Ah, Thanksgiving—the biggest, most traveled, and arguably best culinary holiday of the year. It’s like a comforting, cozy retreat for our souls during a time of plummeting temperatures and very little daylight. Of course, what makes the gathering so special is the food. So after a full day behind the burners tending to turkey, why would you mess up the year’s most important meal with a slew of sucky side dishes? Avoid Thanksgiving’s worst offenders, which we’ve carefully outlined for you here, at all costs. And make sure Aunt Karen gets the memo.
Canned Cranberry Sauce
If the skin-crawlingly perfect can shape—and the way it slithers from said can!—of this congealed atrocity isn’t enough to keep you away, I’m not sure your dinner can be saved. At best, it’s a gritty gel tarnishing juicy turkey slices and fluffy dinner rolls. At worst, a jiggling display of 1950s canned food gone wrong.
Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions—anything that’s been boiled turns into a sopping mess that should never see the light of day on Thanksgiving. Instead, give these vibrant autumn veggies what they deserve: a good roasting until they’re crisp around the edges and showing off their best flavors.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Why on earth would you ruin such a good thing? Sweet potatoes and yams are already packed with plenty of sweetness. Gobbing marshmallows on top and melting them into a gooey mess only means it will stick to literally EVERYTHING. And nobody needs a sugar bomb like this—not even at dessert.
A prime example of 1960s trends gone terribly wrong, Ambrosia and Jell-O salads should have been banned long before the new millennium. Seriously, what sort of crime against fruit is this?! Not only is it way too sweet and sticky, the goopy texture is enough to send chills down our spines.
These might be grandma’s favorite, but she’s sure as heck the only one still eating them. (Seriously, who wants to eat an onion on its own?!) Even in this overly buttered cream sauce, pearl onions are uncalled for—and they definitely don’t do anyone any favors in the breath department.
If anyone shows up at your door with a tray of pre-cut crudité, feel free to send them packing. Not only is this insanely lazy, it’s nowhere near the caliber of side dish that your pristine turkey deserves. Even as a game day snack it’s pushing it—and Thanksgiving isn’t even about football.
Is it corn bread? Custard? A savory “pudding?” No one knows because this dish is impossible to nail—and it’s honestly not worth the effort even if you do. A mish-mosh of canned and creamed corn and cheap cheese totally ruins a fall harvest favorite. If you must serve corn alongside your bird, slice it off fresh the cob.
Caramelized Sweet Potatoes
Adding extra sugar to nature’s candy is blasphemous when it results in this syrupy mess. This sad excuse for a Thanksgiving side dish also eats up extra time, as you have to cook the potatoes first before “caramelizing” them in a puzzling mixture of brown sugar and orange juice. Just serve your baked potatoes and be done with it.
Green Bean Casserole
Yup, we said it. Whoever thought to match frozen green beans with canned cream of mushroom soup must have been off their rocker. Adding canned fried onions doesn’t help its case, either. If you’re going to include this dish, do it right and use entirely fresh ingredients. Too much work? We thought so. Leave this off your table and sauté fresh haricot verts instead.
Macaroni and Cheese
Sorry not sorry that this comfort food darling isn’t the best match for Thanksgiving. While the jury’s still out on its pairing with turkey (we’re not huge fans), it’s also completely unnecessary with all of the other carb-loading you’ll be doing all day (looking at you, stuffing, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and pie).
While some swear by a second protein on Thanksgiving, this is simply turkey’s day to shine, no buts about it. Ditch the hog and stick to the traditional bird or go home. I mean come on—there isn’t even any tryptophan to blame your self-induced food coma on. Pass!
Sure, your bird looks pretty legit packed with sausage stuffing but the result is a soft, soppy blob of too-wet bread and crunchy celery. Opt to make the perfect stuffing with the stovetop method and finish it in the oven for peak crispness that will soak up all that gravy goodness and turkey au jus on your plate.
Butternut squash, cauliflower, split pea—no matter what you plan on serving as the precursor to the main event, it’ll pretty much be a moot point. Just cut to the chase and don’t waste precious time, or space on the table, on making and serving soup.
Potatoes Au Gratin
As if Thanksgiving wasn’t gluttonous enough, now you want to add even more starch? And top it off with tons of cheese? No thanks. Even when executed perfectly, au gratin style has nothing on classic mashed potatoes—especially when buttered, smashed with skins, and super garlicky. Like the saying goes, keep it simple.
Raw cranberries are super tart and pairing them with green apples doesn’t help that case. Plus, no one wants to spend the time grinding them to a pulp (literally). What’s more, this is a cold condiment that messes up the jibe of your turkey and ‘taters. Let this one go and spend your time making delicious homemade cranberry sauce instead.
You know what’s worse than 1950s-style frozen spinach that’s cooked to a sopping mess? Adding gobs of butter, cheese, and cream until those soggy greens are floating in glorified party dip. Toss out this garbage idea (seriously, what do people really this by the forkful?!) and add some real greens to the table: Steam or pan-saute some fresh spinach with garlic and top quality extra virgin olive oil. And a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan, for good measure.
Boiled Brussels Sprouts
Ah, the hotly debated brussels sprout. While nearly every food blogger, lifestyle guru, celeb chef, and nutritionist laud the reprisal of this miniature cabbage, we know it doesn’t live up to the hype. At least not on Thanksgiving’s scale. Leave the subpar, gassy veg for your post-holiday grain bowls. And don’t listen to your hipster friends about keeping it on the table for an “ironic, 1970s throwback.” That’s what the mid-century whiskey decanter is for.