Whether you deck your halls with Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving or after, one thing we can agree on is that the fourth Thursday in November offers up some of the best food we have all year. From stuffing and gravy to your grandma’s beloved cranberry salad, the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes delight us at best and give us something to talk about at worst. (We all have that one cousin who likes to use the holidays as a time to experiment in the kitchen…)
Flavor experiments aside, Thanksgiving is a time to come together to express gratitude and share a delicious meal while making a few memories along the way. That’s why it’s one of our favorite holidays around here. It’s all about engaging in a culinary experience, which is our specialty.
We started The Austin Artisan to handcraft experiences around the table no matter the occasion. We help busy families connect over a meal at least once a day. We entertain lifelong friends celebrating milestone occasions with private catering. And we make spending time together easier for couples who are tired of arguing over the dishes.
So, you can see how Thanksgiving is the holiday for us. But since it’s our job to make things around the kitchen a little easier for our clients, we decided we’d go one step farther and find out which of the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes would reign supreme if they were to go head-to-head (or stuffing to stuffing) at the dinner table.
This is our not-at-all scientific, but a one-hundred-percent true guide to the Battle of Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes. May your favorite casserole win.
The Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes Hash It Out
Stuffing vs. Dressing
Arguably the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes of them all, stuffing and dressing are essential at the Thanksgiving table. But they are not the same thing. While the flavors may be similar, it all depends on how you prepare it.
Stuffing is quite literally prepared by stuffing it into the turkey’s cavity and letting it cook while the turkey cooks. On the other feather (er, hand), dressing cooks outside of the bird in a casserole dish.
The term “stuffing” actually fell out of fashion back in the 1850s thanks to some Victorian nobles who took umbrage with the vulgarity of the word. But, more recently, the actual dish has declined in popularity due to the risk of food-borne illness.
For that reason, along with the fact most states south of the Mason-Dixon Line prefer it, we crown dressing the winner of this round of the most popular Thanksgiving side dish battle.
Cranberry Salad vs. Cranberry Sauce
While cranberries are still under consideration for the most popular Thanksgiving side dish, they are definitely the oldest traditional delicacy at the table. Ocean Spray estimates Americans consume over 400 million pounds of cranberries each year, with 80 million of them used at Thanksgiving (that’s 20% for those keeping track at home).
Cranberries are native to North America, they were likely in attendance at the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe in some form or fashion since the Wampanoags used the berries in meals, as medicine, and to dye fabrics.
As for more recent Thanksgiving meals, cranberries are usually found in a Jell-O style salad with other chopped fruit or hastily plopped on a plate while your grandma argues the rings from the can are a built-in slicing guide.
If we had to choose (and we do, that’s the whole point of this article), we’d pick cranberry salad as the most popular Thanksgiving side dish this round.
Yams vs. Mashed Potatoes
Up next in our culinary clash for the most popular Thanksgiving side dish, we have yams versus good ol’ mashed potatoes. But first, you’re probably wondering if a yam is the same thing as a sweet potato (and if you weren’t, you are now).
Well, yes and no. Yes, this popular Thanksgiving side dish is prepared in similar fashions, but the yam is a different vegetable. Initially found in Africa, yams have a rough, brown exterior compared to the sweet potato’s softer, reddish skin. They’ve since been used interchangeably since colonial times when enslaved people substituted the New World’s sweet potato for the traditional yam.
Now that we know where yams and sweet potatoes came from, let’s compare them to the beloved Southern staple known as mashed potatoes. Yams are often prepared with a sweet topping or served as a sweet potato pie; whereas, mashed potatoes pair well with the extra gravy from your slice of turkey. However, put the wrong person on mashed potato duty and you risk having goopy, gluey potatoes that stick to the serving spoon instead of falling to your plate with a satisfying “thwack!”
For these reasons, we call the match-up between mashed potatoes and yams a tie in the battle of most popular Thanksgiving side dishes. Don’t make us choose.
Green Bean Casserole vs. Mac and Cheese
At last, two comfort foods go noodle to bean in this brawl of most popular Thanksgiving side dishes. In one tastefully decorated holiday dish, we have green bean casserole with its slightly dubious cream of mushroom soup and crunchy onions. In the other casserole dish, we have creamy and cheesy macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs on top.
Green bean casserole is the brainchild of Dorcas Reilly, a Campbell Soup Company employee who whipped up the dish for the first time in 1955. While it can be customized to different tastes, the original recipe for this popular Thanksgiving side dish calls for six ingredients. And according to Campbell Soup Company, it graces the tables of 20 million families every year.
Macaroni and cheese has been around for a little longer. Like 131 years longer. Mac and cheese first appeared in an 1824 cookbook entitled The Virginia Housewife and has endured in popularity because you can make it super fancy with multiple kinds of cheese or make it with the “cheapest protein possible.” While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend making it with processed cheese, there’s something to be said about serving familiar flavors on holidays.
The only way you could go wrong with this most popular Thanksgiving side dish skirmish is if you tried to make macaroni and cheese green bean casserole (people are still trying to make this a thing, but we’ll leave it at that!). So bring on both mac and cheese and green bean casserole! We have plenty of room for both of them at our table.
Cornbread vs. Dinner Rolls
The final most popular Thanksgiving side dish match-up is between cornbread and dinner rolls. Both are packed with delicious carbs and served with copious amounts of warm butter. You really can’t go wrong with either (and both deserve a spot in the breadbasket). But, to keep things fair, we pick dinner rolls because there’s cornbread in the dressing.
And the winner of the Battle of the Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dish is…
You (well, and us, too!). Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of celebration, gratitude and really great food. If you haven’t sorted out your family’s most popular Thanksgiving side dishes just yet, we would love to help you plan a meal that will wow your family and impress even the fanciest of your guests if you’re in Austin or the surrounding areas. For more information or to make a reservation for the holidays, call Michael at 737-307-2250.