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The Best Fried Chicken in All 50 States

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Few foods are more comforting, more decadent, and more delicious than a plate of fried chicken, served fresh from the skillet alongside crisp waffles, fluffy biscuits, or creamy sides. Many poultry purists argue that the world’s best fried chicken is dished out down South—but with the sheer number of talented chefs across the nation, we’re calling fowl on this claim. Here are the best fried chicken joints in all 50 states, both near and far away from the Mason-Dixon line. And since everything's better when it’s coated in flour, battered, and browned in oil, consider using this list as a restaurant field guide the next time you’re taking a cross-country road trip.

1. ALABAMA // LITTLE DONKEY

Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Southern flavors mix with Mexican dishes at Little Donkey in the Homewood suburb of Birmingham. For their plate of Southern Fried Chicken (which you order by the quarter- or half-chicken), the meat has been soaked in a three-chili brine to pack an extra punch.

2. ALASKA // LUCKY WISHBONE

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

Of the 245 reviews that Lucky Wishbone has on Trip Advisor, 155 of them mention the fried chicken. The signature dish has been on the menu since the joint opened in 1955 and has been dipped in homemade buttermilk batter and pan-fried the same way for over 60 years.

3. ARIZONA // MRS. WHITE’S GOLDEN RULE CAFE

Location: Phoenix, Arizona

Bringing southern flavors to the Southwest since 1964, Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe has been described as an institution in Phoenix. Customers are expected to operate on the honor code when paying for their food because post-meal checks are not a thing here.

4. ARKANSAS // AQ CHICKEN HOUSE

Location: Springdale, Arkansas

The "AQ" in AQ Chicken House stands for Arkansas Quality, which is what the restaurant has been serving its customers since 1947. At least two former Presidents have eaten chicken here: Bill Clinton on his 47th birthday, and George H.W. Bush, who reportedly made his order from Air Force One.

5. CALIFORNIA // BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN

Location: West Oakland, California

You can find the recipe for Chef Tanya Holland’s buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles on Oprah’s website or in the Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook, or you can make the smarter choice and go to Oakland to try the real deal. The kitchen is open six days a week, and the chicken is available for breakfast, lunch, and on the weekends.

6. COLORADO // LOU’S FOOD BAR

Location: Denver, Colorado

Lou’s Food Bar serves up hot and spicy Nashville-style fried chicken in the Mile-High City. You can order it as a half, whole, tenders, with waffles, or as a Mother Clucker, which means on a brioche bun with a pickle, ranch, lettuce, and fries.

7. CONNECTICUT // DRUMSTIK BAR-B-Q

Location: Bridgeport, Connecticut

With a name like Drumstik Bar-B-Q and a legacy five decades strong, it’s safe to say that this place has fried chicken in the bag. Sandwiches, wings, dinners with sides, they got it all.

8. DELAWARE // WALT’S FLAVOR CRISP CHICKEN

Location: Wilmington, Delaware

The founder of Walt’s Flavor Crisp Chicken passed away in 2011 after decades of food service, but his wife has continued to give the people of Wilmington what they want—and most of them want fried chicken. "We have people who have been ordering for 10 years or more," owner Symanthia Lynch-Sheppard said last year. "They'll say, 'I'll have my usual.'"

9. FLORIDA // YARDBIRD SOUTHERN TABLE & BAR

Location: Miami Beach, Florida

Yardbird Southern Table & Bar is trendy and popular, and for good reason. As legend has it, the restaurant went through over 100 fried chicken recipes before deciding to go with one that co-owner John Kunkel’s grandmother created, which involves brining the meat for 27 hours.

10. GEORGIA // BUSY BEE CAFE

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

An Atlanta institution since 1947, the Busy Bee Cafe makes fried chicken the old fashioned way, marinating its chicken for 12 hours before frying it. The simple, no-frills fried chicken is, as the menu declares, "moist, juicy and Beelicious!" It’s served plain or smothered in gravy.

11. HAWAII // ETHEL’S GRILL

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

Ethel’s Grill serves up tasty fried chicken with a Hawaiian twist. Their Mochiko chicken is coated in rice flour and served with a ginger ponzu dipping sauce. The tiny restaurant, hidden away under an apartment building in Kalihi, offers a wide range of American and Japanese dishes at shockingly low prices. The eponymous Ethel sold the business to culinary wizards Ryoko and Yoichi Ishii back in 1978, and they’ve been running it with their children ever since.

12. IDAHO // FORK

Location: Boise, Idaho

This hip farm-to-table restaurant serves up upscale versions of American comfort foods, including the state’s best buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles. Made with local cheese and honey, Fork’s beloved fried chicken is sold every Tuesday—until it runs out. 

13. ILLINOIS // DELL RHEA’S CHICKEN BASKET

Location: Willowbrook, Illinois

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been serving comfort food to travelers on Route 66 for more than six decades, and its building and iconic sign were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. But the Chicken Basket is more than a piece of Illinois history: To this day, it serves up 2000 pounds of its famous slow-cooked chicken each week.

14. INDIANA // HOLLYHOCK HILL

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Hollyhock Hill cooks its “Hoosier pan-fried chicken” in a cast-iron skillet until it’s a perfect golden brown, then serves it up with heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, buttery corn, and other rich, comforting sides. Founded in 1928, Hollyhock Hill doesn’t just serve up classic Indiana fried chicken—it helped invent it.

15. IOWA // MT. HAMILL TAP

Location: Donnelson, Iowa

Iowa’s best fried chicken can be found at Mt. Hamill Tap, a squat nondescript pub located in the tiny town of Donnelson. As of 2010, Donnelson had a recorded population of 912 residents—which makes it all the more impressive that Mt. Hamill regularly brings in 200 customers to savor the thick, crispy fried chicken it serves up on weekly Chicken Night on Wednesdays.

16. KANSAS // BROOKVILLE HOTEL

Location: Abilene, Kansas

The Brookville Hotel opened in the small Kansan town of Brookville way back in 1894. While it moved to Abilene in 2000, it’s still serving up the same family-style chicken dinner it first introduced in 1915. Nowadays, the skillet fried-chicken dinners (along with a handful of delectable sides) are the only thing on the menu. The James Beard Award-winning chicken is beautifully simple, prepared with canned milk, flour, salt, and pepper, and fried in lard.

17. KENTUCKY // HARVEST

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

There’s plenty of competition for best fried chicken in Kentucky—and the debate will never truly be settled—but Harvest in Louisville pulls ahead of the rest with its novel take on the fried chicken dinner. The farm-to-table restaurant serves its buttermilk fried chicken atop a hoecake or bread pudding, along with a homemade hot sauce made with beets and carrots for extra sweetness.

18. LOUISIANA // WILLIE MAE’S SCOTCH HOUSE

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Willie Mae’s has been frying up juicy, tender fried chicken in New Orleans since at least the 1970s (the shop started as a combination bar, beauty salon, and barbershop in the 1950s before becoming a full-time bar and restaurant in the '70s). The restaurant’s eponymous chef, Ms. Willie Mae Seaton, received a James Beard Award for her classic comfort foods in 2005. Nowadays, the restaurant, which was dubbed "America’s Best Fried Chicken" by the Food Network and Travel Channel, is run by Ms. Willie Mae’s great granddaughter.

19. MAINE // FIGGY’S TAKEOUT & CATERING

Location: Portland, Maine

There’s more than one way to fry a chicken. At Figgy’s Takeout & Catering, they’re cooking up their birds in a cast iron pan. The comfort food joint opened just last summer in June, and they’re already known for selling some of the best chicken the state has to offer. In addition to homestyle classics like skillet fried chicken and fluffy biscuits, the menu also includes Korean-style wings.

20. MARYLAND // HIPHOP FISH & CHICKEN

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

There’s no need to travel too far south of the Mason-Dixon line to find authentic fried chicken. Diners at HipHop Fish & Chicken have their choice of deep fried seafood, chicken, or a combination basket of the two. For adventurous fried chicken connoisseurs, chicken livers and gizzards fried in their flavorful batter are also available.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // TRINA’S STARLITE LOUNGE

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

The menu at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts is jam-packed with comfort food classics, but the dish they’re most famous for is their fried chicken. At dinner, it comes served with dirty gravy, mashed potatoes, a biscuit, and hot pepper syrup. At brunch, their chicken is accompanied by a buttermilk waffle.

22. MICHIGAN // ZINGERMAN’S ROADHOUSE

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Zingerman’s Delicatessen is an Ann Arbor institution, but their roadhouse located a few miles away is also worth a pit stop for the fried chicken alone. They deep fry their chicken with a black pepper buttermilk batter and serve it alongside mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, and yellow mustard coleslaw. If you prefer your fried chicken with an extra kick, the restaurant hosts Nashville hot chicken nights every Tuesday.

23. MINNESOTA // ROOSTER’S BBQ & DELI

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

Whether you’re craving ribs, pulled pork, or barbecue chicken, Rooster’s in St. Paul, Minnesota is home to all the classics, but their fried chicken is the real star of the show. Their signature pressure-cooker method of frying earned the dish the title of Best Fried Chicken in the Twin Cities by Mpls. St. Paul Magazine in 2011.

24. MISSISSIPPI // THE OLD COUNTRY STORE

Location: Lorman, Mississippi

The Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi is an essential destination on any fried chicken road trip. Owner Arthur Davis, a.k.a. Mr. D, serves his Heavenly Fried Chicken which is as classic as it gets (it’s also reportedly the only fried chicken Alton Brown will eat other than what he makes at home). Here’s the best part: it’s available as part of an all-you-can-eat southern food buffet.

25. MISSOURI // PORTER’S FRIED CHICKEN

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Porter’s Fried Chicken has been following the same fried chicken recipe since the day they opened over 30 years ago. Their traditional chicken is double-coated in a flour-based breading to achieve an extra-crispy crust. If the original batter doesn’t pack enough punch for you, they can make any meal spicy upon request.

26. MONTANA // ROOST FRIED CHICKEN

Location: Bozeman, Montana

Roost Fried Chicken offers diners a taste of the south in big sky country. At this restaurant diners can order their fried chicken in a basket, on a sandwich, on a waffle, or on a stick. Classic southern sides like biscuits, fried okra, cheese grits, and collard greens all appear on the menu.

27. NEBRASKA // BIG MAMA’S

Location: Omaha, Nebraska

Some of the best fried chicken in the midwest can be found in a surprising location: the old cafeteria of what was once the Nebraska School for the Deaf. Today the space is home to Big Mama’s, an Omaha establishment known for its oven-fried chicken, which is first soaked in spice-laden buttermilk for 24 hours. Cooking chicken to perfection isn’t the only skill in Patricia "Big Mama" Barron’s repertoire: The entrepreneur is also available for events as a motivational speaker.

28. NEVADA // HEARTHSTONE KITCHEN & CELLAR

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is famous as a gambling destination, but it’s really a culinary mecca. For your chicken fix, head to the Red Rock Casino, where Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar fries up big helpings of moist, spicy-sweet chicken drizzled in honey.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // THE PURITAN BACKROOM

Location: Manchester, New Hampshire

The Puritan Backroom, a local staple since 1917, claims to be the inventor of chicken tenders. A USA Today examination of the matter declared that while others might have been frying up the same strips in 1974, the Puritan—which was founded by Greek immigrants and also serves kababs and spanakopita—probably popularized the name. Regardless of their origins, visitors seem to agree that they’re amazing, especially with the house sauce.

30. NEW JERSEY // CHICKEN GALORE

Location: Kearny, New Jersey

The family-owned Chicken Galore has been frying up juicy, moist chicken along with ribs, shrimp, and fries since 1963. As one reviewer lauds, “You have not lived until you have had a bucket of fried chicken from here!” Did we mention they deliver?

31. NEW MEXICO // GOLDEN PRIDE

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s four Golden Pride outposts serve the area’s best chicken, as the local culture mag has testified. And it’s one of the few great fried chicken shacks that can also cook up a mean breakfast burrito.

32. NEW YORK // THE COMMODORE

Location: Brooklyn, New York

There’s stiff competition to be the best at any culinary category in New York, but Brooklyn dive bar The Commodore consistently shoots to the top of New York City lists of best chicken purveyors with its perfectly crispy fried goodness. Plus, they're open until 4 a.m.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // MAMA DIP’S

Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Mama Dip’s has been churning out piping-hot chicken for going on 40 years, and while you can try your hand at founder Mildred Council’s recipes with her cookbooks, but you should probably just leave it to the expert. It’s been heralded as the best in not just the state, but the whole South.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // THE SHACK ON BROADWAY

Location: Fargo, North Dakota

This friendly diner on the north side of Fargo has been operating for more than two decades, serving delectable comfort foods from chicken fried steak to gooey cinnamon rolls. Their "down home cooking," as they describe it, is designed to taste just like grandma’s—or maybe better. Check out their two-piece fried chicken dinner the next time you’re in town.

35. OHIO // WHITE HOUSE CHICKEN

Location: Barberton, Ohio

Barberton, a northeastern Ohio town near Akron, is famous for its lard-fried, Serbian-style chicken, served in just a handful of local "chicken houses." The best of these—according to years of local polls and an episode of Food Network’s Food Feud—is White House Chicken, which just opened up a second outpost in the Cleveland suburb of Medina.

36. OKLAHOMA // EISCHEN’S BAR

Location: Okarche, Oklahoma

The legendary Eischen’s Bar, located in the 1200-person town of Okarche, traces its roots back to Prohibition. But its brews aren’t as notable as its birds, which are fried whole and delivered straight to your table.

37. OREGON // SCREEN DOOR

Location: Portland, Oregon

True to its Portland roots, Screen Door has found a way to hipster-fy fried chicken. The ridiculously popular restaurant—which can be spotted on the weekends by the line of would-be brunchers wrapping around the building—describes its menu as a "survey of the South," featuring locally sourced versions of everything from Cajun to barbecue, and, of course, fried chicken.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // PERCY STREET BARBECUE

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This beloved barbecue joint took home Philadelphia Magazine’s 2015 "Best of Philly" award for Best Fried Chicken for a single menu item: its crispy, buttery chicken biscuit. The biscuit, which is only served during happy hour, is stacked with fried chicken, cheddar cheese, hot sauce, jalapeños, and buttermilk ranch.

39. RHODE ISLAND // NORTH

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Eschewing haute cuisine’s pea-sized portions for enormous, hearty meals, a little neighborhood restaurant called North has found a following among gourmets and gourmands alike. The eatery’s entire menu includes modern takes on salty, savory bar food and American standards from seafood to fried chicken.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // MARTHA LOU’S KITCHEN

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

You can’t miss Martha Lou’s Kitchen. Literally—it would be very hard to overlook the bubblegum-pink shack housing one of Charleston’s best restaurants. Lauded by Martha Stewart, the Travel Channel, and The New York Times, owner and chef Martha “Lou” Gadsen and her daughter have been serving up their famous fried chicken for more than 30 years.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // PIZZA RANCH

Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

If you want fancy, organic, or high-falutin’ food, go somewhere else. Pizza Ranch’s 180 locations are staples in 13 U.S. states for their big buffets, their standardized pizza, and their Crispy Ranch Chicken. 

42. TENNESSEE // GUS’S WORLD FAMOUS HOT AND SPICY FRIED CHICKEN

Location: Mason, Tennessee

The Gus’s empire is a testament to the power of community—and good fried chicken. From humble beginnings, with contributions from local chicken lovers, Napoleon "Na" Vanderbilt and his wife, Ms. Maggie, built one small but hugely popular restaurant in the little town of Mason. After their deaths in the early '80s, their son Gus started a new fried chicken spot using his dad’s recipe, which by then had become a local legend. Thirty years later, Gus’s has locations in nine states, all using that special and secret recipe. "This is a dead man’s recipe," Gus once said, "[and] I ain’t telling."

43. TEXAS // MAX’S WINE DIVE

Location: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas

"Fried Chicken and Champagne? …Why the Hell Not?!" That’s the tagline at Max’s Wine Dive, a self-proclaimed dive bar with locations all over Texas. But for all their claims of sleaze, the owners and chefs at Max’s are working awfully hard. Keep an eye out for seasonal favorites, but you can’t go wrong with Max’s famous Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens.

44. UTAH // C&B MADDOX FAMOUS CHICKEN

Location: Layton, Utah

For nearly 70 years, the proprietors of C&B Maddox have been serving up a (slightly) healthier alternative to fried chicken that doesn’t sacrifice a lick of taste. Their birds have the skin peeled off before a light coating is applied, shaving some calories and fat away in the process. It hasn’t hurt business one bit: C&B goes through up to 5000 pounds of chicken every week to meet the demand.

45. VERMONT // MISERY LOVES CO.

Location: Winooski, Vermont

What started as a mobile business operating out of a Winnebago has become a permanent installation among foodies: Misery Loves Co. serves up fried chicken with a gourmet twist, using fresh buttermilk and emulsified honey-butter dipping sauces.

46. VIRGINIA // WAYSIDE FRIED CHICKEN

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia

Southern Living declared Wayside’s some of the best chicken in the South, which is pretty heavy praise. Juicy and peppered to perfection, the only downside is that you can’t hang around for seconds: The restaurant only serves takeout and catering.  

47. WASHINGTON // EZELL’S FAMOUS CHICKEN

Location: Seattle, Washington

Don’t let its franchise status raise an eyebrow: Ezell’s has been serving up Seattle-area chicken for over 30 years, even being summoned by Oprah Winfrey to cater her Chicago birthday party in 1990.  The flaky, juicy pieces have even found their way to the United Arab Emirates, where Ezell’s opened a Sharjah location in 2015.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // DIRTY BIRD

Location: Morgantown, West Virginia

Since opening in 2012, residents within driving distance of this unassuming diner have flocked to it for what’s reputed to be the best fried chicken in the state. College students line up out the door for their signature sandwiches, which pairs a breast with gravy, bacon, cheddar jack cheese, shaved ham, or blue cheese. The cage-free chicken ships fresh five days a week from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania.

49. WISCONSIN // TOMKEN’S

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Since 1991, TomKen’s Friendly Fried Chicken has been racking up awards for their deep-fried birds. Grab a box and expect it to be stuffed with fries, coleslaw, and pieces thinly-battered to maximize the meat over the crunch.

50. WYOMING // CAFÉ GENEVIEVE

Location: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Come early and sample Café Genevieve’s chicken and waffles; come back later for their generous portions of fried chicken during the revamped log cabin’s dinner hours. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places—not technically for the chicken, although it probably should be.

This story was updated in August 2016.

By Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Anna Green, Kate Horowitz, Andrew LaSane, and Jake Rossen.

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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