The Best Thanksgiving Side Dishes for a Slam-Dunk Meal
Here are the essential Thanksgiving sides, old and new! Stick with the classics, or branch out and get creative — we've got all the Thanksgiving recipes you dream of.
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
What makes a Thanksgiving side dish recipe popular with your friends and family? Everyone has different favorites, which is maybe why sides are the real main event on Turkey Day. There’s a lot to balance in a menu: Do they harmonize with the other recipes on the Thanksgiving table? Are they realistic for your schedule and budget? Will anyone be heartbroken if their favorite is missing from the big meal?
Sometimes you want to shake things up … and sometimes it’s not worth the risk of mutiny. We rounded up a herd of tried-and-true approaches and a bunch of fresh spins so you can mix and match side dish recipes for your ideal Thanksgiving menu.
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Savory mashed potato side dishes
It’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes! You'll want to make a lot of spuds, because they always go fast.
Stovetop mashed potatoes, a classic Thanksgiving vegetable side dish, get an easy flavor upgrade with fresh chives. For the simplest mash, just put your stand mixer to work!
Crock Pot Thanksgiving sides are a set-it-and-forget-it dream. Sour cream adds a little tang. If the prepped potatoes absorb liquid as they sit, add a splash of milk before serving.
Make-ahead recipes create sanity on Thanksgiving Day. The cool thing about Instant Pot Thanksgiving side dishes is you can hold them at the “keep warm” setting for hours, which gives you lots of wiggle room for timing your big meal. Use lots of butter and whole milk or half-and-half for dreamy, creamy mashed potatoes.
Speaking of vegetables for Thanksgiving, garlic mashed potatoes have gained a fan base in recent years. Roasting a head of garlic mellows and sweetens it, lending a sophisticated touch to buttery mashed potatoes that’s set off with a dose of Parmesan cheese.
Stuffing and rice dishes
Technically, it’s stuffing if it’s in the bird and dressing if it’s baked outside of it. Whatever you call it, that celery-onion-herb aroma says "Thanksgiving" like nothing else.
If you’re dreaming of traditional Thanksgiving bread stuffing with celery, fresh herbs, and sausage, you’ve landed in the right place. Fresh fennel, garlic, and fennel seeds add depth and echo the flavors of the Italian sausage. Stuffing is one of the best Thanksgiving side dishes to make ahead. You can toast the bread cubes, sauté the vegetables, and brown the meat several days in advance. But for the best texture, wait until the day of serving to add the egg mixture and bake the stuffing.
Southern-style buttermilk cornbread and sausage stuffing is always a hit on Thanksgiving, and leftovers are the first side to vanish after the feast. You can make this version with regular or gluten-free cornbread.
Low-carb Thanksgiving sides are making steady headway on the traditional table. Is this stuffing, or is it roasted cauliflower? Who cares! Everyone gets to dig into healthy Thanksgiving sides like this, be they vegan, paleo, keto, or just a veggie lover. Jazz up cauliflower with tons of herbs and aromatics to give it the flavor and aroma of stuffing.
Need gluten-free Thanksgiving sides? Try this hearty stuffing, jeweled with dried cranberries and crunchy from pecans. If you have leftovers, toss in diced leftover turkey and Brussels sprouts to make a quick salad for lunch on the go.
Here’s a multicultural Thanksgiving side dish: sticky rice stuffing. You can create this Chinese- and Taiwanese-American dish with ingredients available online or at an Asian market. The salty-savory-sweet flavors go well with the rest of the Thanksgiving spread.
Sweet potato side dishes
Sweet potatoes play nice with all kinds of flavors, sweet or savory — so many enticing options for Thanksgiving side dishes!
Easily one of the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes, thanks to the molten crown of golden brown marshmallows. Whether you call them yams or sweet potatoes, in this classic preparation they infamously straddle the divide between dinner and dessert. (Got leftovers? Try them for breakfast!)
A salad like this is delicious warm or at room temperature, so you can make it ahead like a charm. With spices from cumin to paprika, and fistfuls of fresh herbs, it’s a whole other ballgame from the casserole you had growing up. When you're searching for different Thanksgiving side dishes, consider this. It’s vegan and gluten-free, to boot! Looking for paleo Thanksgiving sides? Just leave out the cranberries.
Shingles of roasted sweet potatoes have an elegant charm … and irresistible crispy edges. If you like your sweet potatoes simple and savory, here’s a lovely entry for making Thanksgiving side dishes healthy. It’s like a lean sweet potato gratin, letting the real character of the sweet potatoes shine through.
Brussels sprouts and roasted veggies
Dark leafy greens and root vegetables get the luxury treatment at Thanksgiving, enhanced with goodies from bacon to cream to spice
This garlicky Thanksgiving side has only five ingredients, including salt and pepper, and doubles easily if you want to make extra. It's a perfect Thanksgiving side dish for a busy home cook.
Brussels sprouts go luxe when they’re bathed in warm cream. Topped with a mixture of breadcrumbs and Gruyere, they’re cheesy and crunchy and could well become one of the best Thanksgiving side dishes in your repertoire.
Easily the champion of roasted vegetables for Thanksgiving, Brussels sprouts have become a sought-after delicacy. And it’s all thanks to a blast in the oven, which makes them just a bit caramelized. The holiday comes but once a year, so take these over the top with bacon, tart fresh cranberries, and a kiss of maple syrup.
Buttery Parmesan breadcrumbs are the perfect topping for this new interpretation of a gratin. Featuring cauliflower instead of potato, it's still just as cheesy and comforting. Use a bag of pre-chopped cauliflower florets to save on prep time.
One of the most beautiful upgrades for the baked potato is the hasselback, which simply involves cutting potatoes into thin crosswise slices and roasting them. The trick: Set chopsticks on either side as you cut the potatoes to keep your knife from cutting all the way through. Then baste with bacon fat or olive oil and add your favorite seasonings.
Glazed carrot recipes often require lots of stirring in a skillet on the stove, but this one is roasted, so it’s way more hands-off, with crispy edges as a bonus. Touches of balsamic and honey lend more complexity than the typical sugar.
For a gorgeous and surprising roasted vegetable side dish recipe, season sliced butternut squash and pears with fresh sage and cinnamon, and roast on a sheet pan until browned and tender. At serving time, add walnuts and a balsamic vinegar-maple syrup glaze. Acorn squash is another tasty option if you want to impress your diners by serving roasted veggies for Thanksgiving.
There’s no guilt to piling healthy Thanksgiving sides on your plate. A salad with leafy greens can be a godsend, something to offset the unrelenting parade of richness from other side dishes at Thanksgiving. Roast the butternut squash and make the vinaigrette in advance, then toss it all shortly before sitting down to feast. Skip the cheese to make this Thanksgiving side dish vegan — otherwise, consider feta, blue cheese, or goat cheese to add some savory contrast to the vinaigrette.
A medley of butternut squash, parsnips, and sweet potatoes roast to sweetness with an easy but intriguing seasoning blend of smoked paprika, ground cumin, and a touch of cinnamon. The recipe serves 10, so you’ll have plenty for everyone at the table — and to enjoy for leftovers. Vegetarian Thanksgiving sides like this often go well with apple cider.
Green bean side dishes
What are some good sides for Thanksgiving if you'd like to add green beens to your menu? The classic casserole is only one way to go. Top green beans with crispy onions, toss them in a pan with nuts and lemon, or bake them in a flaky crust.
People are known to revolt when green bean casserole is missing from the spread. Of all vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner, green beans may be the most cherished. Ditch the canned mushroom soup you'll find in typical recipes — but do top with everyone's favorite french fried onions — and make this surprisingly easy from-scratch version of a classic Thanksgiving side dish.
This is what happens when you take an already beloved dish and add another beloved ingredient: bacon. Not only do you crisp up bacon strips, but you sauté the cremini mushrooms and onions in the bacon fat drippings along with garlic and thyme. Plus, the bacon shows up both inside the casserole and as a crispy topping for double the fun.
If you’re ready to change up the usual recipe format while keeping to the spirit, try baking a flaky pastry filled with creamy mushroom sauce and lemony green beans. (Consider adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in addition to the zest.) You can even set this out as a Thanksgiving appetizer. The galette is also a smart choice as make-ahead Thanksgiving sides go — it’s quite tasty at room temperature. Make the dough up to two days in advance and refrigerate.
Instead of wrangling precious space in the oven to bake a casserole, cook these in a skillet in 15 minutes flat: Soften a shallot, pan-steam the beans, then finish with bright lemon zest. An easy addition to your vegan Thanksgiving side dishes!
Cranberry sauce and salads
Garnet-hued and puckery, cranberries are one of North America’s most iconic native fruits, and they shine brightest when it comes to Thanksgiving side dish ideas.
All it takes is the addition of citrus to an already easy homemade cranberry sauce to make it feel new. Both lemon zest and orange zest, along with chunks of fresh orange, add brightness to this fabulous make-ahead-friendly side dish.
You always want to throw your cranberry sauce together a day or two before the meal — it ticks one thing off your list. Plus, the cranberries have time to set into that lustrous wobbly jelly. This is one of the best Thanksgiving sides for first-time cooks to take on, as it requires little prep work.
Retro recipe time! Many families have grown up serving a version of this cold Thanksgiving side dish, sometimes calling it “pink fluff.” Fresh cranberries, crushed pineapple, miniature marshmallows, and whipped cream meld into a sweet and tangy side dish that veers into dessert territory. Served refrigerated or frozen, salads like this are ace Thanksgiving side dishes to make ahead. Pomegranate seeds added last-minute make this creamy-tart treat sparkle.
Cranberry recipes make the best colorful Thanksgiving side dishes, and this no-cook relish takes all of 10 minutes. Pulse cranberries in a food processor with a little sugar (or honey, to make it one of your paleo Thanksgiving sides) and that’s it — though the texture and flavor improve with chilling. For a salsa spin, you could add minced onion, jalapeño, and cilantro.
Do you like your cranberries tart and more on the savory side? Maple syrup and sweet potatoes foil their bite in this gorgeous salad. Top it with a simple mustard, shallot, and olive oil vinaigrette.
If mild baby spinach and sweet dried cranberries are your family’s thing, this crowd-pleasing salad takes only 20 minutes to put together, and that includes toasting the pecans.
Southern Thanksgiving side dishes
Every region has its own iconic Thanksgiving side dishes. Head to the South and share in their traditions.
In many Southern families, macaroni and cheese is one of the indispensable side dishes on Thanksgiving Day — right up there with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce! As opposed to a roux-based mac and cheese, this casserole is custard-based, with eggs, cream cheese, and a blend of cheddar and other cheeses to give it creaminess. Put the macaroni and cheese together and refrigerate it up to a day ahead; you can bake it on Thanksgiving Day. If you are going to assemble it ahead of time, the recipe creator suggests undercooking the noodles to keep the final texture just right.
Unlike many corn pudding recipes, this one is made without canned creamed corn, so it’s a little more from scratch. It’s rich from sweet corn, cheddar cheese, and eggs. You can go with frozen or canned corn kernels.
Complete your Thanksgiving feast
Thanksgiving may come but once a year, but there's no reason you can't spend all the days you want dreaming about your favorite dishes and planning your perfect menu.