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The Best Thanksgiving Foods, Hotly Debated and Ranked

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Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. It is time to pile our plates high with foods we reflexively shun for the rest of the year. But in the Thunderdome that is the Thanksgiving table, which food is the winner? Which is the loser? Which is the Tina Turner? The Old Guys™ debate.


I will begin by defending the most controversial of the Thanksgiving staples: I love stuffing. I love oyster stuffing, I love cornbread stuffing, I love that weird Stove Top shit. I absolutely crave stuffing on Thanksgiving, and here is why: I am aware that I will not eat it again until the next Thanksgiving. After I’ve had my third helping, I don’t even want it for another year. It is one of the few things left in modern American life with built-in scarcity. Restaurants don’t serve it. Mom won’t cook it. If you want it at any other time, you have to make it yourself, and that means doing a whole turkey, which nobody is ever going to do. So for one day a year, scoop up a few big piles, drown them in gravy, and go gorillas. It is your duty.


Hold on, who says stuffing is controversial? Stuffing is universally agreed upon as the champion of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? This column is over. Our work here is finished.

But, fine, in the interest of being needlessly argumentative, the lifeblood of both internet content and Thanksgiving family disagreements, I’m going to go out on a limb here and pledge my allegiance to something that I really do think is unfairly maligned: the damn bird. People are always disparaging turkey as an afterthought, a necessary evil, dry, tasteless, a mere conduit for other more desirable accouterments. I won’t hear it. White or dark, skin on or off, there is no meal without that beautiful, salty, fattened bird of the ground. Are you with me here, or are you involved in one of those weird cults that serves alternative proteins on Thanksgiving? Ham…or, ugh, roast beef? Get the hell out of here.

Here’s a story I just came across today: A supermarket in Maine tossed out 80 turkeys, so an enterprising fella promptly plucked them from the trash and gave them out. I would consider eating one of those dumpster turkeys. That’s how serious I am about this poultry game.

“White or dark, skin on or off, there is no meal without that beautiful, salty, fattened bird of the ground.” —Luke


See, I always used to eat around the turkey. Being the youngest, I would frequently miss out on the dark meat, and the white was always too dry. Turkey would become little more than a gravy delivery system, and by my twenties, I learned that a roll could do that job more efficiently. Plus, if I wanted to, I could just eat gravy.


But I am back on the turkey train, because now I spend the holiday with friends, one of whom fries a turkey. The skin gets crispy, the moisture gets locked in, plus the person doing the frying could get seriously injured. Someone is always standing by, ready to call 911. The stakes are high, and you can really taste the danger.


Please do not die in a turkey-related fireball, David.


Oh, I’m behind glass in a Hazmat suit, don’t even trip. Let’s move on to cranberry. I am pro-cranberry. Not on its own, of course, but as part of that perfectly constructed Thanksgiving forkful: a little turkey, a little stuffing, a little sweet potato, a tiny dot of cranberry to add a tart sweetness to the whole situation. For that reason, I don’t care whether it’s fresh or canned, but let me say this: I cannot stand it when people say, “I have to have it out of the can, with the little corduroy can marks on it, and it has to go SPLOOT onto the plate.” When I hear someone say this, I know that I am talking to a person who is trying to construct a personality, and I check right out. Oh, have you also seen every Law & Order: SVU twice? Do you watch the Real Housewives franchise, but feel mild guilt over it? You’re fascinating.


This is where we part ways. While I can appreciate the balance of savory and sweet in a lot of other things, I’m a strict Church and State guy when it comes to the Thanksgiving plate. I’m not putting jelly on my potatoes.

Here’s what I’m looking at in terms of a power board:

  1. Stuffing
  2. Turkey
  3. Gravy
  4. Macaroni and cheese
  5. Roasted vegetables
  6. Cornbread
  7. Mashed potatoes
  8. Brussels sprouts
  9. Corn
  10. Green bean casserole
  11. Peas

[An infinite chasm of time and space]

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1,000,000. Squash of any kind

1,000,001. Creamed onions, or creamed anything besides just regular cream for your coffee, and even that is questionable


Cream it all, that’s what I say. Corn, spinach, onions, whatever you got. To be creamed is the highest possible goal for a vegetable. You can have vegetables in their healthiest state the rest of the year, but on Thanksgiving, you must have them viscous. The exceptions are Brussels sprouts, which you toss up with thick chunks of bacon or get the hell out of my house; and squash, which is delicious when simply roasted.

And I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing rolls on here. Rolls are the Dean Stockwell of the Thanksgiving table: never the star of the show, but their presence always elevates the project. These rolls can be store-bought, they can come from raw-ish Pillsbury dough, they can be made from scratch. I don’t care, but they must be there—warm enough to melt butter, and in high enough a quantity for me to take home with the leftovers to make tiny sandwiches over the next several days.


Your brain is creamed. Pour that Yogurt Salad into the toilet where it belongs. Agreed on the sprouts though. Did anyone ever figure out why Brussels sprouts had such a bad reputation when we were kids? Did they just figure out how to cook them in recent years? You literally cannot go to a restaurant without seeing a $10 side of sprouts now. We were sold a bill of goods as kids. Maybe because our parents didn’t want to share those sweet little cabbage balls of sauce retention.

“To be creamed is the highest possible goal for a vegetable. “—Dave


Here is my definitive ranking of Thanksgiving desserts:

  1. Pumpkin pie
  2. The thing you do where you fill a baking dish with pumpkin filling, then pour cake mix over the top of it, then pour melted butter all over that, and then bake it, trust me.
  3. Apple pie
  4. The weird cookies your niece made under close parental supervision
  5. Pecan pie
  6. Cake of any kind. Thanksgiving is a pie holiday, except for that thing with the cake mix, which I love because I can make it.


I will agree with you on cake being trash, but I don’t think pumpkin pie gets the top spot. Has to be apple crisp with a completely unnecessary scoop of vanilla ice cream.


Cake is not trash, but this holiday calls for warm crusts. Incidentally, I never had a piece of apple pie until I was nearly 30, and when I did, it was served to me by a British family who poured heavy cream all over it. I’m glad I didn’t have a lifetime full of American pie rules and regulations to prevent me from diving right in, because that shit was delicious, and now I can’t have it any other way.


This is making me super horny for Thanksgiving to get here. I’m hungry enough to eat a creamed onion.


Whatever foods you eat, and in whatever combination you choose, have a very happy, argument-free Thanksgiving, surrounded by love and warmth, bathed in gravy. On this we agree: Reader, we are grateful for you.

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