Family, food and football. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.
It’s one of my favorite holidays. It has everything that makes an event great and just a touch more. The values of Thanksgiving and the desire to give thanks has always deeply resonated with me.
But what separates Thanksgiving from the rest of the holidays is the food. Oh heavens, the food. Some dishes are more unique to the holiday, and others are just simply great. The ones that have both? They find themselves on every dining table in the country.
So here it is. Thanksgiving’s top five foods, with a few honorable mentions. Excuse me for overstuffing the list — ’tis the season.
It’s not a food, so it doesn’t quite qualify, but apple cider is a seasonal treat that works well with most foods. Keep it cold, and that brisk taste of fresh apples is an experience in a glass. Don’t drink too much though. It’s easy to forget how good it is when you constantly have it at your side. Speaking from experience here.
I only recently learned how niche a Thanksgiving staple at the Sicoli household is — a nice lasagna dish with fresh mozzarella. It’s a staple of the typical Italian Thanksgiving as a perfect compliment to the traditional food on the menu.
Toss some marshmallows in, or don’t. Either way, sweet potatoes have the charming uniqueness of any Thanksgiving dish. I’ve never had it outside of Thanksgiving, and that always hits home on the special day. Sweet potatoes don’t make an impact, but they provide a nice complement to the main dish without overpowering the plate, like any side should.
5. Apple Pie
Spoilers: no pumpkin pie on this list. If I’m choosing, it’s apple pie. The sweet cinnamon taste mixed with fresh apples and syrup allows for a perfect finish to an ideal meal. Heat it up and scoop some vanilla ice cream on top. Cool it down to a cold and refreshing treat. Its versatility puts it ahead of pumpkin pie. My recommendation? Go check your local Costco — its apple pies are fantastic.
The crown jewel of Thanksgiving will crack the top five but not the top tier. Turkey is a middling meat that can easily be too dry.
But there is nothing on your plate that works better with everything else than turkey. It blends so well with everything, especially the next three items on the list. It’s value to the spirit of Thanksgiving is undebatable. We all grew up tracing turkeys on our hands. It’s the face of Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.
Have you ever had gravy outside of Thanksgiving? I know I haven’t, which immediately bumps it up the uniqueness chart. Gravy makes everything better. It single handedly helps turkey make this list. This is the clear fix for dry meat and the solution to everything on your table that is good, but missing that little something.
The one detriment to gravy is that it can’t hold it’s own on a plate. Nobody’s slurping gravy straight from the dish. I hope.
2. Mashed Potatoes
A side that is already among the best in its field, mashed potatoes are crucial to any Thanksgiving dinner. Buttered and smooth, it works great with other food on the dish. But it isn’t limited to being a side dish. I have definitely heated up a whole plate by itself and while I certainly felt a bit heavier after, it tasted phenomenal. Add gravy or don’t. It’s your choice — mashed potatoes are terrific either way.
Another pro tip: add some garlic salt. It really brings out the flavor in addition to the distinctive texture.
Unique to Thanksgiving. Unbelievably delicious flavor. Stuffing stands alone as the No. 1 choice of the fall holiday. It’s a tradition in my house to make it with my grandmother, and boy, does it come out great. Onions, carrots, corn flakes … the works. It can go anywhere on the plate — it’s quite inclusive. Some houses may not have turkey. Some may have different variations of mashed potatoes — baked, fried, etc. But stuffing is the American unifier that consistently finds itself being passed around the table.