The 13 Thanksgiving Foods That Matter, Ranked

Thanksgiving is the best food holiday of the year. Yes, I did. Christmas ham, latkes during Hanukah, and hot dogs on the 4th of July are all great. But none compares to the gluttonous festival that is Bird Day. And it’s not just because of the bird.

Turkey is obviously the food most associated with Thanksgiving: the bird eaten on the first Thanksgiving, so American that Ben Franklin thought it should be the country’s national bird instead of the bald eagle. Luckily we won’t be eating any eagles on Thanksgiving, but we are eating a lot of sides and desserts.

But which Thanksgiving meal is the best? Before you sit down to gorge yourself on Thursday dinner, take a look at our ranking of the best Thanksgiving meals.

REILLY

A green bean casserole made by Dorcas Reilly sits on a counter Tuesday, November 15, 2005, in the corporate kitchen of Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, NJ (AP Photo/Mel Evans)ASSOCIATED PRESS

13. Green Bean Casserole

When it’s done right, it’s great. It’s usually not done right. A boring vegetable mixed with canned soup and topped with fried onion from a bag? No, thanks.

Dinner at Hazelnut Kitchen, Trumansburg, NY

Bagels, an essential part of any Thanksgiving.

12. Rolls

They are a versatile food, great for soaking up sauce and whatever else is left on the plate or snacking on before the rest of the meal is ready. But we eat bread every day, and we don’t get Thanksgiving food every day. Home-baked Pillsbury bagels are better than store-bought bagels, but still. Don’t fill up on bread, folks.

11. Cornbread Casserole

My tyrannical editor insisted I include this dish and wrote this gushing entry, which I can neither vouch nor deny: “While this gooey delight isn’t on every Thanksgiving dinner table, it should be. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and salty, soft in the middle and crunchy around the edges. And it’s beyond simple to make: no more than five ingredients, the recipe is usually found on the back of the ‘Jiffy’ corn muffin mix box. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, make one and bring it back this year; You’ll be the new favorite cousin.”

Cranberry sauce

Close up of container of cranberry sauce on a plate. (Photo by Gado/Getty Images)Gado via Getty Images

10. Cranberry Sauce (fresh)

It’s not a Thanksgiving dinner without cranberries, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And a ton of blueberries are grown right here in the Garden State! They add sweetness and tartness to the dish, pairing with just about any other side. The fresh version of the sauce is nice because the actual berries add texture to the mix.

Assorted Cranberry Sauces

Wegmans Organic Jellied Cranberry Sauce. (Charlie Miller | [email protected])charlie miller

9. Cranberry sauce (canned)

Watching cranberry sauce slide out of a can and onto a plate is a Thanksgiving tradition that rivals even the Thanksgiving Day Parade. What, your family doesn’t do that? Weird. It’s fun, and the smooth, gelatinous texture combined with the tartness of the sauce makes it one of the unsung heroes of parties.

sauce

Dip!

8. Sauce

Homemade? Amazing. From a can? Usually just as good. You don’t need to eat salsa the rest of the year if you don’t want to. But what if you don’t have it on Thanksgiving? You are playing yourself. It’s the glue that holds everything together, and not just because it sometimes feels like glue. It saves the day if the turkey is overcooked and is best friends with mashed potatoes. The phrase is “good sauce” for a reason. because is good

A little magic in the Thanksgiving turkey?

Turkey is not overrated! (File photo)

7.Turkey

Look at. There will be no turkey slander here on NJ.com. Is it the best meat in the world? Absolutely not. But when is it done right? It’s quite delicious. I’ve covered turkey tips here, but for the uninitiated: don’t overcook or overseason the bird, don’t be afraid to try some dark meat, and don’t cover half your plate with turkey.

macaroni and cheese

Macaroni and cheese at the Freetown Road Project in Jersey City.Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

6. Macaroni and cheese

Show me someone who doesn’t like macaroni and cheese and I’ll show you someone who is lactose intolerant. Seriously, who doesn’t love it? It’s pasta and cheese. It’s basically foolproof. You may ask if it’s a Thanksgiving meal, but I won’t listen. I’ll be too busy happily eating my pile of macaroni and cheese.

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Sweet Potato Stew. Too sweet? Too. It’s great. Previewlocal/file

5. Sweet potatoes

The potatoes were already great. So they made them sweet! What will they think next? The sweetest vegetable is practically universally loved. Even kids like sweet potatoes. They are amazing in a casserole topped with brown sugar and marshmallows or delicious just roasted on their own. Heck, they’re even great on a cake.

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Mashed potatoes and sour creamNYT

4. Mashed potatoes

Sure, you can have mashed potatoes whenever you want. But they really shine when served with the rest of a Thanksgiving meal. They’re wonderful on their own with butter, even better with sauce, and elite when paired with just about everything else on the plate. Don’t be afraid to stick them on your Thanksgiving sandwich the next day, either.

Renato's Pastry Raffle

Pumpkin pie, one of the best pies around, and not just around Thanksgiving.

3. Pumpkin Pie

This is basically the only time a year we eat pumpkin pie. Why don’t we eat it on Halloween? I digress. It’s a creamy, seasonal way to celebrate the holiday, with a lovely texture that’s almost custard-like and sensational flavor. The best part? Even the worst pumpkin pie is pretty good. Sweet potato pie is not exactly the same dessert, but it is quite similar and just as delicious.

LOCAL EATERS: Freeland's Riverside Family Restaurant

Apple pie! (Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com)Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com

2. Fruit Cake

Pie is better than cake. And many of the best pies are fruit pies. Even apple pie, perhaps the most overrated pie (I said what I said) tastes amazing on Thanksgiving. Cranberry cake? Sign me up. Peach cake? You shouldn’t have! Cherry pie? Awesome song. It’s not Thanksgiving without cake.

Stuffed West Coast Oysters

Filling! (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post via Getty Images.)The Washington Post via Getty Im

1. Filling

Stuffing is easily the Thanksgiving meal with the highest approval rating. Everyone loves stuffing, and for good reason! It’s undeniably delicious, very seasonal, and almost always tasty. Everyone has their own twist on stuffing – a properly prepared sausage stuffing is a game changer, but even straight out of the box it’s spectacular. Of all the foods on this list, these mouthfuls of tasty heaven are the moments we’re most grateful for.

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Jeremy Schneider can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @J_Schneider and on Instagram at @JeremyIsHungryAgain.

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