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southern thanksgiving

Maura Friedman

A proper Southern Thanksgiving always includes sweet potatoes in multiple forms.

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13 ways to know you're having a Southern Thanksgiving

No, this is not a lead-in to a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

Southern Thanksgivings do, however, have some fairly distinct characteristics that make them actually the best feast days in the country. And — with fried foods, pork and casseroles in abundance — why wouldn't they be? Here are 13 ways to know your Thanksgiving is truly Southern.*

The turkey comes out of the fryer
Deep-fried turkey is more than just a gimmick, though — when done properly, it is one of the quickest, juiciest ways to prepare the bird.

Dressing is made with cornbread
Preferably homemade cornbread, and it'll come spiked with pork (in bacon or sausage form) or oysters.

Sides come in casserole form
Whether it's green bean or broccoli, sweet potato or corn pudding, our sides get mixed with cream, shellacked with fried onions and baked in a 9- by 13-inch pan until they're bubbly and golden brown.

Speaking of sweet potatoes ...
They can appear in many places, but always in a casserole (topped with pecans and/or marshmallows) and a pie. Candied yams are also a must-have for many of us. Long live the sweet potato!

Collards are an acceptable non-casserole vegetable
One of the few vegetables that can appear sans-toppings, braised collards are crucial for many Southerners on Thanksgiving, and they will almost always include pork.

Macaroni and cheese is a side dish
While some Northerners may find it odd, mac and cheese is a Thanksgiving staple down South. Don't make it fancy or add any crazy stuff, though. Pasta, cheese, milk and butter — that's it.

Biscuits over rolls
Sure, you'll see dinner rolls at plenty of Southern Thanksgivings, but biscuits are really where it's at. If you're really lucky, you'll even get both.

Appetizers always contain mayonnaise
Whether it's in pimento cheesedeviled eggs or some kind of dip, you'll see mayonnaise all over the appetizer table. If your family is correct, it'll be Duke's.

Salads don't contain lettuce
Chances are, if you get served a salad at a Southern Thanksgiving, it'll be made with Jell-O, Cool Whip and some kind of canned fruit. We love our congealed salads in the South, and the holidays are the perfect time to pull them out.

It's hard to be a vegetarian
There's gonna be pork or smoked turkey in just about everything on a Southern Thanksgiving table, so if you're a vegetarian, make sure to warn your host or eat in advance. 

There will always be pecan pie
The queen of Thanksgiving dessert, pecan pie is a must-have. But any true Southern Thanksgiving will also have an abundance of dessert offerings, and, no, those sweet potatoes don't count (unless they're in a pie crust).

Sweet tea is on the table
Depending on your family, there may or may not be wine and/or whiskey at Thanksgiving, but there will always be sweet tea. The caffeine is a must if you're going to stay awake during the football game.

Yes, football
Thanksgiving comes early in the day in most Southern households. You've got to have eaten, had seconds and dug into your pie before kick-off. Obviously.

*In case you doubt the authenticity of this list, I fact-checked it with multiple other Southerners, including our chief technologist who comes from a Northern Florida family. He said, "This is my parents' Thanksgiving to a T. We do a fried turkey and they take a turkey to the bbq place in town and have one smoked too. ... We legit do green bean and broccoli and sweet potato and corn pudding casseroles. Mac and cheese for sure, we do rolls instead of biscuits, but just because my mom doesn't have the oven space for it. Deviled eggs. We don't usually have a real salad, and there usually is a Jell-O salad, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and coconut cake."

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Photos (green bean casserole, Jell-O salad): Ramona King
Photos (mac and cheese, sweet tea): Kate Williams


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Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.

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