My Family Had a Side Dish-Only Thanksgiving, and It Was Awesome

published Nov 18, 2014
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A few years ago, my family decided not to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. We didn’t replace it with turkey breast or Tofurkey. We didn’t sub in a glorious stuffed pumpkin. We just cut out the main dish entirely.

How could we have a Thanksgiving meal without the main course, you ask? I’ll tell you how: side dishes. Because let’s be honest — side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving, so we decided to make our meal entirely about them.

Surprisingly, this decision came about without much fanfare. A few weeks before Thanksgiving that year, my sisters and I discussed the menu and divvied up the cooking responsibilities for all our family favorites: my oldest sister would handle the stuffing and mashed potatoes, my middle sister would make the green bean casserole, my husband would bake the pies, our friends would bring their sweet potato casserole, and I would take on the Parker House rolls, as per usual.

Then came the turkey, and the conversation stalled. Finally, someone said what we all were thinking: “Um, what if we just didn’t make a turkey this year?” We looked at each other, gave an eh, a shrug, and that was that.

I have nothing against turkey. Turkey is fine! But it’s not what I crave every Thanksgiving. It’s not the first thing I reach for when we all sit down to dinner. In fact, turkey is usually the last thing I put on my plate, and even then it feels like an obligation. You, bird, have been cooked and thus I eat you on this day. But do I get turkey seconds? Nope.

Luckily, most of my family feels the same way. Give us soft, buttery rolls and a pile of gravy to mop up. Give us creamy green beans topped with salty, fried onions. Give us a mound of mashed potatoes and stuffing all smushed together on a fork. Give us soft, buttery rolls. (I know I said that already, but I’m just underscoring the importance of the rolls.)

So we did.

We had Thanksgiving like we always do that year … just without a turkey. And I didn’t miss it one bit.

(Since then the turkey has returned to our family Thanksgiving. Had it been left entirely up to my sisters and me, I think we would’ve stuck with the side dish-only plan. But my dad is a fan of turkey, and so, turkey is back on the menu.)

Classic Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes from The Kitchn

What about you? Have you ever had a side dish-only Thanksgiving? Would you ever consider skipping the turkey entirely?