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51 Thanksgiving side dishes that'll be the stars of the show

Sorry, turkey — these side dishes are here to steal your spotlight.
/ Source: TODAY

It's time to talk Thanksgiving. No, not turkey — rather, the holiday's real showstopper: the sides. Without them, the seasonal spread would be colorless and, frankly, bland. Even if cooked to perfection with crisped, golden-brown skin and tender meat, turkey would live its short life on our dinner plate with no companion to make it truly shine.

With that in mind, we've rounded up the best of our easy Thanksgiving side dishes. This is a great holiday menu planning guide, whether you want to wow folks with a new recipe that uses unique preparation and inventive flavor combinations or need straightforward instruction on the classics. This simple list has everyone covered, including the kids and the home cooks who like to prep ahead of time or set and forget recipes in the slow cooker. From classic mashes to savory stuffing, beautiful autumn soups and vibrant vegetables, here are some of the season's most delicious supporting roles.

So grab the to-do list or digital menu planner, and get ready to jot down or pin your favorites. This is about to be the most delicious Thanksgiving ever. Let's just call it "sides day" instead of "turkey day." Deal? Deal.

Stuffing/Dressing

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing

Imagine Thanksgiving stuffing, but with the red-sauce flavors of cheese pizza. Tomato paste and dried oregano, bloomed in buttery onions, do the heavy lifting in this comforting dish, as does an ivory shower of shredded mozzarella, which melts and gets gooey in spots.

"I love the variety of textures and pops of flavor in this stuffing," Al Roker says about his Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. "In each bite you get a hit of sweetness, a touch of spice, some crunch and crumble. It's almost impossible not to go back for seconds."

Using rice instead of bread — and adding savory sausage and melty cheeses — gives this stuffing a distinctly Italian flavor.

Southern Cornbread Dressing

This meaty and delicious dressing that features cornbread can be prepared as far as two days in advance.

Mofongo Stuffing

Mofongo Stuffing

Alejandra Ramos

Mofongo — a Puerto Rican recipe of fried green plantains mashed with garlic, pork and seasonings — could easily claim the title of the island's national dish. Mofongo is enjoyed throughout the year as a side, but for Thanksgiving, we add broth and a few other ingredients to turn it into a moist and savory stuffing that's right at home next to the turkey.

Wild Mushroom Stuffing Muffins

Baking stuffing in muffin tins instead of a big pot is a super simple way to ensure everyone gets all the best bits of stuffing: The crispy buttery top and the super moist interior. You can dress these up with whatever you traditionally put into your stuffing, but these mushrooms add a deep, earthy nuttiness that complements many other sides and mains.

We love this stuffing because it is fun, exciting and incorporates the best flavors of the season. The toasty almonds, sweet cranberries, nutty wild rice and savory aromatics go so well with Thanksgiving turkey.

Stuffing can be made so many different ways, but if you're searching for a classic, straight-forward version, look no further.

Low-Country Oyster Cornbread Dressing

Chef Alexander Smalls shared how to make a special kind of dressing inspired by flavors from his own children in South Carolina's low-country, and it's absolutely delicious.

Bread Stuffing with Turkey Sausage

Turkey sausage and mushrooms make this stuffing seriously flavorful. The types of mushrooms that can be used in this recipe are basically limitless. Opt for inexpensive button mushrooms or get to know all the wild and wonderful varieties of mushrooms that are worth a splurge.

Seasoned Rice Stuffing

Seasoned Rice Stuffing

Marisel Salazar

Rice stuffing for Thanksgiving? You better believe this will become a fast favorite. Rather than deal with soggy breadcrumb-based stuffing, whip up this flavorful and tender rice stuffing for your Thanksgiving turkey, chicken or to eat on its own. Rice stuffing is great for those with gluten sensitivities or intolerances — or if you happen to be out of breadcrumbs or cubes and need to put something on your Thanksgiving table fast.

Mashes and potatoes

In a creative spin, Carson Daly dresses up mashed potatoes with crumbled bacon — and booze! — a move he learned from his late mother, Pattie.

Once you try this recipe, it will be a repeat side dish at Thanksgiving forever. Don't skip the roasting of the pumpkin puree: This important step removes excess liquid and intensifies the flavor for a beautiful combo of salt and a little sweet.

Crispy Sweet Potato Bake

We love this recipe because it involves just three ingredients and is so simple to prepare, but still looks fancy.

 Bacon Maple Pecan Sweet Potato Chips

What could possibly make crispy sweet potatoes better? How about a topping of candied bacon (aka "pig candy")? Simply coat smoked bacon strips with brown sugar. Then bake them until they're super crispy and golden.

These potatoes amassed almost 20 million views between the two times Jeremy Scheck posted them on TikTok. So, in addition to being absolutely crisped and delicious, they've totally earned their spot on the holiday table.

Mashed potatoes are a cornerstone of so many Thanksgiving meals, but just what kind to make? Smooth or lumpy, classic or with a twist … the variations are almost endless. Here to help you out with a unique take on the classic dish is the one and only Ina Garten.

This recipe takes mashed potatoes and turns up the flavor and texture to the max! A classic fluffy mash gets amplified with the crunch and tang of salt and vinegar chips. There's not a person on Earth who won't like it.

Siri Daly's Smashed Potatoes

"I love any recipe that's easy to make in bulk, but even easier for your guests to individually grab for their plate, and these potatoes are just that," says Siri about these simple smashed potatoes. "They are a cross between a baked potato and a French fry, with a ton of flavor and an incredible crunch. My neighbor Jen has made them famous in our area and they are a hit every single time!"

Perfect Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Sometimes, a simple roast sweet potato is all that's needed. No frills, topped with a little butter and salt. All one really needs is an oven and roasting pan to accomplish this perfect-by-nature Thanksgiving side.

Sweet Potato and Plantain Mash

These two sweet starches make an unexpectedly delicious pair. Sweet potatoes and plantains have very different textures but complement each other so well. The coconut sugar punches up the earthy sweetness and cinnamon adds a hint of holiday spice.

Greens and other vegetables

Roasted Carrots, Spiced Yogurt and Pistachios

This roasted carrot dish has been a favorite since Jody Williams and Rita Sodi opened New York's Via Carota and they don’t dare take it off the menu. They add a crunch of pistachios and cumin, not traditionally Italian — this is Jody’s tweak.

Brussels sprouts actually have a season — fall and winter — so they are perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. This combination of sweet, salty and tart with the textures of the nuts, fried leaves and crunchy pomegranate seeds is wonderful.

This crowd-pleasing side dish utilizes the whole carrot, including the tops, which are made into a chimichurri sauce that would also be wonderful with any type of poultry or grilled meats. A dish in which nothing goes to waste is perfect for the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Kale Salad with Crispy Bread Crumbs

"Carson and I have a date night at the restaurant Love & Salt whenever we're in Los Angeles, and this is one of our favorite salads on the menu so I love trying to recreate it at home," says Siri. "It's full of unique flavors and textures, and would be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table."

The seasonal Brussels sprouts, nutty wild rice, sweet maple syrup, dried cranberries and toasty nuts make this perfect for any autumnal celebration or casual get-together.

Kimchi Creamed Spinach

Kimchi Creamed Spinach

Gerald Sombright

Enliven this hot, classic dish with something a little tangier. The kimchi adds a gently sour and spicy crunch to provide texture and more flavor to regular creamed spinach.

What's better than a warm, bread salad on a crisp autumn night? Well, one that features fall ingredients, such as squash, sprouts, sage and maple syrup. This is a family-favorite to serve during the months before winter — including on Thanksgiving.

Sheinelle's Brussels Sprouts

Sheinelle Jones discovered the secret to getting her children to enjoy Brussels sprouts with this easy recipe: "The kids eat these Brussels sprouts like popcorn," she says. "They taste amazing and they're so easy to make."

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

While Thanksgiving is an admittedly carb and protein-rich meal, most people would agree that the menu isn’t truly complete for this holiday without something green included. So, we turn to chef and restaurant-owner Marcus Samuelsson, who shares his recipe for a new take on an old holiday favorite: caramelized Brussels sprouts. This isn’t your grandma’s recipe, we promise.

Fiery cayenne, spicy jalapenos and hot black pepper add serious spice to these tender, slow-cooked collard greens from Sheinelle's dad Darnell.

Serve this simple salad warm, with a vinaigrette that’s bright, acidic and onion-y. Mixed with crispy pancetta, the fat of which is used to cook down the shallot, and a splash of vinegar and Dijon to balance it all out, this hearty fall side won't disappoint.

Sliced, scooped and roasted, these no-brainer squashes do most of the talking with their naturally sweet flavors. As a nod to her mother's dish growing up, however, Garten puts a dollop of butter and maple syrup in the butternut's centers — making them downright irresistible.

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap but are some of the tastiest vegetables ever. The secret is they need to be caramelized by dry heat like roasting or frying to unlock their sweetness and texture. Remember these three tips: First, be sure to brown the sprouts and get some crispy leaves; second, season generously; and third, keep them al dente inside, so they'll have some texture.

These carrots are just as good served warm or at room temperature, so they’re ideal for buffets, potlucks and, of course, Thanksgiving, where they can sit out on the table a while while you prepare everything else.

Your guests will never guess that it only took five minutes to toss together this impressive salad. The shaved sprouts, sweet apricots and crunchy hazelnuts make this starter or side a real crowd-pleaser.

Casseroles and macs

According to an analysis of Google searches in 2020, this creamy green bean casserole has fans all over the country — from Idaho to Texas and the Southwest, as well as portions of the Midwest and Upper South. With the crunchy onion topping and cheesy sauce smothering the blanched veggie, it's easy to see why.

We love Southern-style mac and cheese because it's cheesy and hearty, yet sturdy. It's basically a custard-style baked macaroni and cheese with eggs, heavy cream and sharp cheddar cheese. There's no denying this mac and cheese is irresistible!

Roker Family Sweet Potato Poon

"I don’t know where my mom came up with this recipe," says Al Roker about his family's famous recipe. "I’ve heard of many versions of it from the South, but my mom wasn’t from the South! Somehow, though, it became a Thanksgiving staple for our family. It provided us with hours of entertainment, as my mom always got distracted as soon as it went under the broiler, which caused the smoke alarm to go off and resulted in endless laughter. And that’s why, to this day, I always buy two bags of marshmallows — just in case."

Savannah's Mom's Broccoli Casserole

This creamy casserole is the epitome of comfort food. The rice makes it filling enough to enjoy as a main, but it is still light enough to serve as a side. And what better way to eat your green veggies than smothered in melty cheese?

Creamy Corn Casserole

Creamy Corn Casserole

Kimberly Schlapman

Little Big Town singer Kimberly Schlapman shares her take on the traditional Southern side, a rich and luscious dish that's perfect for Thanksgiving.

Green bean casserole is a great way to introduce some green vegetables into the sea of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, casseroles and macaroni gratins that lovingly litter the holiday table — especially one with a twist, like this dish.

Antoni Porowski's skillet mac and cheese is crispy along the edges and has a wonderful, crunchy breadcrumb topping. Broccoli and cheese make a great pair, especially in a baked pasta. You could substitute broccolini or broccoli rabe: Broccolini is slightly sweeter than broccoli, while broccoli rabe is pleasingly bitter.

Toss all the seasonal root veggies into this one-pot wonder. Packed with fresh herbs, cheese, a little garlic and heavy cream, it's a real crowd-pleaser.

Craig's Mom's Mac and Cheese

"Eggs are the secret ingredient that makes my macaroni and cheese extra special," says Craig Melvin. "They help hold together all the melty cheese and noodles plus they make this comforting dish even more creamy and delicious."

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

Kimberly Schlapman

This creamy sweet potato casserole — topped with a sugar crumb topping and cranberries — is a must for every Thanksgiving gathering.

Cranberry sauces

Cranberry Wojape

Cranberry Wojape

Sean Sherman

Cranberry sauce is usually served one of two ways: sliced out of the can or something a little more creative. James Beard Award-winning chef and Oglala Lakota tribe member, Sean Sherman, teaches us just how easy it can be to make it homemade. He's making his traditional recipe for cranberry wojape, which features a surprise ingredient: rosehips!

Kelsey Nixon's Homemade Cranberry Sauce

If you're not a canned cranberry sauce type of person, make your own! Kelsey Nixon's version can be made three days in advance. Store chilled and covered in refrigerator.

This is a fresh take on traditional cranberry sauce. The flavors are so bright and provide a great balance to all of the heavy dishes on the Thanksgiving buffet. It's also a super-fast recipe to make with no cooking required!

Orange and Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Have some extra nuts left over from your pre-Thanksgiving baking extravaganza? Toss them into your sauce for a little crunch and an earthy flavor that balances out the tart cranberries. The recipe calls for walnuts, but pecans or cashews are great additions, too.

"My dad always cracked open the classic can of cranberry sauce while my mom made the fresh stuff. Every Thanksgiving table should have both versions, if possible. The cranberries feel New York to me and the apple cider is definitely a local signature ingredient," says Alex Guarnaschelli.