Over the course of 10 weekdays, we're pitting as many as we can of the internet's favorite Thanksgiving recipes against each other to come up with Cult Flav's first-ever Ultimate Thanksgiving Menu.
We'll both score every dish from 1-10 (secretly, so we don't influence each other) then average all of the scores out to calculate our final Cult Score. The highest score in each category is our winner.
Every weekday from Monday, November 7th until Friday, November 18th, we'll update this page with our winners, so you'll have all the info just in time to plan out your Thanksgiving meal.
Can't have Turkey Day without the biggest hunk of poultry outside of Sesame Street. Turkey gets a bad rap as a bird that is often dry and tasteless, but those days are over. Everyone knows how to dry brine a turkey and roast it in parts these days, so there's really no excuse for the stringy, bland turkeys of yesteryear.
You voted for your favorite recipes, we put them to the test.
Full disclosure: wings are Bryn's favorite food group.
However, we don't think that came into play because these are unlike any wings we've ever had. Chef Resha over at Carnal Dish has created a recipe that completely surprised us — from the choice of aromatics (green pepper?) to the gravy recipe (we'll get to that in a minute). This dish is an absolute gem.
First of all, this was probably the easiest recipe on the menu. It took a total of 4 hours and came together with very little actual effort. No brine, just coat them with seasoning and lay them onto the aromatics. You could easily order turkey wings from a butcher and spend zero time carving a bird (they might even be cheaper than the full bird).
Second, the gravy was one of the best we've had: packed with Thanksgiving flavor in a way we didn't expect mid-preparation. Why? Because there is a huge amount of roux and when it first came together, it only tasted like toasted flour (read: bland). As it reduced, though, it pulled a magic trick and started tasting exactly like stuffing. We couldn't stop eating it by the spoonful. Then you smother the wings with it and roast them again to the point where they're falling off the bone.
These wings are loaded with classic Thanksgiving flavors in a very clever twist on the formula. This is our new go-to.
Right up until we made the wings, our obvious winner was Illyanna Maisonet's Pavochon (“A mash-up of pavo for turkey and chon for lechón, it’s become the centerpiece of a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving"). It's a classic style of turkey with one major twist: achiote. Achiote is a paste made of annatto seeds which have a kind of citrus-y, slightly mustard-y flavor going on that lends a beautiful background note to many of the greatest Latin American and Caribbean dishes. Here, it blends with oregano and cumin to turn a bird known for its blandness into a flavor powerhouse. This dish is beautiful, intense, and would be the star of any Thanksgiving table while pairing well with the other Thanksgiving dishes.
Kenji's new Mayo-Roasted Turkey recipe was a big winner for us on flavor as well. It's very much a mild update to the classic bird, but it brought more light, modern flavors and was super easy to make. If you're looking for a classic centerpiece, you could do much worse. The big issue with it was its super thin gravy. We'd recommend either doubling the roux or stopping the liquid additions to it when it's at your preferred texture because it was delicious, but not thick enough to really grab onto the meat.
Samin Nosrat's Buttermilk-Brined Roasted Turkey is one of the simplest birds we've ever seen (just 3 ingredients!) but was just super flavorful. This is the platonic ideal of a roasted turkey. We were concerned about it sitting in the acidic brine for so long, but the meat held up and tasted phenomenal. She recommends spatchcocking the bird prior to brining, we'd say just break it up into parts. It'll cut the brine time down by about half and you'll end up with a better roast anyway. Win-win!
BA's turkey from their Making Perfect was easily the most-requested recipe and honestly, it kicks ass. This is a great recipe — far better than the turkeys we grew up eating. The only caveat we'd add is that it doesn't really taste like Thanksgiving. It had a pastrami-ish thing going on from the intense, pepper-y dry brine that makes us think it'd be better on a sandwich than on a TG plate, so it lost some points there.
We had far more request for Kenji's recipes than any other in this category so we made his combo of Turkey Porchetta and Red Wine-Braised Turkey Legs. The "turchetta" wasn't worth the effort in our opinion and our comments appeared to agree with our assessment that it was too bitter with all the sage. The binding also appeared to dry it out some and the gravy was so thin that it wouldn't stick to re-moisten it. The Red Wine-Braised Turkey Legs on the other hand were a great idea! They fell off the bone in a kind of "pulled turkey" way and the gravy was delicious. Again, the recipe for the gravy would've made it too thin, but we cut down the amount of liquid by about half and it was exceptional. We'd recommend doing that for most of Kenji's gravies.
People asked for a cheesecloth turkey, so we did Alex Guarnaschelli's and it was pretty good! The method worked great to keep the bird juicy, but I think in the future we'd do a recipe with a dry brine ahead of time to increase the flavor.
We had two pretty old-school, classic turkeys: Alton Brown's and The Pioneer Woman's. If you're looking for a good default, both of these are great choices. The Pioneer Woman's isn't quite as complex, but it's also easier to make. Alton's is a bit more involved and has a stronger final result. Either way, you'll be fine.
Lastly, we made a Peking-style turkey from Epicurious that someone requested. It sounded like a great idea, but... nothing to write home about. It certainly wasn't an actual Peking-style flavor profile or technique and we just thought it was underwhelming. Wouldn't recommend.
In a meal composed of simple, bland foods turned into rich, extravagant versions of themselves — potatoes might just take the cake. Always loaded with butter and cream, sometimes herbs and garlic, occasionally even cheese, and then dowsed with gravy to convert these starchy bastards into something worth consuming by the spoonful.
You suggested recipes ranging from classical French to rustic Southern styles to borderline artistic twists on old classics. We put the 8 most interesting requests to the test.
We went in with open minds and empty stomachs and came out with food babies and a clear winner.
Café Zuni's potatoes are a classic Southern-style mash with a light, fluffy texture and just a touch of acid to lighten up what could be a heavy, starchy affair. We especially loved the blend of silky smooth purée with little bits of unmashed potato to give it a slightly rustic vibe. There's one important thing to note: you will probably need to multiply the recipe if you're hosting family because this version probably only serves 2-4 people.
There were several excellent contenders, though. Chief among them was Joel Robuchon's Pommes Purée, which were incredible. The biggest problem was simply that they're not "Thanksgiving-y". They're a classic French potato meant to be served with a steak or a roast and they just wouldn't hold up to gravy. So, while they're easily a 9 or 10 in isolation; in this instance, they just wouldn't be the right choice.
NYT's Mashed Potato Casserole really surprised us. The concept doesn't sounds particularly exciting, but the combination of structure, acidity, and the crunchy topping are an excellent combo that would make a great update to the classic Thanksgiving plate formula.
Alton Brown's recipe, on the other hand, is as classic as classic gets. It's based on the Robuchon recipe, but it loses the magic somewhere between the unnecessarily technical potato chopping and the decrease in butter. They're perfectly fine potatoes, but we didn't think they were worth the extra effort.
The last of the mashed potatoes was BA's recipe from their Making Perfect series, which came highly requested — and we thought this might be a winner like their turkey — but they amount of effort combined with the too-wet, weirdly grainy final texture just wasn't it for us. As the recipe name suggests, this dish is all about the topping which is a revelation. While we won't be making the potatoes again — the topping is definitely going in our back pocket. (Pro tip: just add the topping to the Café Zuni recipe)
Magnolia's Hasselback Potatoes are gorgeous and we were super optimistic going in, but what came out was a mediocre scalloped texture and very little in the way of flavor. The way the potatoes are cut prevents them from holding onto the butter and thus all the flavor runs out onto the floor of the pan. The bottom bits were crispy and delicious, but everything else was kind of rubber-y and bland.
Lastly, we have the two gratins.
The Gratin Dauphinois was simple and effective — though, as often is the case among gratins, quite greasy. Once we got into the dish, it was a beautiful creamy texture with hints of gruyere and garlic. Not bad, but like Robuchon's purée, it really didn't feel like a Thanksgiving-y dish to us. It's so rich and so wet (and so 70s), that it just isn't the vibe we need from a Thanksgiving dish.
Chrissy Teigen's Two-Tone Gratin, however, looks like a great modern update. It's beautiful in an Instagram-y kind of way and sounds appealing, but (and this is a big but) it was a lake of grease. There was a ton of gruyere and parm in the this dish and by the time the top was crispy, the cheese had separated to the point where the whole dish had become a pool of fat. No creamy texture to be had anywhere.
Fine, it's technically dressing in this case. But to be honest, "stuffing" sounds better and, in the same way no one should be cooking a whole bird in 2022, no one should be actually stuffing a bird either. But also, it's great at stuffing you. Therefor, I will henceforth continue to call it "stuffing". You're welcome.
We made six of the most-requested stuffing recipes we could find online and now we are the ones who are stuffed.
I mean, it's clear to anyone with eyes that this one has the coolest presentation, but it was also far and away the most flavorful.
The trick with this dish is entirely in the pumpkin. For starters, a couple of the ingredients going into the pumpkin (namely: bacon and cheese) are strong, rich flavors that are typically more closely associated with Tex-Mex than Thanksgiving, but if you follow Dorie's instructions and scrape the wall of the pumpkin into the stuffing, it suddenly becomes the most intensely Autumn-y flavor. It's just phenomenal to experience. One bite, you're thinking "eh, it's bacon and cheese", and the next you're thinking PSL. Just incredible to behold.
On top of that, it's easy to put together and a showstopper at the table. What an absolute no-brainer (as long as you're a carnivore).
Our second favorite was J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's take on a very classic style of stuffing. It is the perfect example of a recipe that lives up to the rose-tinted view of nostalgic Thanksgiving meals. If you grew up eating the traditional American stuffing, this will almost certainly taste identical to how you remember it — but if you really think about it, you know it's better.
Bon Appetit's cornbread twist came in just behind Kenji's which is ironic, because the recipes are almost identical. It really feels like the team at BA took a look at Kenji's and made a few twists that didn't quite pay off. We did take one lesson away from it though: if you like spice, it couldn't hurt to chuck a couple chilis into your stuffing!
Rabbit & Wolves' stuffing was underwhelming, but Sarah's first reaction was "why does this taste better than Alison Roman's?". The two are basically perfect opposites; Alison's had perfect texture but lacked any real flavor. Rabbit & Wolves' was pretty great flavor-wise, but had the worst texture of the bunch.
Lastly, we come to Alton Brown — who at least had the gumption to call stuffing what it really is: bread pudding. The only thing notable about this dish, though, is its name which calls it "Corn Bread Pudding", but you should definitely be aware that it is a bread pudding with creamed corn and not a bread pudding made of cornbread. It wasn't bad, just boring.
Silky, beautiful, starch-thickened meat juice. Gotta love it.
No time for an intro, let's dive in (and I mean that literally).
Listen, we know it's a bold choice to name a vegan gravy as the best one out there, but hear us out...
We're correct. It's the best one.
First, it's got chunks of mushroom and onion that soak up flavor like beautiful little sponges. The recipe says you can strain them out if you want, but why would anyone do that? It ends up being kinda like a cross between a gravy and a duxelles, which — if you've ever tried a Beef Wellington — you'd know is luxurious and brilliant and should be on top of everything.
Second, no veg stock should have this much power. The gravy is based on a roux made with olive oil and flour, which doesn't sound like anything special, but the little extra bitterness from the olive oil adds complexity and a good, crisp veg stock really benefits from it.
Now, here's the pro tip: mix your veg stock 4:1 with apple cider. It adds a little Autumn-y sweetness that kicks complete ass in this use case (and most others). Plus, veg stock is the easiest stock to make. Please look it up and learn how to make it; it takes like an hour to make a couple gallons and it's so worth it.
The big surprise was the second-place tie between Chef John and Kenji who both turned in essentially the same gravy. Chef John's had a little extra kick from the addition of cayenne pepper. Kenji's took a couple hours less (although it did require tracking down Marmite, which it turns out is not easy in California...). They both tasted extremely similar and incredibly delicious. These are the traditional-style gravies your potatoes dream of.
The BA crew finally pulled a second smash after two days of passes with the "Why-Is-It-So-Good Gravy", which feels like it's trying really hard to not be called "Gravy with MSG In It" (really, they all should have MSG in them). The Amontillado sherry + sherry vinegar combo was giving French Onion Soup, but in a really nice way. It's light. It's packing big flavor. A great showing from Molly and Carla.
Lastly, we had Ina Garten's Make-Ahead, which I know some people swear by, but the addition of Cognac and white wine — while they added complexity — didn't leave enough room for the turkey flavor to shine through and carry the significant increase in acid and sweetness. The flavors were great, but it just came out unbalanced. I think if the two alcoholic additions were cut by half, this recipe would've gained a couple points.
This was by far our closest competition yet and although some recipes didn't quite live up to the hype for us... in the end, it's all gravy.
We and many of our friends try not to eat a ton of meat and we know there are people out there who try a lot harder than us. For these folks (who are much stronger than we are), the least we could do is pull together some great non-meat-based options to support their valiant efforts.
Celeriac is an ugly little root system attached to the most under-appreciated vegetable in the game: celery. That can be intimidating to some people, but Mark's solution to just scrub it down, coat it in olive oil and flaky salt, and bake "as long as you want" makes it as approachable as it gets.
This was one of our favorite dishes of the whole week, let alone the vegetarian day. Go get a celeriac. Follow this recipe. Enjoy yourselves.
If you're in the (super)market for a little more of a showstopper, however, the NYT's Mushroom Wellington should be at the top of your list. It's beautiful, it's classic, it's got those Autumn flavors you crave and it's just absolutely delicious. It's the perfect example of a dish that isn't cutting any corners to be made vegetarian — in fact, I might prefer this to the classic Beef Wellington. If you're familiar, it follows the same basic pattern except instead of cow in the middle, it's just chock full of that beautiful mushroom duxelles that lines it. Think of it as the "Oops, All Duxelles!" version rather than the vegetarian version and you'll get the vibe. Just an absolutely killer plate.
We tested two Mac + Cheeses, which I know a lot of people think of as TG sides, but they're just SO DENSE that I find it difficult to think of it as anything but a main — and bonus: they're typically vegetarian.
The Over the Rainbow mac and cheese from Patti LaBelle (I assume the name comes from the half-dozen types of cheese involved) tasted amazing, but was a complete gut-bomb. We couldn't eat more than a couple bites.
Half-Baked Harvest's on the other hand was lighter texturally, but lacking in flavor. We found that particularly strange because our taste tests halfway through making were incredible, so it's a bummer that the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
The cauliflower steaks, while a nice crispy texture, were again lacking in flavor. We'd find those hard to get excited about.
Lastly, the Vegducken and the Vegan Turkey Roast were a ton of effort and the results, while not a complete disaster, were just not fun to eat for one or both of us. Sarah couldn't handle the texture and flavor of the Vegan Turkey Roast to the point she literally had to spit it out and the Vegducken "did zucchini, eggplant, AND butternut squash dirty" to quote Sarah. Wouldn't recommend either.
Out of the entire Thanksgiving meal, this is the "vegetable". Sure it's got crispy, breaded onions and the mushrooms come smothered in a flour-thickened béchamel, but I mean... it has "green beans" in the name? Surely that makes it one of the two non-starches at the table... Surely.
Fun fact: we didn't actually mean to test this dish. Only by a twist of fate and bad google terms did we end up here. And yet... it's the best one. For once, BA's best was worthy of the crown.
But, it was one of two with a specific, clever distinction: it asked the cook to "season to taste" and that was its redemption. You see, when a recipe calls for a specific amount of salt, it assumes that the cook is using the same salt as the author. Most cooks are woefully under-equipped in the salinity department (at least in the US), and therefor the whole dish lacks in flavor.
If you ask the cook to define when it's seasoned well-enough, however, the problem solves itself. Of course, the cook might not know what is "salty enough", but that's on them — not the author — right? It feels a little like a cop-out, but the results spoke for themselves in our opinion and honestly, the rest were pretty bad.
The other competitor with that same trick was Basics with Babish's solution to "The Green Bean Problem". Babish actually had better instincts on both the cut of the green beans (producing a more manageable bite) as well as the producing much better, homemade crispy onions. In a lot of ways it should've won.
The main problem with Babish's recipe was the way it was written. It is one of several Thanksgiving side dishes within the same recipe. That is an extremely frustrating way to attempt to consume a single recipe
Next, we had Alton Brown's old-school recipe which was... both under-seasoned AND the beans were undercooked AND the onions were overcooked. This was old-school in the way that it really couldn't be bothered with getting things right — only making them easy.
Smitten Kitchen attempted to "plus-up" that recipe (or another of Alton's? It's unclear.), and in the process made it somehow worse? It had all the same problems, but with a lot more work involved. Very confusing.
Lastly, we had Kenji's first abject failure. He hasn't had a single miss thus far, but this recipe was not only frustratingly labor-intensive, but tasted the worst out of all of them. The addition of lemon juice seems like a good idea, but adding it to the cream made for a very lactic, stomach bile-y flavor that was extremely unpleasant.
Everyone has strong opinions about pie and what types of pies should be on the table at Thanksgiving, but the whole "Thanksgiving Pie" genre is defined by pumpkin. Hell, the whole season seems to be focused on the spice blend from pumpkin pie these days. We knew we had to do more pumpkin pie than anything else, but wanted to throw in a lighter, brighter alternative that was seasonally appropriate — and that's where cranberry comes in.
The biggest upside to this dish was its lightness, it was so ethereally light and creamy that it dissipated as soon as it touched our mouths leaving only the lingering taste of pumpkin and clove. In fact, our only concern with it was that the clove throws off the balance of the rest (we'd recommend cutting it in half or omitting altogether).
Back to that lightness, though... This was the only pie where we felt like we could eat most of the damn tart and not feel any worse for wear. On Thanksgiving in particular, we think that's a value worth fighting for. This was an absolutely phenomenal pastry, whether it's Thanksgiving or not.
We had a ton of requests for Claire Saffitz's pies — in particular the two we included here: the Pecan-Rye Pumpkin Pie and the Caramelized Honey Pumpkin Pie. Totally get why people love these pies, but for us, the problem was just the sheer magnitude of work involved — especially on the Caramelized Honey pie. Maybe that's due to our relative inexperience with pastry, but making that pie was the most frustrating of all of them for a pretty middling result. The ROI on the Pecan-Rye was much better, but still quite a bit of fiddly busywork to get it on the table.
Lastly, we have the cranberry tarts. The Smitten Kitchen's was really nice flavor-wise. It felt appropriately seasonal and melded bright acidity with molasses-y sweetness in a really clever way, but just know that the chewy texture may be an issue for some people.
The NYT's viral tart seemed the easiest going in and we loved the curd flavor, but were mixed on the hazelnut crust. The problem was in getting the curd to set: the instructions gave very few signals to follow — only times — which made figuring out how to troubleshoot a frustrating process. We ended up having to bake the pie an extra 30 minutes (a common problem according to its comment section) which overcooked the crust. In the end, it was so hard to get the pie out of the tart tin that we bent it, rendering it pretty much useless. Pass.
The key to a TG cocktail is to have something you can drink for hours, will balance the rich meal, and won't bury you before you make it to the table. We took a look at a few seasonal cocktails and found the perfect solution...
Right off the bat, you know this tastes festive af. Betweent the thyme and the gin, you've got herbaceousness rivaling anything on the table, but then you bring in that cranberry for tart acidity, and the tonic for a little extra kick! What a fantastic combination. It was a little sweet, but by cutting the syrup and oj content down a little, we found a nice balance with very little effort.
Our second pick was Agavera's Octubre, which was a nice blend of sweet and bitter from the hard cider and the corn liqueur. Very festive. Very simple.
BA's Hard Cider Spritz was balanced a little too heavily on the sweet side. Maybe more rye would've fixed it? Not sure. Either way, it'd need a little rebalancing.
The Pumpkin Spice Margarita and the Chai Old Fashioned we tested both seemed like they had promise, but honestly, not worth writing home about.