Thanksgiving traditions vary by region and by family, but some of the most iconic components of the meal inspire equal amounts of adoration and abnegation. Even the turkey is contentious (if you don’t like it, don’t make it; it’s not the actual anchor of Thanksgiving dinner—or it doesn’t have to be). But Thanksgiving side dishes are the real minefield, from green bean casserole to cranberry sauce.
So which Thanksgiving sides are truly the worst?
One year at Thanksgiving dinner, my sweet grandmother, who had slaved all day in the kitchen to make my worthless ass this wonderful meal, asked me how I liked her squash casserole, squishy summer squash drowned in a gamey sour cream sauce.
“It’s great!” I lied, beaming at her.
She ended up making that same casserole, simply because I loved it so much, every subsequent year, and always gave me double and triple helpings with a big smile and a wink.
Your personal Thanksgiving bête noire is probably something else. Dry turkey? Instant mashed potatoes? Rancid prepackaged stuffing? Can-tastic green bean casserole? Cranberry sauce that plops onto your plate in the shape of the can, ridges and all?
Or something even more sinister, like the following terrible, traditional Thanksgiving dishes (that are all undoubtedly beloved by many, so don’t @ me):
Some people may never even have heard of this foul concoction. Consider yourself lucky. Ambrosia salad recipes vary, but most combine canned fruit, coconut, and mini marshmallows with either mayonnaise or sour cream, and sometimes even Cool Whip and Jell-O. It tastes like a sickeningly sweet puff of fruit-flavored nondairy something, with some dried toenail clippings thrown in for flavor. Sorry not sorry.
Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Funny thing about sweet potatoes. They’re sweet. They do not need a gluey, fake-vanilla-tasting layer of sticky marshmallows on top of them and a whole lot of sugar. If you disagree, get our Classic Sweet Potato Casserole recipe. Otherwise, check out these ways to get creative with sweet potato casserole.
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Be it orange or red or green, with carrots or marshmallows or mayo or bananas or things that are even worse, wake up, Grandma. Nobody likes it. The one exception we’ll make for the jiggly gelatin? Jello shots, of course.
Hey, do you know what giblets are? They’re all packaged up so nicely inside the bird that you might not think about it, but it’s the liver, heart, and other viscera of the turkey. They do add good flavor, but please, do not chop them up and mix them into the gravy itself, for the sake of all that is good and holy. Cook them and feed them to your dog or cat if you don’t want to waste them. Don’t forget about the turkey neck either; it adds a ton of flavor to our Easy Turkey Gravy recipe.
Anything Weird That You Do to Mashed Potatoes
Provided you don’t food-process them into gluey oblivion, mashed potatoes are perfect as is. Don’t screw with them. Under no circumstances are you to add turnips, parsnips, carrots, or rutabagas, and for God’s sake no beets. No garlic. No chipotles. No low-fat anything. No “exotic” freaking spices—no, we don’t want fenugreek mashed potatoes. Nothing. Weird. We want our regular high-fat mashed potatoes, and we want them now (and we want them smothered in gravy, without giblet chunks in it). It is, however, acceptable to add a secondary veggie mash to the table.
Other Contenders for the Hall of Shame
According to a 2019 Instacart survey, there are a couple other widely hated Thanksgiving side dishes that didn’t make my own top (bottom) five:
Specifically, canned cranberry sauce, which is no surprise. And yet, many among us have a soft spot for the soft, cylindrical stuff. If seeing a maroon log of jellied cranberry sauce slither and shudder out of the can makes you shudder right along with it, see our Easy Cranberry Sauce recipe made with whole berries. Or if you secretly love canned cranberries but are determined no one know, make our Jellied Cranberry Sauce recipe from scratch.
Green Bean Casserole
It’s a classic, and allegedly enjoyed (or at least served) in over 20 million American homes on Turkey Day, but there’s so much to hate. Mushy green beans; salty, thick, congealed soup; greasy onions (also from a can!) spackled on top. And yet, I bet some of your mouths are watering right now. If you love a classic green bean casserole, you’re not alone. If you don’t, see how to make green bean casserole more gourmet.
As for the 32 percent of Millennials who, according to that Instacart survey, are not interested in saving Thanksgiving leftovers, you must be doing it wrong. See the best ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers and the most stylish ways to store them.
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Treat yourself to some delicious leftovers.
And see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving for everything else you need to know.