Holiday dinners in our Southern home consist of sprawling affairs with plenty to eat, where there is always room for one more.
The key to success with your Southern Thanksgiving is not to have too many different varieties of food, but to have plenty of it.
One year my husband and I roasted the turkey and cooked the gumbo. I called on our invited guests to bring their favorite sides. But most of the time, I like to plan the meal in advance, and chip away at it until its complete.
You’ll notice that a Southern Thanksgiving usually consists of the standard recipes, but we make our food with a Southern slant – like a little more spice, and the use of seafood. This is especially true for Gulf Coast Southerners.
I want to share with you 10 easy tips that will make your Thanksgiving dinner a truly Southern one.
Turkey – Injected or Deep Fried
Turkey… make mine Cajun! Liquid Cajun seasoning injected in your turkey can turn your Thanksgiving from blah to yee-haw! You can buy a simple turkey kit at your local grocer.
Another turkey suggestion is deep frying.
You can find lots of grocery stores and even some restaurants that sell deep fried turkeys for Thanksgiving. Place your order around the first of November, and make sure you call and verify your order around the 15th. This can be a dangerous process, one that might be best left up to the pros!
You don’t want to be sitting at your dinner with no turkey because someone mixed your order up. For something more traditional, you can also try brining your bird.
Of course, you don’t have serve turkey, although uncle Bob may give you a hairy eyeball or two. Check out Foodal’s suggested alternatives.
Simplify Your Offerings
Make a simple menu, and stick to it – no matter who suggests what! You can even dole out the side dish assignments to people whose cooking you enjoy.
White Linens, if You Please
Simple white linens are beautiful for Thanksgiving. If you are like me and haven’t inherited your linens, you have to go bargain hunting. I have found beautiful secondhand tablecloths and napkins at thrift stores and yard sales to decorate the table.
I think they are especially lovely with monograms. It doesn’t matter whose initials are on it, it’s just a touch of added southern flair. White linens let your food be the star.
Back Yards, Front Porches
Dine outside! Of course I realize this may not be an option for our Northern friends, but here in the South, Thanksgiving can sometimes still be quite warm.
Throw open the doors and light your fireplace. Have Thanksgiving under an inexpensive white tent, or on your screened-in back porch.
The most important thing to remember when dining outside is to protect your food from pests. No, I’m not talking about not your Uncle Billy. I mean flies, and other critters.
Name Cards Double as a Thank You
As I am normally the hostess for our Southern Thanksgivings, I always buy a pack or two of blank thank you cards. White cards with gold lettering are lovely.
Inside, I write a little note saying how thankful I am that a particular individual is in our family’s life. If your guest has had a difficult year, you may want to use your card as an opportunity to encourage them.
I put the name of each guest on the front of the card, and place it on their plate or just above it.
Keep in mind, we often have drop-in guests, so if your Thanksgiving holiday is anything like mine, it’s a good idea to have a couple of extra cards on hand. That way you can jot something down quickly in the kitchen after unannounced guests arrive, and slip it onto their plate. It wouldn’t be Southern hospitality to leave someone out, and it’s a thoughtful touch.
Looking for some tips to give your table a bit of seasonal flair in the springtime instead? Check out our post here.
Bring Out the Good China!
Southerners are famous for casual dining. I think they made paper plates just for all of us who love to eat and run. However, a Southern Thanksgiving is no time to be chintzy with the dining arrangements.
This is the time when I bring out Aunt Martha’s beautiful white china with the gold banding around the edges. I also use my gold plated forks, knives, and spoons. I bring out the copper roll basket, and all the decorative serving dishes that help to make my Thanksgiving spread beautiful.
Those dishes and that china remind me of loved ones that we have shared Thanksgiving with in the past. We remember them and honor them by using their dishes. And nothing makes your food look better than beautiful dinnerware – just remember to dust it off before you fill it up with food, if it’s been at the back of the cabinet or in storage for awhile.
Light Some Candles!
Keep in mind, you don’t want your candles to compete with your Bourbon Pecan Pie. Make those candles unscented! Some relatives may have scent allergies. Also, after cooking for days, you are not going to want your family to be complimenting those Baked Apple Candles instead of your food.
No! I use a hodgepodge of glass candleholders for the dining table and the sideboard. I also light a few on the porch, as we tend to migrate to the swing and the porch rockers after dinner.
Keep Your Holiday Arrangements Simple
Stick with natural decorations like pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers, mums, and hay bales for your porches. Inside, use simple arrangements such as gourds and pumpkins and let your food be the star of the show!
Limit the Alcohol
The truth is, I don’t serve any at my Southern Thanksgiving dinners. I wait until after most folks have left before my husband and I, and maybe one or two folks that have lingered behind, share a glass of wine.
Alcohol can cause people to be less inhibited and behave in a manner they may regret later, something that’s always important to consider at holiday gatherings… and that’s just not Southern! Besides, we put lots of alcohol in our food… check out the Bourbon Pecan Pie! Or the Rum Cake!
Ask for Help
When someone offers to help clean up after dinner, rip the S off your chest and say yes! You don’t have to be Superguy or Supergirl! People want to participate.
If no volunteers present themselves, do as I do: tell them that you could use a hand! Just say “Hey, guess what! I need your help cleaning up.” They’ll be happy to oblige.
And most of all, remember to relax! It’s a time to be thankful for your loved ones and the year you have had with them. There’s nothing like good food to bring people together. And cooking good food is always a draw, around our house.
If you need a few extra tips to help you relax this holiday, check out our article on how to survive Thanksgiving (and Christmas) dinners.
Here’s a few recipes suggestions that would be perfect for your Southern Thanksgiving, besides the turkey. This is Southern food you’ll love!
- Seafood Gumbo – You may prefer a basic gumbo recipe that’s easy to make – for a more advanced version, try this
- Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, perfected with a ricer
- Green Bean Bundles Wrapped in Bacon, or these Thyme Seasoned Green Beans with Tomatoes
- Cheese Biscuits
- Oyster Dressing
- Bourbon Pecan Pie, or this Cranberry Pecan Pie
What will you bring to your southern table this Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: Shutterstock.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!