Whether you plan your Thanksgiving menu months in advance or hit the grocery store three days before, you're probably excited about the nation's biggest meal. No matter what time of year it is, we all know what goes into a traditional Turkey Day dinner, right? Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, enough gravy to swim in and, of course, cranberry sauce.
While this might make up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner across most of the U.S., you're overlooking some super-tasty regional traditions. Let's take a closer look at some of these variations to see if any of them are familiar — or might be delicious enough to become new traditions for your own Thanksgiving dinner.
A recent survey found that 82 percent of the country enjoys turkey as their main course. But that's not surprising to anyone. What varies is how the bird is cooked and what it's served with.
In the Northeast region, the most common side you'll find with turkey isn't mashed potatoes or yams or even green beans. It's actually squash! More than half of the tables in the Northeast will have squash on them, compared to less than 20 percent in the rest of the country.
If you want to try squash this year, you're in luck. This wholesome vegetable is incredibly versatile, so home chefs can roast, sauté or bake a side dish with either savory or sweet ingredients. It might be a great complement to Brussel sprouts or served warm with fruit and nuts.
Is squash too conventional for you? Look to the Mid-Atlantic, where one tradition truly stands out. In a nod to the city's German heritage, you'll often find sauerkraut on the table in Baltimore, MD. The fermented cabbage adds a sour kick to the traditional flavors on a Thanksgiving plate, so don't be surprised if it's a polarizing addition to the table.
The Southeast is full of so many different flavor palates that it can be hard to know where to start. Instead of loading their table with vegetables, southerners often pile on the carbs. Mac and cheese is the most common side for people in this region. Candied sweet potatoes are more popular than yams, especially if you put roasted marshmallows on top.
Down here, you'll see a lot of variations on traditional recipes. Instead of bread stuffing, you'll find cornbread stuffing with oysters and other Southern specialties. In Louisiana, specifically in the heart of Creole culture, you might not even find a turkey on the table. If you're looking for a spicy alternative, try infusing seafood into the meal with a shrimp and sausage boil.
When it comes to dessert, you've got plenty of options in the Southeast. In Florida, you'll see fresh key lime pie. In Georgia, pecan pie is the favorite. North Carolina shuns both of those in favor of sweet potato pie. If your family tends to stick to apple or pumpkin, try one of these sweet favorites to shake things up.
The Midwest is known as America's heartland, and their Thanksgiving dinner is as rich and varied as the region itself. Midwest cooks have turkey like the rest of us, but instead of roasting it in the oven, they might just smoke their bird or toss it in the deep fryer. They're also more likely to have ham and even brisket on the table so you'll never go hungry.
Green bean casserole is also downright mandatory at a Midwestern Thanksgiving. Cream of mushroom soup is basically its own food group in this region. If you're looking to increase your comfort food offerings, try one of these classic side dishes this year.
For some reason, many Midwesterners report that holiday dinners include a dessert that has no name but is always made up of Jell-O, fruit and whipped cream. No one knows what it is or where it comes from, but it's always there. If you're willing to step back to the 50s, try this creation out and see if it sticks in your town, too.
Thanksgiving dinner in the Southwest is full of flavor, nodding at the region's Latin heritage. Many menu options have plenty of spice and a Latin twist. Instead of stuffing, you can find cornbread-chorizo dressing on the table. Sweet potatoes may be rolled into tamales and your mashed potatoes can be flavored with chipotle and corn.
You can even try baking some chili peppers in the pumpkin pie if your guests like a bit of a kick. In the Southwest, however, some might prefer pumpkin flan instead of having traditional pie at all.
The Northwestern part of our great country is known for its fresh-grown food, and a regional Thanksgiving may take advantage. With fresh produce and herbs at their fingertips, the possibilities are endless. A chef in the Pacific Northwest, for example, might season and stuff their turkey with fresh herbs from their garden or a local farmer's market.
Embrace this mindset by incorporating plenty of fresh vegetables into your meal. You can support local agriculture by checking out nearby farmers' markets before the big feast, creating a farm-to-table experience worthy of any Portlander.
While you might not want to turn your entire Thanksgiving menu on its head, these regional meals might give you a few ideas if you want to spice things up this holiday season.
Whether you're looking to mix and match new dishes or try a fully new menu inspired by a regional flare, there's plenty of flexibility to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.