The Least Popular Thanksgiving Dishes — and What to Make Instead



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Classic Crock

There is a lot to be thankful for around Thanksgiving, when we surround ourselves with loved ones, take a heartwarming break during the beginning of the dark, cold winter months, and drink and eat well — or maybe not so well. It turns out that a lot of folks are tired of this holiday’s staple dishes. After such an extraordinary year, and since coronavirus suggests we’ll be celebrating more privately this time around, why not say goodbye to the dusty classics and introduce some new and exciting foods to this year’s meal?

Related: Deep-Fried Disasters and Other Thanksgiving Mistakes to Avoid

Roast Turkey
Alexander Raths/shutterstock

Avoid Turkey Letdowns

Every year, the centerpiece of this holiday meal finds a way to disappoint. Whether dry, tough, out-of-budget or too big to fit in the oven, this bird is the source of many woes and (supposedly) drowsy drives. Sticking to the bird theme, here are a couple of alternatives that can’t go wrong.

Related: 28 Alternatives to a Basic Thanksgiving Turkey

Roast Chicken

Consider America’s Actual Favorite Bird

Instead of paying the extra dime for a heritage turkey, go smaller and cheaper with a chicken or two. As America’s most beloved meat, there are thousands of reliable recipes that will ensure a tasty and juicy result — including this new take on a whole roasted bird with the crispiest skin. (No one would stop you from making fried chicken, either.)

Recipe: Mandy Lee

Quails with vegetables

If Chicken Is Too Casual, Try Quail

This special occasion might call for something a little less run-of-the-mill than chicken, and quail is a quick and easy turkey alternative. Not only will they make you feel like a giant, but they offer a wonderful excuse to watch Jacques Pépin work his magic on these little guys while speaking in a thick French accent. Stuff ‘em with sausage or vegetables and you’ve got an easy one-dish meal.

Recipe: Food Network

Cranberry Sauce

Ditch the Cans of Cranberry

Is it Jell-O? Jelly? A readymade dessert? Whatever it is, this cylindrical sauce has haunted Thanksgiving tables for too long. While we try to replace it with homemade versions, it’s time to ask whether this overly tart and sweet condiment is worth laboring over. If we’re going to put in the work, we’ve got alternatives.

Related: 15 Ways to Spice Up Thanksgiving Leftovers


Try Mayo’s Refined Cousin ...

If we’re talking about condiments and birds, mayonnaise is the first thing that comes to mind. But if we’re celebrating, we can take the time to make homemade aioli, the garlicky version that works as a dip for anything. Besides, it can be spruced up to your liking, whether you’re after spice, fresh herbs, or a little citrus zing.

Recipe: Bon Appétit

Apple chutney

... Or Get Creative With Other Fruits

If aioli is a little too far from cranberry sauce, why not make your own fruit preserves to serve alongside charcuterie or cheese? It’s perfectly fine to ditch cranberries. They are tart and — well, and not much more. So why not make some pear butter or a savory apple chutney? Either would go well with poultry and can be kept around for morning toast.

Recipe: BBC Food

Related: 24 Condiments From Around the World to Add Zing to Any Meal

Sweet Potato Casserole
Baked Sweet Potato

Make Speedy Sweet Potatoes With a Twist

One way to avoid the mess of boiling, then pureeing, then topping and broiling, is to go with Carla Lalli Music’s sweet potatoes with tahini butter. She opts for a quick steam and a luscious sauce to compliment the silky meat. Toasted sesame seeds and lime add crunch and a little bite.

Recipe: Bon Appétit

Homemade french fries

Serve Up The Side Everyone Loves

Why waste time getting complicated when everyone loves french fries? Making them is not difficult, either — but it is a process. In addition to potatoes, oil, and salt, a thermometer and a heavy pot for boiling and frying are necessary. You’ll also want to have some paper grocery bags on hand instead of paper towels for draining, because they help fries stay crisper after a final fry. Serve with a variety of sauces or condiments, from the ubiquitous ketchup to an exotic chutney.

Recipe: Ree Drummond

Looking for a slightly healthier fry? Consider these Cheap Air Fryer Recipes to Cut Calories Not Flavor.

sheet pan roasted vegetables and sausage
Kale Salad

Kale Brought to Life

There’s more to kale than its life in stir-fries and smoothies. Massage a spicy and tangy dressing into it and it’ll break down into an exciting slaw that lightens a table laden with heavy holiday dishes.

Recipe: Epicurious

Stir Fry

Smoky Greens

Here’s a way to make greens exciting again: Add wok hei. Not sure what that means? Neither did we. J. Kenji López-Alt explains, and it turns out that the way to create that authentic stir-fry flavor you’ve been searching for is to take a blowtorch to it.

Recipe: The New York Times

Going for Too Many Dinner Rolls
Biscuits and Gravy

Biscuits and Gravy

If you’re going to make gravy this Thanksgiving with the drippings of your bird of choice, you might consider making buttery biscuits, as well. Not only are they a great way to sop up the juices on your plate, but they don’t suffer from some extra butter, a drizzle of honey, or a fried egg in the morning.

Recipe: Kitchn

bread pudding
Crustless Pumpkin Pie
Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

Pies, Pies, and More Pies

Every thanksgiving is dotted by pies that travel across the nation, because they are one aunt’s secret recipe, or from grandpa’s magic formula. And pies are delicious. But this year, since we are celebrating more privately, an easier and less time-consuming alternative might be in order.

Related: 20 Creative Pie Recipes to Spice Up Your Holidays

Apple Tart
Photographs by S Miller/shutterstock

Classic Fruit Torte

There may not be a recipe easier or more classic than Marian Burros’ fruit torte. It takes less than a half-hour to throw together and get in the oven, uses seasonal fruit, and needs only a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream to make it feel fancy. It also turns into a delightful accompaniment to coffee the next morning.

Recipe: Chinese Grandma