and top them with crispy fried onions? They don’t taste like vegetables anymore!”

bon appétit details an elevated rendition of the classic dish, “We developed our version of the ideal homemade green bean casserole recipe. It’s anchored by umami-rich browned crimini mushrooms, a béchamel sauce with Parmesan, and extra-crispy shallots (of course).”

5. Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is an all-star dish at Thanksgiving. In some families, novices are not allowed to prepare this hallowed dish. Level explains, “The crown jewel. Only the most GOATed chefs have the responsibility of cooking this because it requires some skill—and when prepared with love and patience—is far and above the best thing on your plate. And it ain’t cheap if you’re making it from scratch with good cheese like you should be doing, so you better really appreciate it.”

Two bowls of baked mac and cheese
Two bowls of baked mac and cheese (Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels)

mashed offers, “Macaroni and cheese is deeply rooted in American cuisine. As noted by ‘Forgotten New England,’ the ooey gooey wonder dish has a long history at Thanksgiving. The dish started really coming to the table during the 19th century, though it may not have been recognizable to us. Though macaroni back then was still made with the same noodles that we know today, it often involved tomatoes and a layer of grated Parmesan.”

The Promethean states, “Just for clarification: when I say macaroni and cheese, I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill, boxed Kraft mac and cheese. Absolutely not. I’m talking about a nice, creamy, oven-baked macaroni and cheese with a dusting of breadcrumbs as the top layer. It might take a long time to make, but the end result is more than worth it.”

6. Cornbread

Cornbread is a beloved traditional side. Move over boring bread rolls, cornbread easily surpasses the plain old roll. mashed compliments, “Corn was and is a staple crop of the Americas. It existed long before the land was colonized. As Europeans came to stay, maize was worked and reworked in new ways. European colonists in the South who were used to having bread in their diet had corn in abundance, and chances are you can guess the rest of the history.”

Corn bread
Cornbread (Photo by Von Wycliffe Zebadiah Leones on Unsplash)

Paste assures, “Cornbread: Dense, slightly sweet and a little crispy on top. It crumbles into pieces after your first bite, littering your plate with its flavorful morsels. It’s a dish to behold, and it just happens to be one of my absolute favorites. It’s a perfect carrier for other items on your plate, but it can also easily stand on its own.”

thrillist articulates, “[Cornbread] is, when served with honey butter, one of the most perfect foods on the planet, with its rustic crumble and gentle sweetness reminding you of the bounty of American farmland with every bite… Before you know it, you’ve eaten five pieces of cornbread and have no room for anything else.”

7. Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce can be so much more than a congealed cylinder. Those who have tasted a well-crafted cranberry sauce are sure to sing its praises. “Cranberry sauce offers a shock of acidity to a Thanksgiving table that’s overwhelmingly dominated by fat. My mom always lovingly made the fresh stuff… Whether you use store-bought or make your [own], a good cranberry sauce can make the whole meal,” according to Paste.

Cranberry sauce
Cranberry sauce (Photo by Elena Leya on Unsplash)

Food Network asserts, “There’s a reason why Food Network Kitchen puts the word ‘perfect’ in the title of this delicious recipe, and while we don’t like to brag, this cranberry sauce really is the perfect Thanksgiving side. The secret lies in adding lemon (or orange) zest to the cranberry mixture.”

For The Win evaluates, “Sure, cranberry sauce [from] a can (or even homemade) might not taste quite as elegant as some of the things ranked … on this list, but cranberry sauce is such a staple of Thanksgiving that it’s a food you’d probably never eat the other 364 days of the year.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.


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