The complete guide to a perfect Thanksgiving meal



Dana Hogan

All holiday celebrations seem to revolve around a meal. While we can never seem to agree on the proper Christmas or Easter dishes, the Thanksgiving menu is borderline untouchable. Let’s take a look at how each item on the classic menu stacks up. 

First up, we, of course, have the turkey. Let’s be real, turkey is not quite as elegant as a juicy filet roast, yet not quite as basic as chicken. It’s almost as if we choose to make the most mediocre of meats each year for Thanksgiving, perhaps because it allows for the side dishes to really be the showstoppers without totally sacrificing the integrity of the main dish.

In regard to the sides, there are only two real competitors for the top spot—mashed potatoes and stuffing. Mashed potatoes are like the favorite cousin of the Thanksgiving meal. Everyone can agree that mashed potatoes have something special to them, that they are always there when you need them and you really can never get enough of them, just like everyone’s favorite relative. 

Stuffing, on the other hand, is a bit like the aloof relative that only shows up on special occasions, but when they do show they bring with them all sorts of gifts and laughs, making their rare appearances all the more appreciated. So the mashed potato versus stuffing debate really comes down to which relative you like better—the always-there staple favorite, or the special-occasion gift-giver. 

Another key aspect to the Thanksgiving meal is the cranberry sauce. This is one of the few dishes that actually adds any color to your plate and makes you feel as though you’re not eating a stack of cardboard, albeit delicious cardboard. Not only is the cranberry sauce aesthetically pleasing, but it also throws in a touch of sweetness that the meal would otherwise solely receive from another essential side, the sweet potato. The sweet potato is like the mashed potatoes’ little brother who was never quite as smart or athletic, but who people always loved anyway because of all of his personality and spunk. 

Despite the inferior of the two potatoes, the sweet potato is still a widely loved Thanksgiving dish, as it brings a much-needed sense of uniqueness and jazz to the meal. One final staple side dish that, like the cranberry sauce, adds a touch of color and beauty to an otherwise beige plate, is the string bean. Whether you go for the basic, steamed string bean or the bolder string bean casserole, this dish brings not only vibrancy but also a touch of nutrition (or at least we like to tell ourselves) to the Thanksgiving feast.

In all honesty, though, Thanksgiving simply would not be Thanksgiving without the pièce de résistance, the pie. Getting through the rest of the meal waiting for the pie is like sitting on the Mayflower, waiting patiently to reach land. Granted, life on the Mayflower was pretty rough, and the Thanksgiving meal itself is actually pretty great, but you get the idea. 

Pumpkin, apple, pecan, whichever is your pie of choice, we can all agree that there’s nothing to end the feast like a slice of pie, or three, with a whipped cream mountain on top. When your nosy aunts and uncles start asking you how classes are going and if you’ve found a significant other, or when your younger cousin starts throwing a temper tantrum, just grin and bear it knowing that at the end of it all, you get those delicious desserts that you have been waiting for all year.