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.
We normally make a gumbo, starting with a nice dark roux, or at the very least add oysters to our dressing. Yum, yum! Nothing like southern food!
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!
9 thoughts on “Put a Little Southern Charm into Your Thanksgiving”
I’m not sure how well I would like my turkey deep-fried, but adding a cajun seasoning into the turkey would definitely add some flavor! I’d like to try that. I myself don’t like the taste of bland turkey. I’ve never head of bourbon pecan pie, either- I’m from the Northeast, if you couldn’t tell by now, so it’d only make sense that I’m a bit clueless as to what the traditions for Thanksgiving are in the South. However, I love your ideas; they keep Thanksgiving simple and to the point. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!
I’ve never heard of bourbon pecan pie either, and I live in central Mississippi. These are the traditions here. Family gathers and swap stories. Weather, children, upcoming Christmas and traffic getting there are always winners. Family members who drink know very well who the ones who don’t drink are. We don’t even put alcoholic beverages in our recipes because we don’t want it in our house, but since we gather in their house, we know that it is hidden away somewhere.
Someone is asked to say grace before the meal. It is usually an older person who actually knows how to pray but isn’t too long and windy with their prayers because everyone else is hungry. However, it might be a child who is asked to say grace. The vast majority of children are too shy for the task. So the older person offers to help. Then the group sits down.
Popular recipes include corn on the cob, anything with cornbread stuffing, turkey or in some families there might be ham or chicken as a second main dish, a few add pizza from a store, beans, pink eyed purple hull peas, green beans, butter beans, anything seasoned with pork meat or just the fat, squash, anything that was grown and preserved in the family gardens back in the summer like salads with home grown tomatoes, some years are warmer than others and the tomato plants are finally dying at that time, or okra, and desserts, to name a few. All is seasoned with salt unless someone has been told by their doctor that he/she can’t have salt. Then a couple of recipes are prepared with that person in mind. Some dishes might be seasoned with black pepper.
Then when everyone sits down stuffed fatter than the turkey or the pig itself, they watch TV or continue with the personal stories while children find things that children like to do. Some clean up while some keep talking. Then they catch the children and insist on kissing them goodbye with promises of what Christmas will be like. After we leave, I suppose they then bring out the alcohol, but don’t ask me. I am not there to see it happen.
So how is Thanksgiving where you live?
Thanks for sharing your traditions, Annette!
Wow, I’ve never heard of enjoying pizza at Thanksgiving dinner – that sounds like a fun twist. At my house I usually spend the day before Thanksgiving cooking, and simple takeout is welcome on Wednesday night as a much-needed break from the kitchen.
I live in good old New Orleans and we definitely had a southern Thanksgiving yesterday! My family does get a little rowdy when they’ve been drinking so my mom banned alcohol this year. It actually ended up being more fun than everyone drinking! We had yummy injected fried turkey and a turkey that I brined from another tutorial on this blog. We all had a wonderful time 🙂
These are some great tips for a Southern Thanksgiving Day meal. I really like the idea of bringing out the good china for company and nothing looks better than white linen on a table that is decorated in bright orange, yellow, and reds for this special holiday. My husband has always wanted me to deep fry our turkey and I think that maybe next year I will try this with the Cajun seasoning in it. Thanks for the great ideas.
I did not get a chance to read this post before Thanksgiving and I smiled when I did. It reminded my of our Southern meals. We do drag out the good china and flatware for the occasion. And, as a person who has deep fried a ton of turkeys… make sure you follow directions and do it outside and away from the house. Not in the garage, not in the carport, not on concrete or pavement you don’t want stained. There are people that burn down their houses every year. Please be careful with a fryer for a fried turkey!
Halloween is just around the corner, but I’m already thinking about Thanksgiving. I’m not into the deep-fried turkey thing (well, I’ve actually never had one, let alone made one), but I am all about adding a Southern touch to my turkey day table via my famous collard greens (with smoked turkey) and my delicious Grand Marnier candied yams (with no marshmallows!) and sweet potato pie. I love cooking for Thanksgiving because I really look forward to the leftovers. And I love having a slice (or two) of the aforementioned pie for breakfast. Yum! 🙂
I love this article! I have always said that Thanksgiving dinner needs to consist of a few good food dishes, but lots of it! We always do the thing of cooking the turkey, and maybe the cranberry sauce, and then asking the rest of the family to bring their favorite specialty dishes. We never do much alcohol, but a little wine is nice. Also, candles are a MUST! That’s the Southern way of celebrating!
Deep fried Turkey? Check.
No alcohol? I don’t buy it. Most adults cannot handle this, I don’t know why, but they can’t. Not that all of these ideas are not good, but I don’t really see how this makes a southern charm. I was expecting more recipes, and southern trends. This seems more like a minimalist Thanksgiving, which I’m fine with, by the way.