The definitive (unofficial) ranking of Thanksgiving foods

LAINEY EMOTO Correspondent

Thanksgiving, informally known as Turkey Day, is all about the feast. And the family. But mostly the feast. Iconic Thanksgiving dishes range from tempting turkey and savory stuffing to fragrant pumpkin pie. While it’s true everyone has their favorite dishes, here’s one foodie’s traditional take on the best of the best.

1. Ranked the No. 1 Thanksgiving food is a beautifully browned, juicy, moist and tender turkey. Whether you like white meat or dark, turkey really is the centerpiece of the feast. And don’t even consider the heresy of substituting a ham on this most American of holidays.

Because of an old wives’ tale, turkey often takes a bad rap for making us feel sleepy after we eat it. Scientists, however, say turkey contains no more tryptophan than any other poultry and slightly less than chicken. What really causes us to feel sluggish is overeating and, in particular, overeating multiple carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls and desserts.

2. In second place on the Thanksgiving hit parade is stuffing – a delicacy seldom prepared except for the holidays. A real foodie waits all year for his or her family’s signature stuffing. And here’s where you can go crazy. Ingredients can range from the traditional to the wild and wonderful. Oysters, apples, walnuts, sausage, cornbread, matzo, chestnuts, wild rice and chipotle peppers are just a few of the things that make their way into stuffing recipes.

The oldest cookbook known, written sometime between the second century BC and the first century AD, contains recipes for stuffing chickens, rabbits and suckling pigs.

3. The third best Thanksgiving food and the most requested holiday dessert is pumpkin pie. It’s simple to make, so only the homemade kind will do. Canned pumpkin is acceptable – a lot of people can’t tell the difference between canned and fresh pumpkin – but the pastry must be flaky and the topping must be real whipped cream, not something out of an aerosol can.

While we’re at it, did you know that pumpkin is really a type of squash? Knowing that it’s a veggie makes it perfectly acceptable to eat for any meal, including breakfast. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

4. In fourth place are soft, hot, delicious homemade rolls, dripping with butter. Fresh bread just out of the oven is a delight the world around, so it definitely belongs at the Thanksgiving table. There’s no need for the cook to be worried about the challenge, either. Plenty of hot roll recipes are so simple even a beginner can make them with no trouble. In fact, some recipes allow you to make the dough up to two days in advance. How’s that for convenience?

And talk about fast food. The Guinness world record for making a loaf of bread from field to table is eight minutes, 13 seconds. A team of bakers from Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery harvested and milled wheat from the field and then mixed, shaped and baked the loaf in this world record time.

5. The fifth best Thanksgiving food is mashed potatoes and gravy. While none of us have to wait all year for a helping of this creamy, heavenly, perfect comfort food, it’s especially good on the fourth Thursday in November due to the addition of turkey gravy. Use Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, both of which are high in starch and make the perfect gravy transport.

On the fun side of things, potatoes were the first crop to be grown in space – on the space shuttle Columbia. Also, potatoes can also be used to make batteries. The highest voltage from a potato battery, achieved in 2009, was 538.1 volts DC.

Alas, given no ranking in this listing is the perennial green bean casserole. If you love this side dish, I apologize but, for a foodie, a recipe with no fresh ingredients doesn’t make the cut.

Food historians at the Smithsonian Museum say that, for the most part, the traditional American Thanksgiving menu came together about 200 years ago, while green bean casserole made its debut 59 years ago. In 1955, the Campbell Soup Company introduced the three-ingredient recipe consisting of canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup and canned French-fried onions. But if you can find a way to do the same thing with fresh ingredients.

I’ll happily give it a try.