Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes, Ranked From Worst To Best

I am the Thanksgiving lady. The one who obsessively collects all of the glossy Thanksgiving editions of foodie magazines every year. The one who always hosts, and won't let guests bring anything but dessert and wine because I am fixated on controlling the menu. I also spent five of my younger years working every Thanksgiving at a slammed NYC restaurant along the Macy's parade route. Besides paying my rent for the entire month, those holiday shifts showed me what people wanted, and didn't really want, on their Turkey Day plates.

And so I now present you with the definitive, completely and unabashedly subjective ranking of the 13 most popular Thanksgiving side dishes. Let's get started.

13. Cranberry sauce

I love the idea of cranberry sauce. A tart and slightly sweet little somethin' somethin' that gives a little bit of oomph and complexity to all those other flavors you've managed to fit onto one forkful of food. The problem? Cranberry sauce never delivers. I've made a bunch of homemade ones myself, bought the pre-made ones from the fancy gourmet market, and even bought the tin canned variety for those die-hards who say nothing else will do. But regardless of which kind I serve... meh.

Apparently my family agrees with me, because whenever I serve it, it remains untouched on my table, as it usually did on all those patrons' plates in NYC. This year, I'm not gonna bother.

12. Sweet potato casserole

Now here's a side dish I just don't get. You take this perfectly delicious root veggie like sweet potato, and then, instead of doing something tasty to it like mashing it with butter or doing something interesting with bourbon and nuts, you add extra sugar to it, and top it with candied fruit and marshmallow. It's as if a group of kindergartners were tasked with inventing a holiday side dish, and forgot to add the Skittles. Just, no.

11. Creamed onions

I think my issue with creamed onions is that I've never had ones that were prepared well. They certainly seem like they have the potential to be delicious, what with the heavy cream and nutmeg and crunchy topping included in the better recipes I've found. Unfortunately, I've only ever been served the boxed, frozen variety that seem more like they should be used to sauce a serving of bland meat, not be presented as a side dish on their own. Thanks, but I'll pass.

10. Corn pudding

Much like with a sweet potato casserole, it really irks me when you take a naturally sweet thing, like corn, and then make it even sweeter — yet don't call it a dessert. So when a corn pudding veers off into a decidedly desserty direction, you lose me. When a corn pudding, however, goes more savory, with additions like sour cream, cheese, bacon grease and the like, I will change my tune entirely. The risk of a corn pudding being a sweet dish is always there, unfortunately, and therefore, cannot merit a higher score on this list.

Sorry, corn pudding. You could've been a contender.

9. Candied yams

Some folks use the terms sweet potato casserole and candied yams interchangeably. Having lived down South for a few years, I can tell you, they're definitely two different things.

Candied yams, when prepared traditionally, are just chunks of sweet potato cooked with butter, sugar, spices, and maybe some fruit juice. They're too sweet for my taste, but I've had some that were made with love and top notch ingredients that I did have to admit were pretty tasty. If I had to serve either candied yams or sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving dinner, it would be candied yams without hesitation.

8. Cornbread stuffing

Now we're talking. Finally, we've gotten to the part of the list where I need to start deciding how much room to dedicate to everything I'm about to pile onto my plate. My issue with cornbread stuffing, however, is that it can (you guessed it) be too sweet. If you make it with a not-too-sweet homemade cornbread, sausage and sage, I'll be your best friend. If it's been made with that super-sweet blue box of corn muffin mix, you're going to lose me.

7. Green bean casserole

If you grew up in the 80s in the Northeast of this fine nation, you were almost guaranteed to have a green bean casserole on your Thanksgiving table. The recipe was invented by Campbell's, introducing us to the perfect vehicle for their canned cream of mushroom soup. My mom always made the version of the recipe that was found on the side of the can of Durkee French fried onions that were necessary for the fabulously crunchy topping. This casserole consisted of a short list of ingredients — frozen green beans, the canned soup, milk, and those gloriously crispy onions. This was the side dish that even the people who hate vegetables could get down with.

I may have just convinced myself to make one this year.

6. Mac and cheese

Mac and cheese is such a conundrum. At its best, one could argue it would jump up to one of the top spots on this list. At its worst, however, it's bland and mushy and makes you mourn for the calories you could have consumed elsewhere.

For a baked mac and cheese to really score, the cheese needs to be sharp, tangy, and flavorful. The pasta should still have some bite, and the sauce should have the kind of zing you only get from the smart additions of ingredients like mustard or hot sauce. Last but not least, we can't forget the buttery bread crumb topping. Bonus points if it's garlicky.

5. Roasted root veggies

OK, OK... I totally get if some of you are ready to throw your phones at me right now at the mere suggestion that something like roasted vegetables could score this high on this list. "Higher than mac and cheese?!?" I hear you cry. But hear me out. Thanksgiving is the day when all of these wonderful, but often overlooked root veggies, like parsnips, celeriac, purple carrots, and acorn squash finally get their chance to shine. And what about Brussels sprouts? Roasted until they're caramelized, with bacon, and maybe a touch of maple syrup or balsamic vinegar, they're a veggie that could win over the biggest meat and potatoes guest at the table.

Say what you will. I stand by my decision.

4. Biscuits, breads, and rolls

You know that you're celebrating the carb-o-holics dream holiday when you get to the biscuit, bread, and rolls category, and you're still only at number four on your countdown.

When it comes to the bread category of foods, I don't discriminate. Please, by all means, give me a rustic seeded rye, buttery buttermilk biscuits, a homemade honey wheat bread, or even crescent rolls that just came out of a can. If it were up to me, a nice loaf of pumpernickel would find its way to the table, too. Added bonus if the butter is nice and soft for superior spreadability.

3. Creamed spinach

The only thing that makes me sad at a good steakhouse is when I order a side of creamed spinach, and realize that I'm expected to share it with the rest of the table. I may have to share it with my guests this Thanksgiving, but if I multiply the amount of guests I have times ten, I should have enough to get me through the week.

There are absolutely right and wrong ways to make creamed spinach. First of all, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, do not make your creamed spinach with baby spinach. Baby spinach is meant for quick stir fries and salads — that's it. Use the good old, dark green stuff, that looks like it's got some hard living under its belt. Clean it and chop it as small as possible, and add it to a cream sauce you've made with a roux of butter and flour, and heavy cream. Do not add cream cheese. Sauteed onion and garlic are optional, but encouraged. Required are salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Yes, nutmeg. Do it.

2. Mashed potatoes

I confess, I really agonized about the ranking of the top two Thanksgiving sides to include on this list. Who am I, a lowly food writer, to declare that universally loved mashed potatoes don't deserve the top spot on this list?

I make mashed potatoes every Thanksgiving, of course, and I'm going to give you a few rules to help you out:

First, it is very hard to use too much butter, or cream, but it's very easy to not use enough of either. And salt. Don't be afraid of the salt. If you think your potatoes are bland, add more salt.

Second, you can absolutely make them ahead of time. Keep them warm on the stove over a double boiler, or in a slow cooker. Reserve extra of your cream and butter mixture, and stir some more in every half hour.

1. Bread stuffing

And here we have it folks. The undisputable, (according to moi,) number one side dish to ever grace a Thanksgiving table. And I'm even going to tell you the correct way to make it.

Keep in mind, folks, you don't need a mix. Those bags of crouton-like bread nuggets are OK in a pinch, but this isn't a pinch. This is Thanksgiving, man. Get it right.

All you need is a good, hearty loaf of sourdough bread — the kind you get from a fancy bakery counter. I know it costs like six bucks a loaf. Don't be cheap, just buy it. You also need butter, eggs, chicken or veggie broth, celery, onions, and salt and pepper. That's it. Let's do this.

The only stuffing recipe you'll ever need

Start by removing the crusts — they'll be too chewy if you mix them into the stuffing. Shred the remaining bread innards into bite-sized bits. Arrange them on a cookie sheet, and toast lightly in your oven until they are just starting to tan — but don't let them get too browned. Transfer them to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, melt a stick of butter in a large pan. Yes, an entire stick. Add a cup of diced yellow onion, a little less of diced celery, and cook until just soft. Season the mixture with a tablespoon of poultry seasoning, and make sure to add salt if your poultry seasoning doesn't have it. Add two cups of broth to the pan, until just warmed. Pour the mixture over the bread pieces, and stir. Add one whisked egg that you've thinned out with a bit more broth, and stir it in well. Transfer everything to a well-greased casserole dish. Cover the top of the stuffing with more butter that you've cut into small pieces. At this point you can cover it and keep it in the fridge for a day or two before you cook it (bring it to room temperature before you cook it, though). Place the stuffing in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 40-60 minutes. I start it out loosely covered in foil, then remove the foil after about 30 minutes. Cook until the top is nicely browned, and the center is hot all the way through.

You're welcome.