Inside: Get ready to south your mouth with these top quintessential comfort foods for the best Southern Thanksgiving menu! ➡
What do you get when you mix food, a holiday, and southerners?
And some of the best southern comfort foods of the entire year.
Southern Thanksgiving tables will never stray too far from ten quintessential, required dishes.
We love great food down here, so there’s a good reason that many of these turkey day traditional favorites grace tables throughout the whole U.S on this biggest food holiday of the year.
So what’s on the traditional southern Thanksgiving menu?
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1. The Turkey.
Let’s first talk turkey. It’s the star in our Thanksgiving spread. While we may supplement with a ham, it all centers around the bird.
However you cook it, it must be brimming with delicious flavors – no bland, tasteless meat to be found here. The most popular ways to prepare a flavorful turkey are:
Roasted. And slathered in butter, fresh herbs, seasonings, and spices.
Fried. Faster than roasting and always moist. When we fry, we infuse the turkey with flavor by injecting a marinade mix of oils and seasonings the day before and then coat it in a spice rub (a little kick of Tony Chachere’s is a mainstay for our family).
Smoked. For the diehard grillmasters, this method is a delicious departure from the flavor of roasted turkey.
The Turducken. This “creation” originated in Louisiana so it bears mentioning in the turkey prep category. If you’re wanting a poultry smorgasbord, Turducken is a boneless chicken inside of a boneless duck, which is then all stuffed inside a deboned turkey.
2. Southern Cornbread Dressing.
The dressing is the king of the Thanksgiving southern sides. And this could be my favorite part of the meal. Because when else during the year do you have dressing? You may have turkey or some of the other sides, but dressing is set aside special just for this day (and maybe Christmas).
And in the south, we have strong feelings about whether it’s called dressing or stuffing. And what it should contain. People put all kinds of things into their family recipes like apples, nuts, chicken, turkey, sausage, and boiled eggs, just to name a few. And if you’re feasting in NOLA, you’re likely to have oyster dressing on the table.
You can see my easy recipe for good old-fashioned southern cornbread dressing and read more about southern dressing here. This one’s perfectly fluffy, moist, and full of flavor and made easier with a couple of secret ingredients!
3. Sweet Potatoes.
You’ll always see sweet potatoes, either mashed or in the classic sweet potato casserole form topped with brown sugar and marshmallows. I’m not sure how old I was before I figured out that some people called these “candied yams” because that term never crossed the kitchen when I was growing up.
This new sweet potato go-to recipe is now one of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes – creamy, buttery mashed sweet potatoes with a bourbon praline cream sauce 😋. Once you try it you may never go back.
See the recipe here.
4. Mashed Potatoes or Rice.
A second starch usually accompanies the dressing and it comes in the form of either mashed potatoes or hot fluffy rice. I know most people go with mashed potatoes or even rich and cheesy scalloped potatoes or macaroni and cheese. But growing up in Louisiana my family as well as my husband’s both served rice instead. Because we think rice goes with everything.
5. Giblet Gravy.
And the turkey, potatoes, and rice are made even moister and more delicious doused in a drizzle of giblet gravy.
Don’t know what giblets are? It may be better if you don’t and just eat it because it’s delicious. But it’s the heart, gizzard, liver, and neck – the contents of the bag you pull out of the turkey cavity when you prep.
They’re chopped up and mixed into a gravy made up of chicken or turkey stock, pan drippings, seasonings, and sometimes boiled eggs.
6. Green Bean Casserole.
Because we must fit as many different dishes on one plate as humanly possible on Thanksgiving, a second vegetable is always on the menu. And most often it’s the classic green bean casserole – green beans mixed with cream of mushroom soup or a bechamel sauce and topped with crunchy fried onions.
But if it’s not green beans, you’ll likely see one of these at the typical southern Thanksgiving dinner:
- Corn souffle or corn pudding
- Collard greens
- Carrot souffle
We always had the small LeSueur English peas on our table and we would mix them in with the rice and giblet gravy. But that tradition has been laid to rest – was it only a popular side dish in North Louisiana?
7. A Salad.
The salad is where many of us modern-day southerners jump off the traditional bandwagon. Because honestly, some of the classic southern side salads contained in gelatin or cream are not aesthetically appetizing.
But these vintage salad traditions are still making their appearance:
- Congealed salads
- Fruit salad with a whipped cream base
- Tomato aspic
More often now, you’ll see a delicious salad of greens and fruits. And at least they make us feel like we have one healthy thing in front of us.
8. Cranberry Sauce.
No Thanksgiving dinner menu is complete without the cranberry. I missed out on this Thanksgiving essential growing up because my parents plopped canned-shaped gelatin onto a plate and I wasn’t going anywhere near that blob.
As an adult, I’ve had canned with real cranberries in it and it is tasty (just please never leave it in the can shape).
But even better is to boil up fresh cranberries with a little sugar, water, orange juice, and orange zest. And it’s fun to watch the berries burst!
SH&H Tip: If you’re the host this year, make it easy on yourself. Set a special table ahead of time – I have easy inspiration and free printables here and here.
9. The Bread.
Fresh bread is a must to sop up all of this goodness. The bread basket may hold soft dinner rolls, biscuits, yeast rolls, cloverleaf rolls, or cornbread.
And don’t forget to put butter for spreading on the table!
SH&H Tip: Bringing a bottle of wine to the Thanksgiving host? Here are some creative ways to gift alcohol.
10. The Pie.
And finally, the preferred pies at the southern Thanksgiving meal are usually pecan pie and pumpkin pie.
Sweet potato pie and apple pie may join them. With so much delicious food coming before, sometimes dessert has to wait until after dishes, and then we can truly appreciate the pie while watching football.
SH&H Tip: Make a cooking and shopping task list to keep you organized, calm, and to ensure all the food is ready around the same time. And think about grocery delivery. (The holidays are a great time to try out Amazon Fresh – free delivery over $35 in two hours and you can cancel or add items with no additional fees. Get the free trial here.)
Gathering with family members and friends is the best part of Thanksgiving Day.
But indulging in our favorite traditional Thanksgiving comfort food must-haves makes it even better.
We look forward to them. We won’t eat some of them any other time of year, because that makes them less special. It’s tradition.
And if one of them’s missing at the Thanksgiving feast, you will hear about it.
Don’t forget to sign up for updates to keep in touch…I have lots of fun and useful freebies you may be interested in in my subscriber-only library like my cheat sheet for emergency spice and seasoning substitutions!
Can you share your green bean casserole recipe with us?