Thanksgiving dinner has never been about turkey.
The focal point of the biggest meal of the holiday season can be brined, roasted, or fried, but it will never escape its fate as lean, bland bird meat. On its own, it’s more of a lowkey punishment than the centerpiece of a celebration.
That’s why we have side dishes. The heart of Thanksgiving is the supporting cast that soaks across your plate and imparts a little extra flavor to the day’s starring attraction. Good sides are a meal on their own, reduced to complementary status in the name of an hour-long gorging. They even get their own stewards thanks to the presence of desserts and beverages tasked with cleaning the whole mess up.
Put all that together, and you’ve got one hell of a meal. And, for the dads of the nation, a prelude to the greatest recliner nap they’ll take all year.
In the interest of celebrating the one celebration of America that doesn’t involve hot dogs, we turned the perfect Thanksgiving meal into a competition. Five SB Nation writers joined forced to draft their ideal meals. The ground rules:
- everyone starts with turkey and gravy
- everyone drafts two sides, one dessert, and one beverage (adult or otherwise)
- sides must be fundamentally different from one another to be considered a viable alternative to an already-picked food (i.e. sausage and herb stuffing vs. Stove-Top is good to go, but pumpkin pie vs. pumpkin pie with whipped cream is not).
Our four-round draft was a randomly-assigned snake draft, and our managers could pick sides, dessert, or beverage in any round of their choice. These are the results:
1. Stuffing — Louis Bien
Easily the MVP of every Thanksgiving dinner. Stuffing stands up well on its own, but it pairs with everything else beautifully, too. Stuffing complements everything around it, and everything complements stuffing. It just tastes like Thanksgiving. And it saves amazingly well for next-day sandwiches. Some people like to add sausage to their stuffing, but that’s one job too many for what is essentially the do-it-all point guard of any feast. Let stuffing be the giver that it is.
Christian D’Andrea: Cool man. You took breadcrumbs cooked inside a bird anus No. 1 overall.
Alex McDaniel: If Stove Top is No. 1, let’s give up now.
2. Mashed potatoes — Christian D’Andrea
An easy choice. Mashed potatoes are the glue that you dip your turkey in so that other, better foods (stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, etc) will stick to the bird and thus make it taste like something. It’s also instrumental in the post-meal leftover sandwich, which is easily the best part of Thanksgiving (old man naps while seating completely upright aside).
Fooch: I’d like to continue shit-talking Louis on this one. Forget stuffing — mashed potatoes is the go-to side. Mashed potatoes is the Orlando Pace of this draft. The offensive tackle prospect that you know will turn into a Hall of Famer. It’s not a sexy pick, but like Christian said (when he wasn’t trashing my old man choices), it’s the glue of the Thanksgiving meal.
Louis: Boxed fake mashed potatoes >>>>>>> real mashed potatoes. I will take no more questions at this time.
3. Cranberry sauce (Ocean Spray) — David Fucillo
I’ve learned to enjoy fancy cranberry sauce, but nothing tops the gelatin version! Some will mock me for my distaste of gravy, but this actually serves as my choice of gravy. I combine all my sides together with the turkey, and the cranberry sauce is what keeps it from turning into a lumpy mess.
Louis: This is high for cranberry sauce, but I get that people really love it, and I like the gelatin version over the Real Stuff, too. But I will NOT abide this gravy slander, sir.
4. Cornbread dressing — Alex McDaniel
Aside from being the Thanksgiving dish most likely to start a family fight over the right way to make it, cornbread dressing is the quintessential side-that-could-also-be-a-meal holiday food. (It’s also way better than stuffing in that we don’t shove dressing up a bird’s ass.)
Louis: Y’all know you don’t have to cook stuffing in the turkey’s butt, right?
5. Pumpkin pie — Eric Stephen
In theory I probably should have picked a side dish here, but since I had two picks back-to-back I wanted to give the Thanksgiving dessert its proper due as a first-round pick. Pumpkin pie is not something that should be eaten year round, but it is a Thanksgiving staple. There was no way this was lasting until the end of the third round, so I had to make sure to grab my dessert — the dessert — right away.
Fooch: Every draft requires someone forgetting that a selection already happened. I was psyched to take pumpkin pie in the third round, only to realize I missed Eric taking it with the fifth overall pick. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream is what Thanksgiving is all about. I probably should have taken it over cranberry sauce, but such is life.
6. Green bean casserole — Eric Stephen
I have to be honest here: for the overwhelming bulk of my Thanksgiving dinners, I’ve had fairly standard green beans, maybe spruced up with bacon here and there. But green bean casserole is the ultimate comfort food, and perhaps more importantly it’s one of the easiest sides to make — green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and fried onions — which is important for those of us who aren’t hosting but rather bringing something to the table.
Christian: Easily the worst kind of bean. I appreciate the casserole’s commitment to making a healthy food so capable of bringing on a stroke.
Louis: Is there any part of green bean casserole that actually tastes good other than the French’s fried onions sprinkled on top?
Fooch: The fact that Christian shit-talked my Brussels sprouts the way he did and doesn’t offer nearly enough hate for green bean casserole is just unacceptable.
7. Sweet potato casserole — Alex McDaniel
I’m not sure why I didn’t make this my first pick because it’s undeniably the most on-brand example of Thanksgiving indulgence in existence. How do you make sweet potatoes, a naturally tasty and good-for-you food, more appealing? Mix them with a shitload of butter and brown sugar and eggs and vanilla before topping them off with marshmallows and EVEN MORE butter and brown sugar. Plus, it’s the only dish other than boring-ass cranberry sauce that counts as a side AND a dessert.
Christian: A dessert as a side dish? You really are from the South.
8. Brussels sprouts (with balsamic glaze) — David Fucillo
A vegetable I would never eat as a kid I have grown to love as an adult. I’d be fine with just a basic sprout dish cooked with some salt, pepper and garlic. In reality, a balsamic glaze and potentially some bacon takes this side to a whole other level.
Christian: Of course the guy who picked candy corn and raisins at Halloween wants Brussels sprouts, the villain food from every Nicktoon from 1992-1998. Enjoy your tiny cabbages, old man.
9. Sausage and herb stuffing — Christian D’Andrea
How do you improve on stuffing? Add a bunch of pig fat to it. This is effectively a breakfast sandwich, blended down into spoonable form. I love every word in that sentence, so that’s an easy pick for me.
Louis: Talks shit about stuffing then takes the frozen Jimmy Dean’s version of it eight picks later. OK.
10. Spiced peaches — Louis Bien
It was slim pickings for sides at this point of the draft outside of [Insert vegetable] and [Insert starch]. But spiced peaches are a nice curveball on the plate — sweet and tart and delicious. Who cares that they don’t actually go with anything.
Alex McDaniel: It’s hard for me to talk shit about such a delightfully Southern dish, but I’m guessing spiced peaches in Wisconsin just means throwing some cinnamon on a Del Monte fruit cup and calling it a day.
11. Rye old fashioned — Louis Bien
A simple, noble, delicious cocktail that tastes like the embodiment of crackling fireplaces, cozy sweaters and fucking off from work.
Christian: You went to the University of Wisconsin and chose rye over brandy for your old fashioneds. The city of Madison will judge you for this. Harshly and drunkenly, as is tradition.
Louis: Do I get to rebut in the comment section? Listen, I hear you, but brandy hurts, man.
12. Cheesecake — Christian D’Andrea
A top five dessert after any meal. Can be topped with literally any fruit in order to make it healthy.
Louis: Yes, that’s exactly what I want after my 20-pound meal, a sugar bomb with the density of a red dwarf.
13. Roasted potatoes — David Fucillo
Gotta have a starch and I couldn’t justify scalloped potatoes. Mashed potatoes are the easy choice, but a quality toasted potato can bring a little something extra.
Christian: How difficult was it for you to pass up “rolls” or “water” here?
Louis: “Mmm, pass the filler please.”
Eric: This is a great side, but missing only one step: mashing the potatoes.
14. Hot bourbon cider — Alex McDaniel
Adding bourbon to apple cider is a) delicious and b) more socially acceptable than drinking straight whiskey from a Solo cup at the Thanksgiving table. Or so I’ve heard.
Christian: The only thing I don’t like about this pick is your Solo cup bias. Next you’re going to tell me everyone sits on chairs that don’t fold up at your house and the kids’ section isn’t just a three-legged card table.
15. Mac n’ cheese — Eric Stephen
The gamble in picking my dessert first meant that most of the good sides would be snatched up by this time of the draft. But what could be better to add to Thanksgiving than one of the best side dishes for any meal? Mac n’ cheese is delicious whether out of a box or made from scratch, and for an extra touch maybe through some bacon in there since I didn’t get to add them to my green beans above.
Louis: I am probably very, very alone in this, but I love mac n’ cheese in pretty much every context except Thanksgiving. Here’s a sumptuous banquet of Earth’s bounty, and also cheddar noodles.
16. Boring-ass regular cider — Eric Stephen
I suppose I could have just picked a beer, or even tequila here (man, that would hit the spot right now), I picked a beverage I have in my kitchen at this very moment. Yes it’s relatively plain, and non-alcoholic, but the spicy warm beverage is just perfect for the holidays, and hit the spot.
Christian: Warm Dr. Pepper was RIGHT THERE.
17. Salted caramel pie — Alex McDaniel
Listen. If you eat a bunch of rich and/or sweet stuff at dinner, maybe DON’T make this your dessert choice. Eat some Jell-O and go lie down. But if you kept things dry and boring, salted caramel pie is the dessert you DESERVE, not to mention a hell of a lot more creative than standard, boring, embarrassingly un-salted pies.
Christian: Is the recipe for this just “salt, sugar, butter, milk” and then a shrug emoji?
18. Hot buttered rum — David Fucillo
I’m not a big holiday drinker, but this just seems like a quality option during a cold, winter evening. Why get complicated?
Christian: OLD. MAN. PICK. Fooch drafted himself a Thanksgiving meal he read about once in a Dickens novel.
19. Porters/brown ales (like say, Tyranena’s Rocky’s Revenge?) — Christian D’Andrea
A good warming beer to ease in the oncoming winter. Nothing sets up the 4 p.m. hibernation break quite like a couple beers to wash down the week’s worth of carbohydrates you just ate.
(Tyranena, please send me stuff.)
Fooch: I love a good porter or brown ale, but I can’t even begin to imagine trying to drink this during or right after a huge Thanksgiving meal. I’m a glutton when it comes to this meal, but this would knock me on my ass before I even finished eating. I at least like to make it back to the television and pass out while watching football.
20. Ritz cracker pie — Louis Bien
I think this goes by mock apple pie in some circles, but we usually make this with pecans and/or walnuts in the mix, too. Ritz cracker pie is light and fluffy and sweet and perfect after over-gorging on everything else. I almost always end up having some for breakfast the next day.
Christian: I ... have no idea what this is?
(Ritz, please send Louis stuff.)
Our final results:
SB Nation’s 2019 Thanksgiving draft
|Drafter||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4|
|Drafter||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4|
|Louis Bien||Stuffing||Spiced peaches||Rye old fashioned||Ritz cracker pie|
|Christian D'Andrea||Mashed potatoes||Sausage & herb stuffing||Cheesecake||Porter/brown ale|
|David Fucillo||Cranberry sauce||Brussel sprouts (w/ balsamic glaze)||Roasted potatoes||Hot buttered rum|
|Alex McDaniel||Cornbread dressing||Sweet potato casserole||Hot bourbon cider||Salted caramel pie|
|Eric Stephen||Pumpkin pie||Green bean casserole||Mac & cheese||Apple cider (boozeless)|
So who won our inaugural Thanksgiving sides draft? Throw your vote in below. The winner will earn a smidge of pride. The loser will be mocked relentlessly for having terrible taste.
If you can’t see the poll, click here.
Who won the Thanksgiving food draft?
This poll is closed
Louis: Stuffing, Spiced peaches, Rye old fashioned, Ritz cracker pie
Christian: Mashed potatoes, Sausage & herb stuffing, Cheesecake, Porter/brown ales
Fooch: Cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts (w/ balsamic glaze), Roasted potatoes, Hot buttered rum
Alex: Cornbread dressing, Sweet potato casserole, Hot bourbon cider, Salted caramel pie
Eric: Pumpkin pie, Green bean casserole, Mac & cheese, Apple cider (boozeless)