15 Delightful Upgrades to Classic Thanksgiving Dishes

ThinkStock / ThinkStock

By Miss Cellania

Take advantage of these amazing tweaks to holiday standbys and your Thanksgiving dinner will be delightful.

1. Turkey

Relatively recent innovations in cooking turkeys include the deep-fried turkey and the turducken, both of which take a certain amount of courage and preparation beforehand. What you're really looking for is a way to make a turkey not just new and different, but better. To keep your big bird moist during its long cooking time, try brining it or using a dry rub with salt before you pop it into the oven. Both methods will keep the outside edge of the turkey from drying out as it roasts.

2. Dressing

There's always some kind of dressing or stuffing on the table for Thanksgiving. The basic idea is to use bread, cornbread, or rice—some kind of starchy staple—with sage and broth. But your dressing can be so much more! The addition of meat, fruits, nuts, and vegetables gives it extra flavor, if you're open to experimenting. Why not sneak some apples or bacon in this year?

3. More Dressing

You can also go in a different direction altogether and make a Cajun dressing. Cajun corn bread stuffing gets its flavor from andouille sausage, bell pepper, and cayenne pepper as well as the traditional cornbread, celery, and onions. Or go full-Louisiana adding sausage and oysters to a rice-based dressing.

4. Gravy

Once you know how to make good turkey gravy, it's hard to even imagine improving on it. But you can add new flavors that may surprise you, so try giving your gravy a shot in the arm with a little lemon and garlic.

5. Cranberry Sauce

Fresh cranberry sauce is so good that once you've had it, you'll never go back to the canned version. There's the old-fashioned way—feeding fresh cranberries and quartered oranges (peel and all) through a food grinder, then adding sugar to taste. Delicious, but it can be upgraded to something even fancier. The addition of a little wine will make it oh-so-classy and really upgrade the wow factor.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are such an iconically American vegetable that the dish has become a constant at many Thanksgiving feasts, but there's no reason to make them the same way each year. In 2013, Hanukkah overlaps with Thanksgiving, so a singularly creative way to serve them would be sweet potato latkes.

7. Biscuits

Bacon upgrades any dish, and classic biscuits are no exception. Sneak a little bacon and some cheddar into this Thanksgiving's biscuits and watch as your guests forget all about the turkey.

8. Mashed Potatoes

Regular mashed potatoes are great, but duchess potatoes make everyone feel as if they are in a fancy restaurant. Duchess potatoes are mashed potatoes made into fancy potato puffs baked in the oven. They look good, taste good, and the puffs make portion control easier, if that's a concern.

9. Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole became a hit because it was so easy to make and so tasty. But you don't have to use the canned soup recipe—the casserole is amazingly better made from scratch using chicken broth and mushrooms, and topped with your own freshly-baked onion rings.

10. More Green Bean Casserole

The next step up to green bean casserole nirvana is to make the casserole with fresh beans and homemade onion rings plus wine and cheddar cheese. 

11. Glazed Carrots

Carrots cooked in butter and brown sugar are good, but they can be upgraded to something special. A different kind of zing can be achieved with cinnamon and honey.

12. Rolls

Dinner rolls don't have to be just bread. Incorporate canned pumpkin and spices to make them tasty in their own right!

13. Pumpkin Pie

In some families, there is a tension between those who want pumpkin pie and those who prefer pecan pie. Often that is resolved by making both kinds of pie, which can be a hassle for a small group and a busy cook. Why not have the best of both? Top your pumpkin pie with pecans and make everyone happy!

14. Pecan Pie

Pecan pie sure is nice, but the traditional way it's made is overwhelmingly sweet. Trade some of the sweetness for flavor with chopped bacon, pure maple syrup, and your favorite bourbon.

15. Egg Nog

Egg nog is sometimes served after dinner on Thanksgiving to symbolize the transition to the Christmas season—kind of like the tradition of Santa Claus ending a Thanksgiving parade. Use a little extra cream and nutmeg to make an unforgettable nog.