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The holidays are just around the corner, and we all know what that means: More food than we could ever eat in a single sitting and delicious leftovers for days! When you’re trying to figure out what to make for, arguably, the biggest meal of the year, there are endless options to pick from. So if you’re struggling to decide which Thanksgiving dinner ideas to make this year, whether you’re hosting or simply bringing along a side dish, we’re here to help. From traditional Thanksgiving dinner fare to a few new and unexpected delights, we hope that these ideas will give you a holiday season to remember.
1. Fried Turkey
When you’re thinking about food for Thanksgiving, the obvious place to start is with the turkey. But while most traditional Thanksgiving meals are all about roasting the bird, pulling out the deep fryer can give you a tasty twist on a classic.
Fried turkey originated in 1970s Louisiana, where families repurposed their portable propane cookers, typically used for boiled crawfish, for their Thanksgiving meal. While Cajun seasonings remain a popular choice for fried turkey, especially in the South, chefs across the country have developed their own unique blends of spices and seasonings to create incredibly unique fried turkeys for the big day.
2. Bacon Wrapped Smoked Turkey
Like frying your turkey, smoking it leaves you with a crispy skin on the outside and juicy, tender meat on the inside. You’ll end up with a much more flavorful bird, thanks to the brine and wood smoke that you use to cook it. It’s one of the easiest ways to prepare turkey, too, so it’s perfect for beginners who are hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Or, you can take things to the next level with this bacon-wrapped variety.
If you’re short on oven space, smoking your turkey is a great space-saver and a good excuse to head out into the yard or driveway to enjoy that crisp fall air. One thing you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re smoking your turkey is that you won’t be able to use any of the juices for gravy, so you’ll want to keep some broth on hand when you’re prepping the sides.
3. Stuffing With a Twist
As one of the staples when it comes to foods for Thanksgiving, stuffing is your chance to really show off your culinary skills. But there are plenty of ways to update the classic turkey stuffing made with bread, broth, and a handful of onions.
Dried cranberries and pecans are excellent choices that give your stuffing a dessert-like flavor while still working as a savory side to your turkey. Or, opt for a new take on traditional stuffing with caramelized onions and sage or a croissant or brioche stuffing that’s sure to be the talking point at the table.
For the non-meat-eaters in your group, switch out a meat-based broth for a vegetable one and add raisins, nuts, or fresh fruit for a delicious and filling stuffing option.
4. Green Bean Casserole
Is it even a Thanksgiving dinner if you don’t have a green bean casserole? You can use fresh, frozen, or even canned green beans with most recipes, and sauteed mushrooms and onions are a great addition before you mix in your creamy base. Traditional recipes often call for a can or two of mushroom soup, but you can always make your own base with melted butter and milk (or this vegan variety).
Green bean casserole is one of those Thanksgiving foods that everyone loves, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stick to what you know. Try throwing on some cheese before you put it in the oven (gruyere, parmesan, or Monterey jack are all great choices for this dish), or sprinkle some bacon bits on top with fried onions for some added crispy crunch.
5. Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Somewhere on the table should be a steamy bowl of whipped or mashed potatoes ready for your guests to enjoy. Honey and cinnamon are the perfect addition to sweet potatoes to give them a distinctly fall flavor. Prefer white potatoes? Garlic and sharp cheddar added to your mash can really take this Thanksgiving side dish to the next level. (Or go for both—we’re not judging!)
If you’re feeling adventurous, turn your sweet potatoes into a casserole or souffle by skipping the traditional marshmallows, adding pecans, and baking until golden brown.
6. Flavor-Infused Gravy
While there’s nothing wrong with a good homemade turkey gravy, there are plenty of other options out there. For a vegan-friendly alternative, mushroom and plant-based sour cream is a winning combo that tastes great and goes well with almost every food for Thanksgiving. Or, for an extra dash of fall flavor, try an apple-based gravy that can help you use up some of your leftover fruit that wouldn’t quite fit in a pie.
Onion gravy is another classic that works well for holiday cooking and can be paired with a range of seasonings like sage, garlic, or herbs de Provence. If you’re really looking to push the boat out with a unique gravy, orange and tarragon will give you a distinct flavor that tastes delicious with your turkey and sides.
7. DIY Cranberry Sauce
You might be tempted to dig out the can opener for this one, but making your own cranberry sauce is surprisingly quick and simple. Frozen cranberries are best to use, and you can make your sauce a week or two ahead of time and keep it jarred ahead of your Thanksgiving meal.
Adding orange zest gives your traditional cranberry sauce a boost of extra flavor. Or, try a mulling spice mix (usually cinnamon, peppercorn, clove, and orange zest) for a festive combination that will leave your guests feeling satisfied and excited for even more holiday food to come.
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8. Ginger Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are one of the easiest Thanksgiving vegetable dishes to make, which leaves you with plenty of brain and oven space for different dishes to try out.
For a twist on traditional Thanksgiving foods, try an Asian-inspired sweet and sour dressing blend before roasting. Add soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and a teaspoon or two of fresh ginger to impress your friends and family at this year’s dinner table.
9. Roasted Squash
Butternut squash is a classic choice when it comes to Thanksgiving sides, but there are hundreds of ways that you can spruce it up and make it your own. Try roasting it with maple syrup, shallots, and thyme for a fragrant sweet and savory blend, or adding goat cheese and some herbs for a new twist on a fall favorite.
No matter what kind of squash you choose to use, these winter vegetables are incredibly versatile for all kinds of fun recipes. If you have plenty of leftovers, you can blend everything together for a hearty soup that’s perfect for warming up after your Black Friday shopping.
10. Spinach or Kale and Gruyere Gratin
What’s not to love about blending your green with heaping handfuls of melty cheese? Frozen vegetables are best for this dish, and you can make it ahead of time and simply throw it in the oven for around 20 minutes until it’s beautifully bubbly.
Keep the nutmeg on hand for this one, along with plenty of heavy cream and milk. Even with all the dairy, this gratin is still lighter than a traditional potato-based dish, which makes it perfect for anyone on a low carb diet. If you have a few extra pieces of roasted squash laying around, throw them in too for a truly delicious Thanksgiving vegetable dish.
11. Pumpkin Cornbread
No traditional Thanksgiving meal is complete without cornbread. If you want to experiment with something new, pumpkin cornbread is a great way to bring in the flavors of the season and make your bread extra autumnal. Or try adding some cheese to the top, which is ideal for eating with warm soup or any leftovers the next day.
If you’d prefer to stick to a classic recipe, cornbread can easily be transformed from forgettable extra to the star of the show with a few simple tweaks. A handful of herbs mixed in before baking give you a sweet and savory balance that goes well with anything else in your meal.
12. Thanksgiving Rolls
Rolls are just as much a classic on a Thanksgiving dinner table as the turkey, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stick to a traditional yeasty dinner roll. When it comes to traditional Thanksgiving foods, this is one area that you can really experiment and come up with one or two options for your guests to enjoy.
Stuffing may already be a key part of your plans, but there’s nothing stopping you from turning your rolls into a stuffing-like creation. Sausage and onion bread is a great way to test out a new roll idea, or try adding thyme and gruyere for a restaurant-worthy roll that’s delightfully herby and cheesy. For the tiny humans at your dinner table, shape your rolls into pumpkins before baking for a fun seasonal creation.
13. Buttermilk Biscuits
If you’re going with a Southern theme this Thanksgiving, buttermilk biscuits should be one of the top items on your menu. Is there anything better than flaky, buttery goodness on your plate? Try this easy homemade recipe, or ask your friends for any that have been used by their loved ones for generations (there’s usually a reason why these things get passed down!).
While buttermilk alone is the traditional choice for most people, adding cheeses like parmesan or gruyere are also popular around Thanksgiving dinner tables. Sour cream also goes well in biscuit mixes, along with savory herbs, chives, or onions.
One for the Grill-Lovers
For those of you who live in warmer locales, why not take your Thanksgiving favorites outside? Fire up the smoker for your turkey, and turn your roasted or baked side dishes into on-the-grill classics. Skillets are the perfect tool to bake your cornbread or fry some crispy bacon brussels sprouts, so make use of your sunny climate and get grilling!
There’s a surprising number of Thanksgiving classics that you can make with your grill. Why not try:
- Rotisserie Turkey With Stuffing
- Grilled Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Balsamic-Honey Glaze
- Skillet Cherry Cobbler
Slow Everything Down
Did you know that your slow cooker can make almost every traditional Thanksgiving dish? Sides like mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and even biscuits or rolls can all be made hours before your guests arrive in a slow cooker and will stay hot until dinner time. Slow cookers are also great for casual, potluck-style dinners where you can ask each guest to bring a side that they love to share with the group.
Slow cookers are best for dishes like:
For the Smaller Groups
If your Thanksgiving celebration is going to be a smaller gathering than a mega family feast, paring down your meal to the basics will still leave you with plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week. Keep your focus on the turkey and a couple of sides like a potato dish and a vegetable dish or two. Skip the heavier options like cheesy gratins and rolls if dessert is more important to you, or make enough that you can send your guests home with some leftovers of their own.
Most dishes can be adapted for small groups, but try these small-table recipes:
- Spatchcocked Roast Chicken (if a full-sized turkey is too much!)
- Sage and Sausage Stuffing Muffins
- Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Start Your Holiday Meal Prep Now
Cooking Thanksgiving food doesn’t have to be stressful if you plan ahead and know exactly what your menu looks like. And with a few new ideas in your pocket, you’re sure to have your best and most delicious Thanksgiving yet!
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