What Thanksgiving dinner looks like in different parts of the country

Joanna Fantozzi,Erin McDowell
·8 min read
Manicotti
Manicotti is a popular Thanksgiving dish in Italian-American households. Steve@Colorado/Getty Images

When you picture traditional Thanksgiving foods, you probably think of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and yams.

But since America is a melting pot, it only makes sense that multicultural traditions have made their way onto the Thanksgiving table in different regions of the United States.

Despite health officials advising Thanksgiving dinners and gatherings happen virtually or with just a small group, you might still want to make some of your favorite regional dishes, even if it's just for yourself or your immediate family.

From purple yams in Hawaii to hasty pudding in New England, here are 21 of the most popular regional Thanksgiving foods around the country.

Sauerkraut is a popular Thanksgiving dish in Maryland.

Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

It isn't Thanksgiving in Baltimore without some sauerkraut on the table. What may seem odd to outsiders is an essential side dish for the large German-American population of Maryland. 

Of course, you might also find crab cakes on the Thanksgiving table in Maryland.

Crab cakes
Crab cakes. Causeway/Shutterstock

Crab cakes can likely be traced back to Native American cooking in the Chesapeake Bay region of the United States. However, the first official recipe for crab cakes appeared in a cookbook written by Crosby Gaige in the 1930s, under the name "Baltimore Crab Cakes."

Corn on the cob is another popular side dish in this region of the country since corn is such an abundant vegetable in Maryland.

Hasty pudding is popular in New England.

Hasty pudding
Hasty pudding. sbossert/Getty Images

Hasty pudding is a deliciously simple dessert made with cornmeal, molasses, brown sugar, and spices. It's usually topped with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

Also in New England, stuffing is sometimes made with clams or oysters instead of just breadcrumbs.

oyster cornbread stuffing
Oyster cornbread stuffing. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

You might also find a side dish of creamed onions made with pearl onions and heavy cream.

Some New York and New Jersey Thanksgivings include Italian dishes like manicotti.

Manicotti
Manicotti. Steve@Colorado/Getty Images

The Italian-American Thanksgiving is perhaps the most gluttonous of all, and New Jersey and parts of New York just happen to have large populations of Italian Americans. Before the turkey is served, there will also be servings of manicotti (ricotta-stuffed crepe pasta topped with marinara sauce). 

Pasta is usually served as a pre-cursor to turkey in Italian-American Thanksgiving traditions, but it doesn't have to be manicotti: lasagna and baked ziti with meatballs are known to grace the table as well. The Italian host family will also have a plate of antipasto with cured meats, cheese, olives, and pickled vegetables ready for when guests arrive. 

Fried turkey is a popular Thanksgiving dish in Texas.

deep fried turkey
Fried turkey. Eric Thayer/Reuters

Frying turkey is a notoriously dangerous activity, and according to State Farm, Texas is one of the worst offenders of turkey-frying accidents. Nonetheless, fried turkey is a delicious Southern delicacy, and there is a way to do it safely.

Turkey tamales — a true Tex Mex holiday dish — can also be found at some Texan Thanksgivings, as well as cornbread dressing. 

Cranberry relish is a must-have in the Northeast.

cranberry sauce
Homemade cranberry sauce. StephanieFrey/Getty Images

Cranberry relish or sauce may seem like a universal Thanksgiving food, but homemade (not canned) sweetened cranberry relish seasoned with orange zest has its origins in the Northeastern quadrant of the country.

The Northeast also favors stuffing made with sausage and pumpkin pie, as well as other traditional Thanksgiving foods.  

In the Southwest and West, you might find a delicacy called frog eye salad on the table.

ambrosia salad
Frog eye salad. ALLEKO/Getty Images

Frog eye salad may sound bizarre to anyone from the East Coast, but for some people from the West and Southwest regions of America, it's a must-have for Thanksgiving. This sweetened, fruity pasta salad is made with acini di pepe pasta, pineapples, mandarin oranges, Cool Whip, and marshmallow topping. 

If you're eating frog eye salad, you may also be partial to Jell-O salad, which is an important Thanksgiving side dish in Utah. In the Southwest, you're more likely to find Latino flavors like blue cornbread stuffing with chorizo.

New Mexico and Arizona locals make pumpkin empanadas.

pumpkin empanadas
Pumpkin empanadas. pixshots/Shutterstock

Pumpkin empanadas are the perfect melding of American tradition with Mexican roots.

When you're in New Mexico or other Southwestern states, you might also think spicy. A New Mexico Thanksgiving host might add chile to items such as gravy, stuffing, and even a chile-rubbed turkey.

Green bean casserole is especially popular in the Midwest.

green bean casserole
Green bean casserole. Elizaveta Korobkova/Shutterstock

Green bean casserole may be a staple on many Thanksgiving plates, but you'll mostly find it in the middle of the country. Midwesterners consider the canned cream of mushroom soup, fried onions, and green bean dish to be an important part of the November holiday. 

In the Midwest, regular cornbread is replaced by the creamy spoonbread corn pudding. In certain regions, you'll also find German potato salad on the table, as well as a cherry pie instead of pumpkin pie for dessert.

In the Midwest, and specifically Minnesota, wild rice casserole is a Thanksgiving dish of choice.

Minnesota — Wild rice casserole
Wild rice casserole. JeniFoto/Shutterstock

Wild rice casserole can be served on the side or stuffed inside the turkey. Usually found in Minnesota or Wisconsin, wild rice casserole is traditionally made with mushrooms, pecans, and onions, but there are variations.

When in Wisconsin, there's also no better time to make the state's famous cheddar the star of your meal with cheesy mashed potatoes.

mashed potatoes
Mashed potatoes. Foodio/Shutterstock

It's no surprise that a state known for its cheese and dairy products would find a way to utilize them on the biggest food holiday of the year.

Sweet potato pie is famous in the South.

Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potato pie. Guy J. Sagi/Shutterstock

Out of all the regional Thanksgiving flavors we've mentioned, the strongest traditions probably come from the South. The Southern half of the United States prides itself on unique Thanksgiving dishes like sweet potato pie instead of the typical pumpkin pie. 

Another Southern Thanksgiving dish is macaroni and cheese, although it can be found on other tables across the country, too.

mac and cheese
Mac and cheese. timages/Shutterstock

A typical Southern Thanksgiving table also buckles under the weight of one or several types of macaroni and cheese, okra pickles, cornbread, and sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping. It also wouldn't be a Southern meal without generous portions of collard greens.

Derby pie originated in Kentucky.

Derby pie
Derby pie. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Kentucky derby pie, a chocolate pie with walnuts, is a tradition that's rooted in horse racing and makes for a tempting treat. It's also the state's most famous dessert.

Kentucky, like the Midwest, is also known to favor spoonbread over typical cornbread, as well as potato rolls instead of typical dinner rolls. 

Pecan pie is the dessert of choice in Georgia.

Pecan pie
Pecan pie. Thomas Yau/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

According to the New York Times, crunchy, gooey pecan pie finds its home in Georgia on Thanksgiving, made with nuts, corn syrup, and butter. 

Besides all of the aforementioned Southern staples, you'll also find peaches in abundance, especially in the form of peach pie.

In the Southeast, and especially in Florida, locals will make Key lime pie on Thanksgiving.

key lime pie
Key lime pie. Darren K. Fisher/Shutterstock

Florida's state pie is key lime pie, so, of course, it makes its way onto the traditional Floridian Thanksgiving table. 

Some of the Southeast also celebrates its Cajun roots on Thanksgiving with dishes like gumbo, crawfish, deviled eggs, and fried oysters, while canned cranberries are more common in the Southeast than fresh cranberry relish. 

Sourdough stuffing is popular in California.

thanksgiving stuffing
Turkey sausage and sourdough stuffing. AP

There are many varieties of the California-based sourdough stuffing recipe. Some versions are mixed with turkey sausage or fresh oysters, while others are artichoke or kale based.

Surprisingly, one of the more popular California side dishes for Thanksgiving is a salad, often made with bright, fresh citrus and vegetables.

Fruit salad exhibit - Whitney Art Party 2020
Mixing a salad. Melissa Wiley/Business Insider

Health-focused Californians also prefer their turkey grilled instead of baked or fried, and, of course, paired with local wine.

Mushroom gravy finds its footing in the Pacific Northwest.

Northwest — Mushroom gravy
Mushroom gravy. Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Mushrooms are one of the most abundant ingredients in a Northwestern Thanksgiving, whether they come in gravy form, or are sautèed as a side. 

Turkey alternates also abound, like venison. You might be served oyster dressing and fresh vegetables like Brussels sprouts.  

Some Hawaii locals prefer Okinawan purple sweet potatoes to regular russet or yellow gold varieties.

Okinawan purple sweet potatoes
Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. bebe14/Shutterstock

You know you're in Hawaii when your mashed potatoes are purple (and no, that's not food dye!). Okinawan sweet potatoes are sweet and slightly nutty, and can be served mashed, baked, or own their own. 

There's also no question that many Hawaiian Thanksgiving traditions are different than those of the coastal United States. For some families here, it's not Thanksgiving without fresh poke or sashimi, and the turkey might be smoked, kalua-style.

 

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