Thanksgiving: Is it all about the turkey or sides?

Turkey or Sides As many of you may already know, Thanksgiving is my thing.  Each year, I put on a 5 course meal for a group of 18 – 20 of my close friends, and I absolutely love every bit of it.  Well almost every bit.  Over the years, I’ve developed an almost comical arch-rivalry with the dreaded turkey.  I’ve brined it.  I’ve cooked it in parts.  I’ve slathered it with truffle butter.  And guess what?  It never turns out well.

At first I was thinking to myself, “Do I lack the skills to cook a really good turkey?  What’s missing here?”  I mean, I know how to cook the smaller version.  But then I realized that for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides.  I put so much thought and effort into creating a tasty landscape of potatoes, yams, green beans, brussels sprouts, cranberries and stuffing, that I usually neglect the turkey.  I love the excitement and variety that comes with having a sizable spread of side dishes.  A dab of this.  A spoonful of that.  A plate brimming with bold flavors.  How could a slice of dry, bland turkey even compete?  The only way would be if the turkey was completely made of crispy skin.

Now I understand that these inflammatory comments may be insulting to those of you who love turkey.  The group of you who gets a rush as that perfect bird comes out of the oven.  Crispy, golden skin.  Juicy, tender meat.  Flavorful drippings transformed into a rich gravy.  A big smile across your face as you set this edible centerpiece on the table, releasing a chorus of ooos and ahhs from impressed house guests.  That proud moment when you carve the first slice.  The group of you who thinks that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey.  Although this perfect turkey scenario described above is one I’ve never experienced myself, I totally understand it’s a reality for many.  And I can respect that.

So which camp are you in?  Turkey or sides?  Please share below!  Continue reading for a video that pretty much sums up my relationship with turkey, plus several recipes for my favorite side dishes.

Watch this:

So here are some of my favorite sides.  Let’s start with Stuffed Savoy Cabbage with Rosemary Brown Butter.

Stuffed Savoy Cabbage with Brown Butter and Rosemary

Shredded cabbage is cooked with bacon and garlic, then wrapped in a whole savoy cabbage leave.  These green-hued packets are finished with a nutty rosemary brown butter sauce.  They’re unreal and can be easily prepared in advance.

Green Bean Casserole

The Green Bean Casserole that 75% of America loves is one that’s been banned from my Thanksgiving table.  That’s the one with canned cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans and processed crispy onions.  Instead, I make this Green Bean Casserole.  In my recipe, fresh green beans are cooked in a homemade soup flavored with earthy dried mushrooms and butter-caramelized creminis.  The dish is finished with crisp, flash-fried shallots.  So yum.

Brussels Sprout and Caramelized Shallot Gratin

Finally, everyone’s favorite Brussels Sprout and Caramelized Shallot Gratin.  Each year, I rotate in some new side dishes to see if they can dethrone this gratin.  They never can.  Blanched Brussels are mixed with melting caramelized shallots, nutty Gruyère, and sharp Parmesan, then topped with a fresh mix of bread crumb, lemon zest and parsley.  The casserole is then baked until golden and bubbly.  This side dish may seem a bit involved, but it can be made a day in advance.  And seriously, everyone will go crazy for it.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving sides?  Or if you are in camp turkey, what is your method for cooking that perfect bird?  I could always use the advice!

PS. I’ve totally thought about doing away with the turkey completely.  But it’s tradition.  And it’s a tradition I just don’t want to mess with.  It’s also a tradition I’ve never photographed, so I borrowed the image at the top from Williams-Sonoma.  All other images are my own.


  1. says

    I’m camp Thanksgiving. I’m about all of it. I love the sides but I also appreciate a good bird. I’ve cooked my turkey in and out of a bag, brined an not-brined but my best turkey is stuffed with oranges, rosemary and thyme and basted every 40 minutes. I think it’s the basting that really makes it juicy.

  2. Kevin Sperry says

    I am all about the turkey( and the dog agrees with me ) every year I try something different with it. My family is all about the sides.

      • Kevin Sperry says

        So far I love the brined turkey I have done it two years in a row. This year my dad bought us a infra red turkey deep fryer. Not sure how it will work out. So I am doing two turkeys

        • Brandon Matzek says

          Haha nice! Well I’ve asked Jorge to handle the bird this year. We may try out that William-Sonoma dry brine.

          • Kevin Sperry says

            I have done the wet brine. I like it better than the dry one. The best tip is to take it out of the brine the day before and let it rest in the refrigarator over night. That at the skin will dry out

  3. says

    Sides for sure! I would rather have great sides than the turkey (because I’m not eating it anyway although I do cook a breast for my family) It’s small, easy, and I can control it to not make it dry. But the sides are my thing. That cabbage of yours reminds me of something my grandma and mom used to make. Yours is beautiful!

    • Brandon Matzek says

      Thanks Averie! Yeah at the moment I feel like I’m cooking the bird for others. Maybe I should just make a couple of breasts and call it day!

  4. Thomas says

    Totally team sides. Turkey is fine but really the stuffing is what I load my plate up with. Love those carbs!!! Cranberry sauce is also a personal fave of mine.

  5. says

    I think you’re fibbing. That turkey looks perfect. But on Thanksgiving I can take or leave the turkey– until the next day. Then I require a heap of dark meat and a slathering of cranberry between whatever kind of leftover bread I can find. Oh, and mayo. Yep. I’m still a white trash southern boy. Yes I am. GREG

    • Brandon Matzek says

      I WISH that was my bird. Unfortunately it’s William-Sonoma’s bird 😉 I will agree with you – I do love some leftover turkey. Especially in a sammich or a big pot of chili.

  6. says

    Brandon, my two favorite ways to cook a turkey, that always turn out are to either deep fry it, or rotate it while roasting. For the rotating method, I start breast-side-down for 45 mins or so then give it a turn on both sides for 20 minutes each, then turn it right side up to finish cooking, so the skin can pop back up. Works like a charm!

    • Brandon Matzek says

      Thanks for the tips Sommer. Do you deep fry in a big pot of boiling oil or do you have a special piece of kitchen equipment to do the job?

  7. Em says

    I’m with you, Brandon. The sides have always been my favorite. I think this started at a young age, because my grandmother (who always did our thanksgiving dinners) was one of those uber!cooks and the spread of sides she gave us was incredible. I could do thanksgiving with just the sides, personally. As for turkey, I’ve dried out so many turkeys trying to do it in the traditional manner. These days, when it’s my turn to do Thanksgiving, I’ve done away with the traditional style turkey and instead cook turkey breast in a big slow cooker by dunking it in broth and spices. I don’t even know if that counts as a “turkey.” Haha.

    • Brandon Matzek says

      Whoo hoo!! Another one for Team Sides 😉 Glad to hear you had such a tasty upbringing. Your recipe for turkey is definitely turkey! Sound like you poach it rather than roast, a method that definitely keeps things moist and juicy. I do love a crispy piece of turkey skins though, so I need to roast one way or another (or deep fry!).

  8. Gavin Hirsch says

    I’m late to this argument but I have to go with both… Thanksgiving is all about tradition and that includes Turkey and a few key sides.

    My Turkey is involved… so much so that I always give her a name since I spend so much time with her. I debone, but not the whole thing… just the body and drumsticks. Not talented enough to get those wings. Then citrus brine over night. Then sage butter and citrus slices under the skin and on top. Sage stuffing inside and to get the juices started a bit of chicken broth and OJ poured over the top. Basted every 30 minutes.

    Man I’m tired already.


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