Black Families Have Rules About Who Can Cook What On Thanksgiving


By: Kiana Keys

No no, see, this is not a game. This is serious business and I know I’m not the only one that comes from a family that operates under the Robert Rules of Thanksgiving Dish Determination. It’s not your average Sunday dinner, where folks are forgiving and the pressure is at a minimum. No, when your family members are SERIOUS Thanksgiving foodies, the stakes are high!

Signs that your family is not playing around with Thanksgiving dishes:

1. Eligible dish-makers are APPOINTED

There is no sign-up list, nomination slates, or volunteerism with Thanksgiving. No, that’s not how any of this works. You can’t just simply say “I’ll bring the greens!” Harpo, who dis woman? Ma’am, there is a process to Thanksgiving dish assignments.

Dish-makers are appointed by the HMIC (Head Matriarch In Charge.) And she doesn’t take her role lightly. As a U.S. President ponders over a Supreme Court nominee, the HMIC takes into consideration all dish eligibility requirements: years of experience, reputation, demonstrated performance under pressure, etc. In the rare event someone is nominated from the family body to make a dish, he/she may be granted probational rights until we, the family, make a long-term commitment.

One last thing about dish assignments: these are standing appointments that don’t expire. If you’ve been appointed to make the yams this year, just go ahead and assume it’s your duty next year too, and the year after next, unless something goes wrong and there is a motion on the floor to replace you. Don’t be offended by this process, it’s not personal. Every dish is not our ministry so an official process is established to showcase the best talent.

Dishes That Require Appointments Include:

  1. Greens
  2. Peach Cobbler
  3. Potato Salad
  4. Black Eyed Peas
  5. Macaroni & Cheese*

2. *The understanding that Macaroni & Cheese rules the world

Macaroni & Cheese…the one dish-maker appointed by unanimous family consent. So you hold the covenant appointment of Macaroni & Cheese-maker. What does this mean for you? Standing rules 1-3: It means you are the hand the rocks the cradle. The chef of all chefs. The ruler of the Thanksgiving universe. It’s THEE ultimate staple dish, the one dish that allows no room for error. The dish with limitless and guarded secret ingredients. It’s so vital, critically important, and must be made with the utmost precision and yummy tender love. I saw this picture recently and went ahead and tagged myself in it because I’m that family member.

The pressure is on to get all those expensive cheeses to mesh just right, plus the timing is impeccable. The elder giving the Thanksgiving blessing must be on deck and everyone must get in formation to create the prayer circle AS SOON AS that top layer of cheese goes in for its final broil. Because once it comes bubbling out of the oven, Thanksgiving is now called to order and you have an exact 5-minute window to begin the serving process.

3. Many dishes will be made over a period of days

If you made your dressing (not to ever be confused with “stuffing”) quickly in an afternoon, you may get a side-eye and I may ask to verify your appointment credentials. (See, I can pull dressing credentials like a boss now because I graduated Summa Cum Laude in the dressing class my mother in law taught last year.) And the way I was taught, the hot-water corn bread has to be made at least 24 hours in advance to “let it set.” Other process dishes may include, but not be limited to cakes, casseroles, and chitterlings…**

4. **The presence of chitterlings (sigh)

All in favor? NAY! So I don’t eat them personally, but I do hold them in high regards to being one of the ancient pillars of a black family Thanksgiving. I respect it as a historical dish rooted in slavery (see, my ancestors were tossed the hog leftovers and we made them into delicate cuisines like we do with all other scraps given to us) but I digress.

Yeah, so only like 2 family members actually eat them, and that’s to be expected. But hopefully the other yummy scents are powerful enough to drown out its tart aroma. Aside from my dismay, I do expect to see that back pot of “chittlins!” (Notice how it’s always placed on the stove’s back-burner so that no one accidentally stumbles across that closed-lid. The certified chitterlings-enthusiasts know to visit that lonely-looking pot in the back).

5. Knowing that cranberry sauce is the tiniest, but most critical element EVA

Standing rule 4 addresses the presence of adequate cranberry sauce. Have you ever made dressing for a large group and forgotten the sauce? I have. It’s a day I don’t care to relive. Let’s just say, it prompted utter disarray, irreparable confusion and mass pandemonium in my kitchen and everyone was looking at me like that picture above, trying to revoke my card. Man, y’all are rough! It ended with someone having to leave and make an irritated run to the grocery store before dinner could commence. Oops! This rule can never be violated. Don’t be me.

In the event one doesn’t have time to make homemade cranberry sauce from scratch, there’s a fine-print addendum in the rules that says canned sauce is acceptable. Have several cans for backup.

6. When just a regular, baked turkey won’t do

You only offer one type of turkey? Nah. The bourgeois families (don’t play me like you don’t know what I’m taking about) have at least 2 or 3 types of turkey, at the minimum. Baked, fried, jerk… so I tasted a jerk turkey last year and errmygawd. It was delicious, unlike anything I’ve ever tasted and I don’t even like turkey! But I will say this. If you attempt to fry or make a non traditionally flavored turkey, please practice in advance!

Calling the question….has your turkey been tested and pre-approved? We ARE NOT trying to experiment with you on Thanksgiving day! You may get black-listed from a permanent appointment (reference #1) and asked to just supply the ice instead.

7. Store-bought items get tabled. To the back table.

You were oh so kind to bring something, so it’s much appreciated! But, it’s not going to be on the main table stomping with the big dog dishes. No hard feelings so don’t be offended. You do get a B for participation, although you may be banned to the kiddie table to eat. Exceptions include any dessert bought from Angelica’s. Well played my dear, well played! This move automatically advances your dish to the main set-up and earns your spot back at the adult table.

Ok, I’m done! I am not fooling with y’all anymore! …But I do hope everyone is honest with themselves on their dish eligibility.

Thanks for reading and happy cooking!! 


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