Collards, Cornbread, and Sweet Potato Pie: A Southern Thanksgiving Menu

A Thanksgiving menu that takes more than a little inspiration from Southern vittles of all varieties.

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J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

In the collective American imagination, Southern food is often equated with comfort food. So when there’s an entire holiday devoted to gathering around a table full of comfort food, looking to the South for inspiration makes sense: Southerners know how to create a mouth-watering spread filled with savory, buttery, carb-loaded dishes and sweet, sweet desserts.

If Thanksgiving’s got you in a Southern state of mind, then look no further than this menu for some ideas. You’ll find a Cajun-spiced turkey (spatchcocked, so it cooks in less than two hours), classic sweet potato casserole topped with little marshmallows, and all our other favorite sides and desserts from down South.

If you're looking for more recipes and Thanksgiving cooking tips, check out our whole guide to Thanksgiving here.

  • Cajun-Spiced Spatchcocked Turkey

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    Vicky Wasik

    Any recipe involving Cajun seasoning is automatically set up for flavorful success. The rub for this Southern bird utilizes spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, coriander seed, cumin, and black pepper, along with both dried oregano and dried thyme. With a lineup of other dishes waiting for preparation, spatchocking offers a time-efficient solution and evenly cooks the meat in under two hours. You’ll not only be left with a turkey that’s bursting with flavor (and a little bit of heat) but one that’s flaunting a crisp, rust-colored skin.

  • Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole With Cheddar and Gruyère

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    Natalie Holt

    Mac and cheese is a staple on Southern Thanksgiving tables, and there are a number of ways to make it well—really, it’s hard to go wrong. This version sticks to a classic béchamel base and stuffs as much cheese as possible into the sauce itself. Cooking the pasta and cheese sauce with even more grated cheese creates tiny pockets of stretchy, melty bits throughout. The buttery panko bread crumbs make a crispy, crunchy top layer while the flour and butter in the sauce create perfectly browned edges. Whatever you do, don’t count on this one for leftovers!

  • Braised Collard Greens With Ham Hocks

    Vicky Wasik

    Collard greens are synonymous with the South and, more specifically, African-American cooking. The ingredients do much of the work here to impart a deep, smoky pork flavor to the tender greens. Simmering the pork in a Dutch oven full of chicken stock, onions, and garlic produces juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat. Once combined with the collard greens, all that’s needed is a simple seasoning of salt and pepper. Word to the wise: Don’t get rid of the extra pot liquor! We suggest sopping it up with cornbread or slurping it up without shame.

  • Southern-Style Unsweetened Cornbread

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    Vicky Wasik

    To add sugar or not to add sugar? That is the cornbread question. Though quite a debated topic among Southerners, this recipe opts out of sugar and instead calls for the best stone-ground cornmeal you can find. If you’re having trouble finding high-quality cornmeal, a tiny bit of sugar will help balance out the flavor. The finished product is best served warm, as cornbread loses its texture as it cools. We suggest putting your skillet in the oven as soon as your guests arrive.

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  • The Food Lab's Buttermilk Biscuits

    Super Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
    The humble, yet mighty, buttermilk biscuit is an American quick bread that uses baking powder and steam to create layers that are moist, rich, and tender. This recipe creates perfectly light and unbelievably flaky buttermilk biscuits have been perfected through round after round of testing. They're delicious served alongside fried chicken, barbecue, or with whipped cream and strawberries. Get the recipe » [Photograph: Robyn Lee]. J. Kenji López-Alt

    I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather reach for a buttery, flaky biscuit than a bland dinner roll. With Kenji’s recipe, you’ll get tender and crispy rounds each and every time. The trick to creating more layers than you can count is to fold the dough over a few times. The biscuits can be made plain, but flavor can easily be added directly, whether it's cheese, scallions, bacon, black pepper, or honey. Experimentation is encouraged!

  • Sweet Potato Casserole

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    Vicky Wasik

    Though it may look like the same sweet potato casserole you loved as a kid, we gave this classic dish the grown-up treatment. The sweet potatoes’ natural sweetness is brought out by slow-roasting them instead of relying on syrup and sugar. Peppery grated ginger, nutty brown butter, woodsy herbs, and just a touch of tangy dairy offer enough savory flavors to counterbalance all the sugar in the marshmallows. The dish is still reminiscent of the one you loved as a child, but it eliminates the tooth-aching sweetness.

  • Seven-Layer Make-Ahead Salad With Chickpeas, Endive, and Yogurt Dressing

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    J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

    Instead of the garnished mayonnaise that makes up your usual seven-layer salad, we upgraded it from perennial-potluck status to a dish that’s worthy of being shown at a holiday dinner. Six of its seven layers are made up of chickpeas, salted cucumbers, endives, pickled onions, celery, and radishes. The last layer opts for seasoned yogurt in place of the usual mayonnaise to give the salad an overall lighter flavor. Finish it off with crumbled cheese, and garnish with pomegranate and sunflower seeds, dill sprigs, and mint and celery leaves. You’ll be left with a beautiful presentation that’s meant to be made ahead, giving you more time to focus your attention on other Turkey Day tasks.

  • Over-the-Top Creamed Brussels Sprout Gratin

    Over-the-Top Creamed Brussels Sprouts Gratin
    This luxuriously creamy gratin cloaks tender Brussels sprouts in a thick layer of heavy cream, salty cheese, and rich butter. Some crisp, fried bacon adds a pleasant smoky contrast. Get the recipe » [Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

    What’s cheesy and bacon-y and decadent all over? This irresistible creamed Brussels sprout dish, a welcome change from the usual Thanksgiving sprouts, which are generally just steamed or roasted. In order to achieve maximum flavor potential, brown the bacon and the Brussels sprouts, then combine them with reduced heavy cream and shredded cheese. A quick 20-minute trip to the oven will leave you with a perfectly over-the-top masterpiece—just what holiday dreams are made of.

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  • Oyster Stuffing With Fennel, Tarragon, and Sausage

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    Vicky Wasik

    It might sound odd to some, but oysters’ place in a Thanksgiving stuffing is rooted in a long and delicious history. Oysters offer a wonderful savory flavor with a hint of brininess and no fishiness at all. Here, oven-drying the bread instead of waiting for it to go stale helps better absorb flavorful chicken stock and oyster liquor. The usual suspects like sausage and celery are still there while fennel and tarragon make an appearance to complement the flavors of the oysters. It’s a simple adjustment to your average stuffing that makes an elevated take on a classic.

  • Hummingbird Skillet Cake

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    Vicky Wasik

    This iconic Southern dessert is somewhat related to carrot cake, namely due to the light and tangy cream cheese frosting that rests on top. But the cake base has a personality all its own. Banana and pineapple contribute tropical tastes while nutmeg and cinnamon work to intensify the fruit flavors. Instead of assembling it into a stately layer cake, we find that a cast-iron skillet helps dress it down and not take itself too seriously. Not only that, but the skillet makes it easy to transport to mom’s house, so you don’t have to worry about showing up empty-handed.

  • Silky Sweet Potato Pie

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    Vicky Wasik

    Thanksgiving isn’t complete without this Southern classic on the dessert table. Instead of using evaporated milk, we prefer to use milk and cream, which offer a lighter flavor than the canned stuff. Creating the filling involves simmering the sweet potatoes with the dairy and a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, then blending the mixture until smooth. A custard this good deserves a strong base, like our rich, high-moisture crust, which holds up even under the filling, so soggy pie is a thing of the past. Crisp and flaky, right up until the last glorious bite.