Thanksgiving. That time of year when you put on your best elastic pants, eat a delicious dinner, watch football, take a nap, eat a second dinner, and enjoy some time with family and friends. If you’re lucky enough, maybe the night before you’ll run into some random peeps from your high school and have some awkward conversations revolving around such bangers as “what’ve you been up to?”, “Do you remember the time when…”, and everyone’s favorite lie over the holidays, “We definitely need to hang out sometime soon…” And while football, some socializing and relaxing are key components of a successful Thanksgiving weekend, make no mistake about it, the main event is the Thanksgiving meal. The Thanksgiving meal is a tour de force from start to finish, and choosing your ultimate Thanksgiving plate is the ultimate culinary adventure. That said, with great power comes great responsibility, so in order to help you narrow down your choices, I am pleased to present you with the definitive Thanksgiving Meal Power Rankings.
25. Brussels Sprouts – Much like your newly divorced uncle, they’re bitter and they smell bad. And before someone talks about lathering them with bacon, salt and other condiments, please just stop. There are plenty of better side options, leave this disaster at home.
24. Salad – I love a good salad as much as the next person on most days. But all that salad is doing on Thanksgiving is taking up precious real estate on your plate and serving area. Salads on Thanksgiving are reserved for those who participate in their morning neighborhood Turkey Trot wearing shirts that say “Best Leg Day Ever!”. Let us gluttons have one day.
23. Homemade Cranberries – There’s always that one person who puts a ton of effort into making their own cranberry sauce by boiling the cranberries in water and sugar and then adding some orange zest to spruce it up and the truth of the matter is no matter how hard you try, the homemade cranberries will never be as good as the can. Don’t waste your time.
22. Ham – It’s Thanksgiving. Get this swine off my table. The turkey gets one day to shine, let’s give it the due it deserves.
21. Broccoli – Broccoli is excessive on Turkey Day. It’s a fine side for a chicken or fish dinner but it doesn’t really fit the profile of the Thanksgiving dinner. This is a pass.
20. Deviled Eggs – The Deviled Egg is often served as an appetizer around the holidays and is usually a very hit or miss proposition with your guests. I think they’re fine to serve at a cocktail party, but on Thanksgiving there is too much work to be done, don’t waste your time piping yolks into the half of an egg. If your guests want eggs I have a better option which I’ll get to a little later.
19. Pumpkin Pie/Apple Pie/Pecan Pie – When I was a cross country runner in high school my freshman year, I remember finishing a race in Holmdel where I sprinted past 6 runners in the last 100 yards to finish in the top 20. I was elated. My coach was not. He said to me “If you have that much left at the end of the race, it means you didn’t apply yourself during the rest of it.” He was right. Same principle applies here. If you have room for the pies, you’re doing it wrong.
18. Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows – This is a Thanksgiving staple but I tend to lean more savory than sweet. The sweet potatoes on their own are good, but the addition of marshmallows is over the top in my opinion. Full disclosure, I may be scarred as I had an aunt who used to bring a dessert called “ambrosia” to our family functions which was chunky fruit covered with marshmallow. I still can’t get the visuals out of my head. Yuck.
17. Green Beans – Solid, simple, and fills the need for a little green on your plate. Nothing fancy here but gets the job done. It’s like having to watch the Lions every Thanksgiving – not going to be the most exciting thing in the world, but you can do much worse.
16. Macaroni and Cheese – Many of you know my take on mac and cheese. Sorry but nothing is beating the store bought Kraft (come at me). Sadly, Kraft Mac and Cheese really doesn’t belong on a Thanksgiving dinner table. Everyone who makes mac and cheese claims theirs is the be all-end all but I find most homemade mac and cheeses to be on the bland side. If I’m going to carb it up, I think there are some better options on the table.
15. Creamed Corn – If you’re looking for your sweet kick this is a good place to start. It’s not overly sweet, you don’t need to go overboard with it, and it provides a little relief on a salty plate.
14. Creamed Spinach – Creamed spinach is highly underrated. Maybe it’s the heavy cream, the salt, or the butter. Whatever it is though, it’s still spinach so it makes it healthy. Right?
13. Scalloped Potatoes – A fantastic carb alternative for those who are looking for something different than mashed potatoes. Scalloped potatoes are a great side dish – creamy, cheesy, and the slightly burnt edges are fantastic additions to the rest of your meal.
12. Bacon, Egg and Cheese on an Everything Bagel – Oh yes, you read this correctly. The key to a good Thanksgiving meal? Prime the pump correctly. Get yourself a solid early morning breakfast sandwich and get the day off on the right foot. You’ll be happy you did.
11. Carrots – Honey glazed, salty, buttery – you pick. Carrots are a very underrated component of the Thanksgiving plate. If you’re leaving carrots out, you’re making a mistake in my opinion.
10. Corn – The unsung hero of the Thanksgiving plate. You can eat it on it’s own or mix it with your mashed potatoes, it can withstand gravy spillage. This is a Thanksgiving all-star that makes the meal better.
9. Canned Cranberry Sauce – Controversial take here, I know. But the canned cranberry sauce gives your plate a nice reprieve from some of it’s saltier counterparts. More importantly, the cranberry sauce is the ultimate addition to your leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches that night or the next morning. You can hate on the canned stuff all you want. I’m trusting Ocean Spray over Aunt Barbara any day of the week.
8. Corn Bread – Some actually will use corn bread as part of their stuffing, but I think it is perfect on it’s own as well. It will be tempting to get filled up on this too quickly so proceed with caution, but it’s an amazing addition to the Thanksgiving dinner plate.
7. Wine – It’s important to properly hydrate during the day. I recommend a nice mimosa with sparkling white wine to start, a cold pinot grigio mid-day and an overpour of cabernet to finish the day. And the best part is you don’t have to give up any room on your plate. It’s a win-win.
6. Rolls/Biscuits – This is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of side dishes. Just because you know exactly what you’re going to get doesn’t mean that you look forward to it any less. The rolls and biscuits are perfect for the end of the plate when you want to scoop up the last of Thanksgiving goodness in one fell swoop. A poor bread situation can derail your Thanksgiving dinner very quickly so choose wisely.
5. Green Bean Casserole – It makes no sense how this dish works but it just does. Green beans covered and baked with cream of mushroom soup, cheddar cheese and topped with crunchy onions. It’s everything you can want on your Thanksgiving plate. Some may say this is way too high, but I would disagree. This is a plate that has a little bit of everything for everyone. And if you’re someone who just gets turned off by the look or thought of a casserole, I would say do yourself a favor and take the dive. You won’t be disappointed.
4. Mashed Potatoes – We’ve reached the Rushmore. Mashed Potatoes are a must at any Thanksgiving table and I would make the argument that if the person who is cooking your Thanksgiving dinner can’t make good mashed potatoes, they should be stripped of all holiday duties in the kitchen forevermore. My recommendations? Keep it simple – Yukon Gold or Idaho Russet potatoes. Put them in cold water in a pot with a lot of salt, bring to a boil until fork tender, drain and then add milk, salt, a lot of black pepper and a LOT of butter. Mash and add ingredients until you get to the desired texture you want. Be careful not to add too much milk right away or they can get soggy.
3. Stuffing – I mean, it’s seasoned baked bread. What more could you want? I have had homemade stuffing, Stove Top stuffing, stuffing baked in the turkey, stuffing outside of the turkey, it doesn’t matter – it’s delicious. It’s ashamed that stuffing only gets it’s due this one time of year, but if it’s only going to come around once, I’m glad it’s on Thanksgiving.
2. Gravy – Gravy is absolutely getting it’s own day in the sun here. Imagine your plate with no gravy. It would be empty. A wasteland. A sad state of affairs. Gravy is the luxurious glue that keeps the entire meal together. Too often gravy is lumped in as some afterthought additions – “mashed potatoes and gravy”, “turkey and gravy” etc. I say who is Hall without Oates, who is Batman without Robin, and what is Thanksgiving without gravy?
1. Turkey – The undisputed king of Thanksgiving. I’ve heard it all before – “The sides make the meal…” “I’m not even a huge turkey fan…” “The turkey is a little dry…” – make NO mistake about it – without turkey there is no Thanksgiving. It’s the catalyst for everything else that happens the entire day. You can do a dry brine, wet brine, fry it, bake it…when you season and butter it the right way, there is nothing better. The sides are great, but without the turkey, it’s not Thanksgiving. So this Thursday, raise a glass to the undisputed champ, and enjoy a great day with your family and friends.
We’ll be back to sports next column!