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A barbecue spiced turkey appears in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 27, 2014. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research looks at the state of the country's Thanksgiving favorites. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)
MARK KENNEDY and LINLEY SANDERS Associated Press
Published: 21 November 2023

Thanksgiving may be a time for Americans to come together, but opinion is divided over what's on the crowded dinner table. We mostly agree on the deliciousness of pumpkin pie, say, but are split over the eternal turkey question of dark meat versus white meat.

And don't even ask if marshmallows belong on sweet potatoes — it could cause a ruckus.

The Bird

About 3 in 10 U.S. adults (32%) who will celebrate Thanksgiving this year say turkey is their favorite dish in the holiday feast, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Stuffing or dressing (19%) and mashed potatoes (6%) come in second and third.

“Thanksgiving — it’s about turkey,” said Ralph Caya, 71, from Pensacola, Florida, who participated in the survey.

On the other hand, Vaidehi Upadhyaya, a 27-year-old pharmacist in Glen Rock, New Jersey, is a lifelong vegetarian. It's all about the side dishes for her.

Although turkey is tops across U.S. regions and ages, there's a slight generational divide. Americans 45 or older are especially likely to call turkey the best thing on the Thanksgiving table (39%), while younger adults who agree come in at 24%.

Once the turkey is carved, about 4 in 10 celebrators (43%) prefer white meat over dark (28%), and about one in five (21%) have no preference. Older people are more likely than those under 45 to prefer dark meat (31% vs. 24%).

About 1 in 10 adults under 45 don't like the big bird at all.

“I have to go with the white meat,” says Carlos Stallworth, 58, of Los Angeles, who also thinks ahead to leftovers. "You’re not going to get a great slice of dark meat to go on a sandwich. But with the white meat, you get that.”

The Sauce

As for the least favorite dishes on the Thanksgiving table, look no further than cranberries. About 2 in 10 celebrators say cranberries or cranberry sauce wouldn't be missed. (For the record, KRC Research reports 80 million pounds of cranberries are eaten during Thanksgiving week.)

Caya says cranberries on the table are “important,” but Upadhyaya is “pretty indifferent," adding: “I’ll eat it if it's there but it’s like not exciting by any means.”

Stallworth, who has taken a few culinary courses, appreciates what cranberries do on the big day: “You definitely want a clash with the salty and the gaminess of the meat. So to me, cranberry is a must.”

Thanksgiving celebrators are generally divided on whether it’s better to have cranberry sauce from a can or homemade. About one-quarter (24%) say the canned sauce is preferable, while 22% want it made from scratch. About one-third (35%) just don’t like cranberry sauce, with those under 45 being more likely than older adults to dislike it.

The Pie

According the poll, pumpkin pie is the safe bet if you want to make the average guest happy. One-third of U.S. adults who will celebrate Thanksgiving say that's their preferred dessert.

Pecan pie got 17%, apple pie was right behind with 15% and sweet potato pie was at 12%. Chocolate pie and cherry or berry pie were in the single digits.

Caya, in Florida, bypasses the pumpkin to go with a regional delicacy.

“Being this close to Georgia, I’ve got to go with pecan,” he says.

Oh, and About the Sweet Potatoes...

One of the holiday's biggest divides is whether marshmallows belong on sweet potato dishes. About one-third (32%) say they prefer that whoever is cooking nix the marshmallows, while 26% want them added. Another one-quarter don’t like sweet potato dishes at all, and 16% have no preference.

There are some regional differences over marshmallows, according to the data. Northeasterners (42%) are more likely than Midwesterners (29%) or Southerners (29%) to say no to them.

Upadhyaya has eaten sweet potatoes both ways and says there's not much difference: “I feel like it really doesn’t affect the taste that much because the dish is already sweet enough without the marshmallows. It’s good both ways.”

The Cook's Touch

Lauren Feldman, 39, of Indianapolis, suggests another key ingredient for a successful meal. Every year, she goes home and her mom makes turkey, lots of sides, cranberry sauce from scratch, and a pumpkin pie with homemade crust.

That human touch — mom’s touch, actually — makes all the difference, says Feldman: “I think if those things were store-bought, I probably wouldn’t like them as much.”

So who IS doing the cooking?

Among those celebrating Thanksgiving, women (34%) are more likely than men (19%) to say they will do all or most of the cooking. Slightly fewer than half of men (46%) who plan to celebrate Thanksgiving say they will do hardly any or none of the cooking. Just one-quarter of women participants say the same.

 

The poll of 1,239 adults was conducted Nov. 2-6, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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