Talking Turkey: The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Sides

Talking Turkey: The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Sides

Welcome to this year’s first installment of Talking Turkey!  Today, the sides are the star as I humbly present to you The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Sides!!

Regardless of whether you are Team Turkey or Team Ham, the Thanksgiving sides are really where it’s at.  As for me and my house, we are definitely Team Turkey.  But whatever your carnivorous preferences, though, I think we can all agree that the meat isn’t necessarily the star of the show on the big day. It’s the side dishes!!

Truly.  Let’s think about it.  When you start reminiscing about Thanksgivings past, how many times do you catch yourself saying, “Oh, man.  The turkey is my favorite part!” My money is on…you don’t.

Thanksgiving Sides — The Real MVP

My money says that your mouth really starts watering when you think about all of the amazing sides.  Just picture it – ponds of gravy in giant piles of fluffy mashed potatoes. Or what about cranberries – are you a fan of fresh or canned?  And the casseroles — just think of the casseroles! Broccoli casserole, corn casserole, sweet potato casserole, just to name a few.

And, of course, everyone has opinions on stuffing.  Is it stuffing or dressing? Does it go in the bird or in a separate dish?  Should it be made with cornbread or white bread? Oysters or sausage? And is there actually a thing as too much sage?

What about vegetables?  Can squash pureed to baby food consistency with copious amounts of brown sugar really be called a vegetable?  Should green beans be served fresh or drowning in creamed soup and french fried onions?  (I’ll let you guess my answer to that one.)

So many questions!  And so many options!  In a world of such side dish abundance, how does one go about choosing which ones to prepare on the big day?  Might I offer some help in narrowing it down?

The CATS Method

When I decide exactly what sides to make on Turkey Day (or any large meal, actually), there are four factors that I take into consideration.  Let’s call it The CATS Method. In CATS, we pay special attention to:

  1. Color
  2. Appetite
  3. Tradition
  4. Space

Color:  If you think about it, many of our favorite Thanksgiving foods are beige.  The turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes are all some variant of white or brown.  They’re delicious, yet colorless. So, what sides could add a pop of color to your table or buffet?

Appetite:  So, exactly how hungry are your people gonna be that day?  How many mouths are you going to be feeding? Do any of them have any allergies or dietary requirements that need to be considered?  Simply put, what amount and types of food are needed?

Tradition:  We all have those certain foods that, come hell or high water, must be on the Thanksgiving table.  Maybe it’s the one time of year that you serve Grandma’s jello mold.  Maybe you don’t even particularly like green bean casserole, but your brother-in-law would be crushed if he didn’t get it. What does tradition and love dictate you serve?

Space:  Let’s be practical for a second.  It’s simple geometry that someone with a double oven and a six-burner stove is naturally going to be able to make more food at one time than someone with a single oven and two burners.  Map it out if that would help. Put the empty dishes you plan to cook with in the oven and on the stove to see if they will fit when used simultaneously. What do you actually have room to make in your cooking space?

A Sample Menu of Sides

To get your creative juices flowing, let me offer the list of sides that I plan on making this year.  I’ll break down where they are with the CATS Method and offer some links to where you can find good recipes online, too.

Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes — C?  White as can be, baby, and I am A-OK with that.  A? I’ll be making a full 9×13 pan and it will all be gone, guaranteed.  T? Off the charts traditional, as they’re what my grandmother always made.  S? They’re made ahead, so I’ll only need space to warm them up once the turkey is out of the oven.

Cranberries — C?  Beautifully red means a nice pop of color on your plate.  A? Making a single recipe is always more than enough for our crew.  T? Yep! At our house, homemade is the only way to go. S? Made ahead and kept in the fridge makes it a great space-saver.  I base my own recipe on this from the Pioneer Woman.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon — C?  Dark green and delicious.  A? I won’t make many because not many people will eat them.  However, I’m taking my own appetite into consideration because, unlike most people, I don’t like my vegetables to be covered in sauce.  T? Not a tradition in our family, but that’s OK! And S? These are a stovetop endeavor for me, so space really isn’t an issue.

Dad Williby’s Sausage Stuffing — C?  Mostly brown but with nice pops of green from the celery.  Not everything has to be pretty to be delicious. A? The recipe for this makes a ton, so there’s always plenty to go around.  T? When someone’s name is actually part of the recipe title, you know it’s traditional. S? I will gladly use whatever space necessary to make this stuffing.  Amen.

Honorable Mention — Some other sides we’ll be noshing on include a layered salad and green bean casserole (high on the Tradition scale), a veggie tray for the kiddos, and some sort of rolls. And gravy!  Good Lord, we can’t forget the gravy.

One More Side Note (Hardy har har…)

There’s one more T you may want to consider in The CATS Method and that is Time.  Are you going to have time to make everything you want to make? And how do you get it all ready for the table at the same time?  Well, friends, that’s another post for another time. Soon, though, I promise!

In the meantime, here are a couple other Talking Turkey posts that might help you as you plan:

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Menu Breakdown

Now, happy cooking!  Don’t forget to share your favorite Thanksgiving sides and any recipe links, comments, or questions in the comments below!

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