The Ultimate Guide To A Pop Culture Thanksgiving

As The O'Jays might sing, Thanksgiving just ain't Thanksgiving without the ones you love. Frankly, one of the few prerequisites to an enjoyable holiday is a steady dose of beloved family and friends each and every November. Of course, while your real-life counterparts are undeniably important, it's just as crucial to ensure you're spending time with your fictional favorites as well.

There's no shortage of popular Thanksgiving-themed episodes from television history. Consequently, there's a veritable smorgasbord of pop culture dinner components with which to craft a hypothetical holiday meal. Given our immense familiarity and adoration with these episodes, we decided to assemble a holiday dinner that incorporates different dishes from some of our favorite Thanksgiving TV episodes of all time. In other words, we created the ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner menu with dishes as seen on television.

Though our menu consists of well-known and enticing options from a wide swath of different post-1990 sitcoms, we wouldn't say our imaginary dinner (and coinciding Thanksgiving sitcom marathon) is more enticing than anyone's actual turkey day selections. But if Friendsgiving taught us nothing else, it's that there's always room for multiple turkey feasts each year. Without further ado, we present our guide to the ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner.

Buffalo wings from Cooper's (King of Queens)

To say Doug Heffernan (Kevin James) loved his food on "King of Queens" is a severe understatement. Therefore, he's providing the appetizer for our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving in the form of a tray of Cooper's famous buffalo wings. Brought to his first Thanksgiving dinner with then-girlfriend Carrie (Leah Remini) and her father, Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller), during the Season 3 flashback episode "Dark Meet" (streaming on Peacock as of 2022), the wings are guaranteed to provide a delightful start to our meal.

The flashback to Doug's first time meeting Arthur (and his slightly-deranged late wife Lily, gleefully played by guest star Florence Henderson) perfectly illustrates the interpersonal dynamics that drove the show's popularity — the same ones that allowed it to exceed all expectations with nine seasons on air (via Variety).

Arthur's volatile absurdity leads him to lock himself in the bathroom in protest, causing Carrie to run away just as Doug arrives. After Doug makes awkward small talk with Lily about the half-hot, half-mild wings he'd brought, Carrie eventually returns — leading each future spouse to say "I love you" to the other for the first time.

Spatchcocked turkey (Bob's Burgers)

A motivated Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) is always amusing on "Bob's Burgers," particularly when his family can't match his enthusiasm. This is the case in the Season 8 Thanksgiving episode "Thanks-hoarding" (streaming on Hulu as of 2022), where Bob finds a personal need to "redeem" himself by cooking a second turkey dinner for his favorite customer (and begrudging friend) Teddy (Larry Murphy). We're adding this second turkey to our pop culture Thanksgiving menu because it was "spatchcocked!" — which Bob yells when breaking the breastbone before cooking the turkey, as required by the spatchcocking method.

The opportunity to dine on any turkey cooked by the inimitable Bob would be enticing enough. But the episode features the main Belchers in key supporting roles amid a Teddy-heavy plot — one of the best Teddy episodes in series history, in fact, according to Game Rant — so choosing Bob's spatchcocked bird as the star attraction was an easy decision.

Frankly, if it was irresistible enough to coax the Belchers into eating a second entire turkey diner, it's more than qualified to anchor our holiday celebration.

Phil's intimately-roasted turkey (Modern Family)

A textbook definition of an ensemble show, "Modern Family" could credibly claim any number of cast members as its so-called MVP. For our money, though, the most dependable member of the extended Pritchett clan was the good-natured if naive Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell). Burrell was a two-time Emmy winner for a reason, after all. And his full talents were on display during the Season 6 Thanksgiving episode "Three Turkeys" (streaming on Peacock as of 2022), when Phil is infatuated with a Nigella Lawson-voiced cooking app while preparing the family's Thanksgiving turkey.

Tasked with cooking the holiday meal by Claire (Julie Bowen) — for reasons not entirely understood (via TV Fanatic) — Phil experiences the expected trials and tribulations throughout the process, as the family's zaniness is on full display. The stand-out episode deftly incorporates every single cast member in some non-superfluous manner, leading to a series of comedic misunderstandings driven by Jay's (Ed O'Neill) trademark selfish tendencies.

Clearly, our readers chose this as the best underrated Thanksgiving episode in a 2022 poll for a reason. With three turkeys to choose from (as the episode title implies), we're honoring Phil's efforts and adding his prized turkey to our pop culture table.

Marie's tofu turkey monstrosity (Everybody Loves Raymond)

We wouldn't say the world's forgotten about "Everybody Loves Raymond" by any means. But it's hard to argue the massively-popular 1990s series has remained as relevant as contemporary sitcoms like "Friends" or "Seinfeld." Still, the show remains gut-bustingly funny, and, naturally, a show about a far-too-close family would excel in holiday-themed episodes. This was never truer than in the Season 3 episode "No Fat" (streaming on Peacock as of 2022), which provides our third protein in the form of a tofu, ahem, "turkey" prepared by Marie (Doris Roberts).

As an open-minded group, we're inclined to include a vegetarian main option for guests at our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving meal. And just because Ray (Ray Romano) and Robert (Brad Garrett) react unenthusiastically upon tasting the molded tofurkey doesn't mean it wasn't delectable. After all, who could really believe Marie Barone would cook anything remotely unappetizing?

One of the funniest plots and sight gags ever seen on the show — both for fans and cast member Patricia Heaton (Debra), according to American Entertainment — we can't help but include this legendary tofurkey in our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving.

Raj's gravy as thick as the plot (Big Bang Theory)

"Big Bang Theory" was at its best when the entire cast was playing off each another. Since holidays provide an easy excuse to gather a group of purported close friends and family together, it's no surprise one of the best examples of the core cast's incredible chemistry occurred during the Season 7 Thanksgiving episode "The Thanksgiving Decoupling" (streaming on HBO Max as of 2022). Consequently, we're taking a key dish for our meal from the self-renowned master chef Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), with his gravy — thickened like the plot of the episode.

One of the many items Raj finds himself preparing for the group's Thanksgiving, the way Nayyar creepily recites the line puts the dish (and scene) over the top. The fact he's responding to the off-the-wall (yet totally plausible) revelation that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) married an ex in Las Vegas (in what she thought was a fake wedding) makes it one of the funniest moments in an often laugh-out-loud episode.

While the series ended up drastically different than the one envisioned by the original pilot (via Entertainment Weekly), after 12 seasons on the air, those changes were clearly more than welcome.

Potatoes three-ways (Friends)

There's a legitimate argument to be made that the slate of Thanksgiving episodes from "Friends" is more widely known than any other show. We'd be remiss, then, if we didn't include a "Friends" dish in our pop culture Thanksgiving dinner. In order to incorporate the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, as well — since the ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving has to include the parade — we're taking the three types of potatoes made by Monica (Courtney Cox) in the Season 1 episode "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" (streaming on HBO Max as of 2022).

One of the more famous Thanksgiving items featured on the series (via Vogue), Monica's efforts to appease her friends' holiday wishes include mashed potatoes "with lumps" for Ross (David Schwimmer), another dish of mashed potatoes with peas and onions for Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), and tater tots for Joey (Matt LeBlanc).

Does anyone need three potato options at a Thanksgiving dinner? Probably not. But since we can combine all three as a singular trio, we aren't second-guessing this selection on our menu. Add in the chance to see a giant cartoon dog balloon drifting above Manhattan, and this is an easy inclusion.

Grandma Ernestine's yams with nutmeg (Master of None)

Perhaps less known than other shows on this list, "Master of None" more than earns a spot with its Season 2 episode "Thanksgiving" (streaming on Netflix as of 2022). But it's not just that Grandma Ernestine's (Venida Evans) yams would make for a delicious addition; nor is it solely the hysterical way Dev (Aziz Ansari) loudly and repeatedly asks a hearing-impaired Grandma if her yams include "a little nutmeg?" during a tense dinner that makes the dish essential.

Frankly, it's the poignancy of Denise's (Lena Waithe) years-long journey of self-acceptance before coming out as gay to her mother (Angela Bassett) that makes this dish a must-have at our Thanksgiving feast. Of course, since the episode's plot was largely reflective of Waithe's personal experience, according to Vanity Fair, it's no surprise the carefully-crafted dramedy handled such a heavy topic with humorous aplomb.

Waithe became the first African American woman ever to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series in 2017 (via The New York Times). In other words, there's no doubt she and the show earned their spot at our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner.

Stuffing from the mines (South Park)

When most folks think of "South Park" Thanksgiving episodes, there's a decent chance that visions of Starvin' Marvin still immediately spring to mind. But that relic from the show's early, more controversial (and nakedly silly) days doesn't provide any turkey day dishes that top the literal stuffing mine seen in the Season 15 holiday episode "A History Channel Thanksgiving" (streaming on HBO Max as of 2022). And since we need stuffing at our Thanksgiving dinner, why not take it straight from the stuffing mines found on planet Plymouth?

While the bizarre "Thor" parody doesn't make much sense if you're unfamiliar with the film, the episode deftly makes up for that by cutting the so-called educationally-focused History Channel (via Forbes) down to size. Still, more than anything, this selection provides an almost unlimited amount of stuffing for our pop culture Thanksgiving meal. And what more could we ask for than mountains of stuffing awaiting eager mouths?

Squash, but not beef (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

The gang from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" has done countless horrific things to the people in and around their lives. But at least they're not completely oblivious to their terrible tendencies, which sets the scene for the Season 9 Thanksgiving episode "The Gang Squashes Their Beefs" (streaming on Hulu as of 2022). The Paddy's Pub crew gathers everyone they've allegedly wronged through the years to squash the beef, which Charlie (Charlie Day) takes literally, preparing beef — and squash, which we're including in our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner.

With Dennis (Glenn Howerton) in max-creepy mode, and hatchets ready to be buried in buckets of dirt (get it?), the dinner goes accordingly awry as expected (via Paste). With plainly selfish motives, the gang's efforts are rebuffed — which eventually causes the five main characters to lock their guests inside a burning apartment.

The meal featured in this classic "Always Sunny" episode may be an unmitigated disaster, but Charlie's pot full of mashed squash wasn't to blame. So, we're bringing the classic Thanksgiving side onto our menu.

An allegedly fresh-picked veggie medley (New Girl)

While it may have been named (and originally modeled) after the titular new girl Jess (Zooey Deschanel), the crackling chemistry between the eclectic characters of "New Girl" ensured no one person shined brighter than any other. The palpable warmth generated by the cast meant Thanksgiving episodes were often the most memorable. This is particularly true in the Season 3 episode "Thanksgiving III" (streaming on Netflix as of 2022), where Nick (Jake Johnson) forces the group to go camping for the holiday, and demands they only eat what they find in nature (via AV Club).

We need a healthier dish for our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner, so we're choosing a vegetable medley made with store-bought produce — that Jess, Winston (Lamorne Morris), and Cece (Hannah Simone) try passing off as fresh-picked from the wilderness.

Since "New Girl" is still beloved enough to merit a reflective podcast in 2022 (via Entertainment Weekly), including a dish from one of its Thanksgiving episodes is a no-brainer. After all, the holiday's about spending time with the people you love — even your favorite sitcom characters.

Half-finished cocktails served by Fez (That 70s Show)

Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) was known to drink fairly regularly on "That '70s Show" (to greatly amusing effect), so it was never surprising to see booze flowing freely in the Foreman household. But it's not simply cocktails from the family's bar we're including in our pop culture meal — it's half-finished drinks snuck by an underage Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) during dinner in the Season 5 holiday episode "Thank You" (streaming on Peacock as of 2022).

"That '70s Show" never shied away from showing the true-to-life aspects of underage drinking. In particular, the sitcom's many teenage characters were always eager to take advantage of the chaotic events often distracting the adults in their lives, leading Fez to sneak half-drunk cocktails throughout the episode.

It's not a holiday celebration without the availability of alcohol. For our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner, we can't think of a better source for the necessary booze than Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty — two characters we can't wait to see in the upcoming "That '90s Show" spinoff series.

Apple brown Betty (King of the Hill)

Peggy Hill (Kathy Najimy) was a fiercely confident woman, and a much better mother than many people believed on "King of the Hill" (via Dallas Observer). To that end, she'd prepare an apple brown Betty whenever she felt it was needed, even if she didn't have every ingredient at her disposal. For that reason, we're including the jimmy-rigged apple brown Betty she makes while the Hills are stranded at the airport on Thanksgiving, during the Season 4 episode "Happy Hank's Giving" (streaming on Hulu as of 2022).

After the Hill family faces delay after delay at the airport during a freezing rain storm, they gather with friends and neighbors in the food court, each lamenting their seemingly-ruined celebration. But boosted by the spirit of the season, the group concocts a feast of sorts from leftovers, including an apple brown Betty Peggy makes with the disparate items.

"King of the Hill" may not always get credit for its impact on the modern comedic landscape (via Vulture). But that just means it's worth highlighting whenever possible — and why we'll take any apple brown Betty that's available from Peggy for our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner.

Pecan pie for Bob (How I Met Your Mother)

If there's one thing the "How I Met Your Mother" finale established beyond a reasonable doubt, it was that Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted (Josh Radnor) was the most important combination on the series (via Slate). Perhaps that's why our favorite scene from the Season 3 episode "Slapsgiving" (streaming on Hulu as of 2022) comes when the pair bakes a pecan pie together (for Robin's new boyfriend, Bob) only several months removed from their tumultuous breakup.

After questioning why Robin was baking a pecan pie – in what was arguably the sitcom's most famous episode, holiday or otherwise (via Entertainment Weekly) — Ted overreacts (as he was wont to do) in a typically selfish Mosby manner. The spat leads to the two exes hooking up once more, driving additional laughs before the big meal — along with the lingering slap bet tension between Marshall (Jason Segel) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris).

Without rehashing the show's undeniably polarizing final episode, the chemistry between Robin and Ted was always enjoyable. Because of this — and, well, our belief that pecan pie is unbeatable — we're inclined to include this dessert at our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin pie with bones (Boy Meets World)

The enduring legacy of "Boy Meets World" compared to other TGIF staples isn't hard to understand. After all, as Ben Savage (Cory Matthews) told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, the show grappled with universally relatable themes and issues. Still, a fantastic set of performers helped elevate the show as well, particularly Will Friedle as Eric. Hence, we turned to a pumpkin pie baked by Eric and Jack (Matthew Lawrence) during the Season 5 episode "Chasing Angela" (streaming on Disney+ as of 2022) for an additional dessert at our ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving.

After the two college roommates volunteer to host the holiday meal, a series of expected disasters pile up for the monumentally unprepared duo. Eventually, Eric samples Jack's pumpkin pie, which he initially enjoys — before asking "is pumpkin pie supposed to have bones in it?" while pulling a literal bone from his mouth.

Maybe a lackluster pie wouldn't be the star of our pop culture Thanksgiving dinner. But coming from one of the better holiday outings from "Boy Meets World" (via Screen Rant), we're inclined to incorporate this classic pumpkin pie into the mix.

Lisa's cornucopia centerpiece (The Simpsons)

In a collection of the ultimate pop culture Thanksgiving dinner items, it's only prudent to include an entry from "The Simpsons" — the ultimate modern pop culture entity. But somewhat surprisingly, for a series airing its 34th season in 2022, there were fewer Turkey Day offerings to choose from than we'd imagine. Luckily for the countless cranks who long for the show's earlier glory days, we've got a choice selection from the classic Season 2 episode "Bart vs. Thanksgiving" (streaming on Disney+ as of 2022): Lisa's cornucopia centerpiece dedicated to history's greatest women.

Of course, based on the episode title — and the fact that Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright) is notorious for doing terrible things — it's no surprise the spiky-headed scoundrel callously destroys his younger sister's hard work. But the unique and thematically-relevant decoration was more than deserving of the central spot Lisa (Yeardley Smith) attempted to place it in before it was tossed in the fireplace. Therefore, in creating our own pop culture Thanksgiving meal, we're including this pro-feminist work of art on our dinner table.