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A definitive ranking of Thanksgiving sides

Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving dinner.
Lynn Gardner via flickr
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Winter isn't coming.

It's here.

Sunsets in the middle of the afternoon, temperatures dipping into the 40s and below throughout the country, and itchy, irritated skin from heating systems kicking into high gear — all these factors have worked in unison to break our souls and make the past few weeks feel exponentially longer.

Thankfully, we have Thanksgiving on the horizon.

Thanksgiving is magical. It's a warm blanket for your soul — a brief break from the dark, bleak, chilly winter that's threatening to swallow all of us whole. And what makes it so special is, of course, the food.

Our finest family chefs turn into wizards in white aprons, crafting old bread and cured meats into something called stuffing. Or they tap into some ancient alchemy, willing mashed potatoes out of milk and butter. The holiday is so magical that even Brussels sprouts become edible.

Of course, not all food is welcome. Someone will, no doubt, bring a "special" sweet potato casserole topped with a white skin of marshmallows. And no matter how secret the turkey recipe you're using is, it will still not be half as good as you hope it will be.

So let's make it clear: Sides make or break Thanksgiving. And that's the reason we decided to definitively choose the best side — using science and hard data, of course.

Taste versus time

It's easy for nearly anything to taste good on first bite, after we've wasted a large chunk of time waiting for the turkey to be done. The true goal of a great side is that it taste good over the third and fourth bite ... and that it's better than the turkey.

(Tyson Whiting/Vox)

The availability theorem

The best sides are the ones that everyone wants. For instance, there's always an abundance of sweet potato casserole. Why? Put simply, it is not the best Thanksgiving side.

(Tyson Whiting/Vox)

The leftover theorem

The best sides are the ones you never want to send your guests home with, the ones you want to eat over the next few days. Unfortunately, we can't have it all. And by all, we mean a never-ending flow of mashed potatoes.

(Tyson Whiting/Vox)

Ease versus taste

Simply put: A great side shouldn't be that difficult to make.

(Tyson Whiting/Vox)

We've taken all of this data into consideration and arrived at this: the definitive ranking of the best and worst Thanksgiving sides.

1) Mashed potatoes

(Manuel Alarcon via Flickr)

Why: Mashed potatoes taste delicious, are easy to make, and continue to taste good even after the fourth and fifth bite.

2) Stuffing


(Derek Lo via Flickr)

Why: Stuffing is great. Stuffing might even be the greatest side. But, there might just be too much variation, including the aggressively healthy variety (think wild rice and stuff like raisins), and it can be tough to make. All of this keeps it from being the best.

3) Mac and cheese

(Flickr user Christaface)

Why: Some Vox staffers say they do not have mac and cheese on Thanksgiving. You should pity them.

4) Rolls

(Class V via Flickr)

Why: Golden brown on the outside. Light and fluffy on the inside. Think of them as tiny butter canoes.

5) Green beans

(Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr)

Why: Green beans allow you to have a green object on your plate of fat and carbs, making you feel better about yourself. They are a key ingredient in green bean casserole, which, when made properly, is basically as bad for you as a carb or a creamy side like mac and cheese.

6) Brussels sprouts

(Mackenzie Kosut via Flickr)

Why: Brussels sprouts would rank higher if they didn't need to be burned within an inch of their lives and doused in bacon fat to be tasty.

7) Cranberry sauce

(Nomadic Lass via Flickr)

Why: People will tell you that weird stuff in a can is no comparison to "real" cranberry sauce. But whether it's "real" or that weird stuff in a can, it's not that good. If it were, we would serve it at times other than Thanksgiving.

8) Sweet potato casserole

(Kevin Lim via Flickr)

Why: There is no good reason for someone to make this, unless she had a vendetta. A co-worker told me there are less offensive variations available, but they seem like urban legends.

The ideal plate distribution

Now that you have a definitive ranking of sides, it's time to consider ideal plate distribution:

(Tyson Whiting/Vox)