12 Recipes You’ll Find at a Classic Southern Thanksgiving

updated Nov 25, 2019
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Thanksgiving is nothing if not a feast, and few places know how to feast as well as the South, where hearty, comforting foods have a long history. The South is, of course, always evolving, as people from different cultures arrive, and bring their own dishes and tastes. But there are also some classic dishes that, when they show up at a feast, inevitably bring a bit of Southern style to the meal, no matter where it’s held. Whether you’re in the South, hosting some Southerners, or simply want to add a bit of Southern flair to your Thanksgiving table, these dishes will get you there.

1. Honey-Glazed Ham

Yes, turkey is still the main attraction at almost every Thanksgiving, but it’s not always everyone’s favorite meat. And when you’re hosting a larger gathering, you’ll often want a second protein on the table anyway. Instead of getting a second turkey, consider adding a ham. Best part: This one cooks in the slow cooker, so you don’t need to worry about extra oven space.

Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Honey-Glazed Ham

Credit: Faith Durand

2. Pimento Cheese

This Southern appetizer shows up everywhere from tea parties to potlucks to picnic blankets. But it’s often out early on Thanksgiving as well, assuaging hungry nibblers as the bird and side dishes finish cooking. You can make it well in advance and set it out with crudités, crackers, or both.

Get the recipe: Classic Pimento Cheese

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

3. Ambrosia Salad

This creamy, sweet, marshmallow-studded fruit salad isn’t exclusive to Thanksgiving: You’ll see it crop up at Easter, on picnics, and at gatherings of all sizes. But it’s definitely a classic, tracing its roots back to before the 20th century. It wasn’t until much later, however, that whipped cream and marshmallows were added.

Get the recipe: Ambrosia Salad

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. Grits

No, it’s not just a breakfast dish, or a bed for shrimp. Grits is a bonafide side dish in its own right, as hearty and satisfying as mashed potatoes, and happy to pair with most any kind of meal, from the humble to the celebratory. While some might try to incorporate it into a casserole or even make a grits-based dressing, there’s no need to get complicated. Grits are delicious enough as is.

Get the recipe: Southern-Style Grits

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Cornbread Dressing

While the rest of the country may enjoy a bread-based stuffing with their turkey and sides, no Southern Thanksgiving is complete without dressing. And traditionally, dressing is made with cornbread. But whether you call it stuffing or dressing, the hearty combination of sweet corn and savory vegetables and stock is pretty unbeatable.

Get the recipe: Cornbread Dressing

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Mac and Cheese Casserole

The ongoing joke among fans of traditional Southern “meat and three” restaurants is that mac and cheese is a vegetable. It’s true — the extra-satisfying dish is likely to show up as a side at almost any affair where food is served, and Thanksgiving is no exception. This recipe turns it into a casserole, making it extra comforting.

Get the recipe: Mac and Cheese Casserole

7. Oyster Dressing

Along the Southern coastline, you’re likely to find dressing eschewing the standard cornbread and vegetables in favor of something a little more local — namely, oysters. This version is rich and delicious, both creamy and — aided by the addition of plenty of crushed saltines — crunchy.

Get the recipe: Oyster Dressing

Credit: Dana Velden

8. Collard Greens

The flavors of Thanksgiving are typically earthy: rich, savory stocks, hearty greens and root veggies, etc. Collards, one of the South’s staple winter greens, are right at home among these pairings, and one of the best and most classic ways to prepare them is in a flavorful pot liquor with ham hocks and onions, cooked for a long time over low heat. Pro tip: Add just a touch of vinegar to the liquor to brighten the taste considerably, and it will make the collards taste sweet!

Get the recipe: Collard Greens

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Banana Pudding

When it comes to dessert, pumpkin pie may reign supreme, but it’s hardly alone at a Thanksgiving feast. Most dinners will also include at least one or two other classic Southern desserts, and it doesn’t get much more classic than banana pudding. The easy-to-make sweet treat wouldn’t be the same without piles of Nilla wafers.

Get the recipe: Banana Pudding

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewcyzk

10. Southern Butter Rolls

This one might not appear at every Southern Thanksgiving, but if it’s there, you know you’ve got a true Southerner in your midst. Similar to cinnamon rolls, these incredibly decadent dessert rolls aren’t just glazed — they’re essentially poached in a sweet buttery dairy sauce. Learn more about the history of butter rolls and how to make them in the link.

Get the recipe: Southern Butter Rolls

Credit: Lauren Volo

11. Sweet Potato Pie

While plenty of folks love pumpkin pie, some might say that the orange winter squash is not actually the best base for making a rich, sweet, spiced custard. There are plenty who prefer the sweet potato’s higher sugar content, which gives it the ability to caramelize more thoroughly when roasting and lends the whole pie a much more complex and interesting flavor that pairs far better with traditional pie spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. For those on the fence, however, we say: Make both and decide for yourself!

Get the recipe: Sweet Potato Pie

Credit: Joe Lingeman

12. Pecan Pie

No Southern meal is complete without at least one dish containing the region’s most famous nut: the pecan. While spiced pecans make a great h’ors d’oeuvre (and would be perfectly at home at a Southern Thanksgiving) this pie is more often the typical dish you’ll see on Thanksgiving tables. Serve it with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Get the recipe: Pecan Pie

Would you add anything to this list? What’s important to have on your Southern Thanksgiving table? Let us know in the comments!