The Difference In Thanksgiving Dinners Across The US

Every year when Halloween passes us by and we find ourselves getting ready for the official holiday season, we also begin the process of getting physically and mentally prepared for another Thanksgiving dinner. Even as inflation still has a grip on the country, the idea of getting together with family and friends over a home-cooked turkey dinner is something that has, is, and will always remain a core American value.

While the idea of togetherness and thankfulness is something that every American citizen can hold dear, to say that Thanksgiving dinners are the same all over our great nation wouldn't exactly be true. For example, The New York Post reported in 2018 that 60% of 2,000 surveyed Americans opted to serve ham instead of turkey, 41% chose chicken, and 37% served roast beef. In 2017, FSR Magazine tells us that 1 out of every 10 Americans planned to skip the laborious process of cooking at home and go out to eat for Thanksgiving. Whether it's a slight deviation or something totally unique, Thanksgiving dinners across the United States are never the same, reflecting the diverse cultures and traditions that make up America as a whole.

Here, we'll explore and detail some of the more interesting takes on Thanksgiving dinner from select states around the country. Who knows? Maybe you'll see something you've been doing on the list as well. 

Expect to find Italian dishes in New York and Jersey

If "The Sopranos" taught us anything, it's that New Jersey and New York has a very rich Italian heritage. The Italian Tribune claims that there are 1.25 million Italian-American residents in New Jersey as of 2022. It is this heritage that combines with the American tradition of Thanksgiving that creates a unique dinner menu that consists of traditional fare found in the States and Italy.

As Italia Living explains, while traditional dishes such as turkey and cranberry sauce are present at Thanksgiving dinners, family-favorite or traditional Italian dishes such as pastas, lasagna, antipasto, or meatballs can also be served alongside them. The Long Island Weekly further elaborates on what is served at Italian-American Thanksgivings, such as spreads of meats like prosciutto and mortadella and cheeses like Gorgonzola and mozzarella. There are also Italian takes on traditional Thanksgiving sides, such as Italian stuffing and stuffed artichokes. Desserts can include anything from pumpkin pie to cannolis.

Some chefs, such as Giada DeLaurentiis, incorporate their Italian heritage in different ways, such as making prosciutto-wrapped turkey or pumpkin ricotta cookies (via Delish). Whether it's traditional or more experimental, there is no denying that the celebration of Thanksgiving in Italian-American households is a perfect example of American synthesis.

Enjoy some frog eye salad in the West

Frog eye salad? What's next, pickled trout lips? Armadillo tail casserole? While this salad may have a name more fitting for Halloween, the truth is that this Southwestern and Western dessert is actually far from any amphibious origins.

According to Matador Network, this dessert is served at Thanksgiving dinners in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. Supposedly born from Mormon communities, frog-eye salad isn't so much your traditional salad as it is a combination of fruits, custard, and believe it or not, pasta. Matador Network explains that the pasta, known as acini di pepe, are small, sphere-shaped noodles that, when cooked, resemble frog's eyes — hence, "frog eye salad." An example recipe by Ramshackle Pantry details that the pasta is combined with fruits such as pineapples, tangerine, and cherries using Cool Whip and topped with miniature marshmallows, mandarin oranges, and maraschino cherries. The recipe, however, is said to be very flexible and is perfect for experimentation, so feel free to mix and match types of fruit and toppings.

While a fruit salad made of pasta may sound strange at first, it's better to try it out for yourself before you judge it. Who knows? Maybe you'll be serving up some frog eye salad just like our neighbors in the Southwest!

Get your green bean on in the Midwest

Chances are that you've probably tried a traditional green bean casserole recipe before. In case you haven't, it's more or less green beans baked in either cream of mushroom soup or your choice of homemade filling and usually topped with French fried onions. As the story goes, the casserole was invented back in the 1950s by Campbell's Soup employee Dorcas Reilly as part of a submission to the Associated Press for home cooks (via Smithsonian Magazine).

While green bean casserole isn't too uncommon of a dish to find at Thanksgiving, Women's Health reports that in 2014 the top five states who have a very special affection for the casserole are Kentucky (at an impressive 78% of residents), Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Maine. Although the casserole doesn't have roots in the Midwest, Nebraska Public Media reports that the dish has found its way to menus and dinner tables across the region, with some believing that the casserole reflects the agricultural and European cultures that make up Nebraska and other Midwestern states.

Green bean casserole isn't the only casserole the Midwestern states like. If you're looking to replace French fried onions with something a little more French fry, you can serve up a tater tot hotdish recipe at your next Thanksgiving.

Empanadas can be found in New Mexico and Arizona Thanksgivings

When you think of Thanksgiving, you'd be forgiven for not thinking empanada recipes are a part of the stereotypical Thanksgiving line-up. After all, you don't expect to dig into a hot empanada when you're polishing off some dark meat and gravy. But for residents of New Mexico and Arizona, empanadas (or at least a particular kind of empanada) may be served alongside the pumpkin pie and the mashed potatoes. explains that these empanadas are more or less a combination of the American pumpkin pie with the baking style of this Spanish turnover. Rather than be filled with beef or vegetables, the interior of the pastry is filled with pumpkin mash and the surface is brushed down with a cinnamon-sugar glaze before being baked until golden, flaky, and sweet. Matador Network reports that the festive empanadas have gained a footing not just in New Mexico and Arizona, but also in Texas and parts of Mexico. Many restauranters experiment with different types of pumpkins and fillings, with some adding pineapple or apple to their pumpkin filling.

If you're looking for something new to serve up, you may want to give these a try.

Your stuffing may have some seafood in New England

When you make your stuffing, you usually use some variation of bread, herbs, and spices to make a savory and fluffy filling. In New England, however, you may not be surprised to learn that this coastal state, well-known for its seafood, may use more than just bread and herbs in its stuffing.

According to New England Recipes, it's not uncommon for some to substitute breadcrumbs with oysters. This tradition seems to go back to late 1600s England, where the seafood ingredient was used in stuffing for certain dishes like mutton and chicken, before it was brought over to the United States and adopted into New England and Massachusetts culture. Oysters would be chopped, mixed with truffles, mushrooms, and spices, and then stuffed into fish, chicken, or turkey. A 1995 cookbook notes that the stuffing should be "palatable, light and slightly moist, well flavored but bland."

As What's Cooking, America? notes, the tradition took off mainly in the New England area because of the relative abundance of oysters along the coast, to the point where oyster bars were a common sight in most major American cities. While some recipes may not call for breadcrumbs, other recipes allow you to use both breadcrumbs and the oyster meat and liquid to make the stuffing.