For publishers of food magazines, the November Thanksgiving issue — the one issue that a casual home cook is most likely to grab, in a panicked moment of desperation, as they add a bag of fresh cranberries to the grocery checkout conveyor belt — represents the time to truly bring their A-game. Thematically, readers are all looking for the same thing (i.e., how to not completely screw up Thanksgiving dinner), and with that as essentially an industrywide benchmark, the cover becomes an important opportunity for mags to flaunt their point of view, make a bold statement, and prove that their team can burnish a bird like no one else.
Or, you know, they could just throw a turkey and pie on the cover and call it a day. As per annual tradition, a group of Eater editors got together on Slack to discuss this year’s crop of Thanksgiving issues, judged solely by the aesthetics of their covers (and not the recipes or content within). Spoiler: It’s kind of a grim year at the checkout line. As one editor asked aloud, “Are there no good Thanksgiving covers this year??”
Hillary Dixler Canavan: This arrow is indiscreet.
Greg Morabito: I love this cover because it reminds me of walking into Restoration Hardware in the ’90s. It feels aspiration-ally sterile: It says, “You can cook Thanksgiving and it won’t be a huge mess.”
Erin DeJesus: I agree, Greg — for the second year in a row, this cover reads more like a catalog to me: I was going to say West Elm, but a brighter Restoration Hardware makes sense. And it took me a while to see it, but that towel angled toward the reader, just so, actually feels smart.
HDC: There are five (five!!!) cutting boards in this photo. And of course there are houseplants.
Daniela Galarza: Fully agree, re: Restoration Hardware catalog. I am struggling to read the text at the bottom.
GM: It’s kind of like an eye exam at the DMV. What does it say on the last line? Can you read “Umami-spiked gravy”? No? Sorry, you’re taking the bus.
DG: It’s interesting that there isn’t a single fiddle-leaf ficus among all of this greenery. Are fig trees out?
ED: Figs are too Christmas, maybe. Question, though: How do we feel about this turkey?
HDC: The turkey looks really good to me!
DG: The turkey is the right color.
GM: I think it’s too shiny and scale-y. It reminds me of a reptile.
DG: Honestly they should have put a photo of the promised butterscotch pecan torte on the cover. The turkey looks a little fake… It’s a little cartoony. Compared to last year’s, though, this is really more inviting. I’ll say this doesn’t inspire me to cook, but it does inspire me to want to eat.
DG: I appreciate this cover, and the overhead shot is an easy win. This makes me want to bake.
ED: I find this very inviting.
HDC: These look homemade, but, like, better than any pie I ever make will look? I like that the pecan pie isn’t a perfect circle, the leaves in the pumpkin pie are slightly unevenly browned — it’s homey.
GM: What I like about this Thanksgiving cover is that it doesn’t scream “Thanksgiving cover.” It even looks a little Christmas-y.
DG: The green runner and gold text are a liiiitle Christmas-y, yeah.
HDC: I love that there’s a cup of coffee (or tea?) in here, though. It really evokes that feeling of being totally full and totally tired of my family.
DG: Also interesting that each pie is from a different state. The gold flatware is a little three years ago, maybe.
ED: I was just going to say I liked the flatware and dishes!
HDC: I like the small flower arrangement too!
GM: I gotta say, as one of those obnoxious people who doesn’t really love dessert, this cover doesn’t quite set my world on fire, although I like the strategic decision to go all dessert and no turkey. … Is that gold leaf an ashtray?
DG: I was thinking it was a random decorative element — but wow, is that a subtle nod to the South’s tobacco industry?
GM: I mean, if you’re going to smoke on Thanksgiving, do it right before the pie and coffee, I guess.
DG: How much did Philip Morris’s public affairs firm pay for that?
ED: Literal decorative gold leafs are the new edible decorative gold leaf.
Martha Stewart Living
DG: Why so much brown, Martha? It’s too brown, the turkey blends into the background — but, I am a good millennial and am going to like this pink logo over the brown.
GM: It looks like this turkey is on a side table somewhere in Martha’s country-rustic mansion. Perhaps even ornamental: “That’s the show turkey.”
HDC: Another profile shot of a turkey. Is profile the new overhead?????
ED: The funny thing is I’ve been staring at this cover even longer than y’all have and I can’t think of a single opinion I have of it. It’s just... there. But inoffensively so.
DG: This looks like a real turkey, not a fake turkey. The uneven browning is important.
HDC: The dried flowers in the arrangement seem unpleasantly crunchy.
DG: Yeah, I think the only thing I don’t like is the choice of foliage under the turkey. The dried berry branches are okay, but those cattail things are not appetizing. Bring back the fresh bay or sage.
HD. Agree. The branches are lovely, though.
GM: I feel like they’re trying to catch many different types of flies with this design honey. It’s like for the hipsters (with the pink lettering), for the Portlandia crowd (with “American Makers”), and for the intimidated novices (with “easy, extra-special ideas”).
HDC: Misplay to not call it: The Ultimate PrIEmer.
GM: Martha doesn’t eff with puns.
HDC: This room looks very chilly. I look at this cover and it makes me feel cold. It’s the decaying flower arrangement and lack of fabric.
GM: Because you know Martha’s manse is perhaps unavoidably drafty in the winter months. The December draftiness of her Connecticut mansion is the bane of Martha’s existence, I’m sure.
DG: That’s interesting because it’s a lot of warm colors? Overall I liked Martha’s cover last year a little more, but in my book, Martha can do no wrong. This cover would be better with fewer plants under the turkey, more pie near the turkey, and that’s it.
HDC: What are you even doing if you’re serving your bird without an accompaniment bird wallpaper.
HDC: Isn’t this the same as last year???? This looks like a plate I’d actually make for myself, which is both good and bad. There’s very little aspiration here.
ED: I was just about to say… this is literally the same cover but with a HEXAGON plate.
DG: There’s macaroni and cheese on this plate. I’m into that.
GM: I’ve always wondered what Thanksgiving Day at Dig Inn might look like.
ED: Both gravies also look suspiciously “light.” And the green beans are wrapped in... prosciutto? But looks more like fruit leather.
GM: The string beans wrapped in meat look like something Antoni would Instagram.
DG: The “103 recipes” is a great selling point, actually. That’s a good value.
HDC: I also think we need to not hold Cooking Light to a ridiculous standard of creating “diet” food for Thanksgiving.
GM: Love that very ’80s salad though.
DG: The black plate on a black slate background is very cold to me.
HD: I like that they went for a proper Champagne coupe. So far we’ve seen a tumbler of natural wine, a tea cup, and a Champagne coupe.
GM: Also who the hell is using a slow cooker this year for anything? Instant Pot that soup, my friend.
HDC: Instant Pot turkey explosion videos can be the new turkey fryer explosion videos!
GM: I would buy that Melissa Clark book in a second.
Rachael Ray Every Day
ED: It probably surprises no one here that I love this cover. GRAVY. SOLD. And the stuffing and potatoes look rich and delicious.
DG: This is nice, the close-up, and everything looks good. Though this is also a nightmare for people who don’t like their food mixed up.
HDC: I really like how different this photograph is. It’s a completely fresh angle.
DG: Wow, I think I like this better than Martha’s.
ED: I also love how it compliments their cover from last year.
HDC: This plate looks very ’80s wedding gift to me… I think my parents had these plates.
DG: I like that plate design. It’s simple but elegant.
GM: It looks hearty for certain, but misses my favorite part of the experience, which is, like, variety. Also, I wish everyone didn’t just do turkey breast slices with the gravy stream. It’s all about the dark meat.
DG: Throw a leg on there and it’s perfect.
HDC: Yes agree Greg!! Show me the right way to slather a leg in gravy.
ED: Just dunk the whole thing in the gravy bowl.
DG: I like that this cover is less for the harried cook and more about just get into the indulgence of it all; let yourself live.
ED: That’s probably a great articulation as to why this cover speaks to me. Just eat.
HDC: Yeah this very much guest POV. Points to both this cover and Cooking Light for showing a nice amount of fresh cracked pepper on the slices.
GM: This is my least favorite.
ED: WHOA GREG WHAT?
HDC: Hot take.
GM: It’s the least aspirational. Like, this could be any Thanksgiving dinner that turns out pretty well.
DG: It’s been a pretty cruddy year. I appreciate the simple message of just let yourself live it up and indulge.
GM: I want the Thanksgiving fantasy. Thanksgiving in Marfa? Sure!
Food & Wine
HDC: Wow has anyone ever had a sweet potato cover for Thanksgiving before? This is so bold. No turkey and no pie. To me, this feels more current than the Bon-App-Apartment-Therapy cover.
ED: I love this out-of-the-box dish choice… and incidentally also want this trivet.
DG: I dislike a lot about this cover.
HDC: This is an actually new-looking dish. It’s something I couldn’t get without buying the magazine.
ED: I cannot believe this is so polarizing! These were my favorite two covers, Rachael Ray and F&W.
DG: Mostly it’s weird to put marshmallow topping on cut up and roasted sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes should be mashed, so you can eat them together.
GM: I mean, points for boldness and creativity. I just don’t want to eat this thing.
HDC: I will never make this meringue but I genuinely appreciate the actual innovation here. This is the first cover we’ve seen where it’s showing us a new idea of what Thanksgiving can look like.
DG: I like the graphical elements, the white and black. I have no desire to eat or cook this dish. This is not a Thanksgiving I want.
GM: It looks like someone slid a baked Alaska on top of some steamed carrots.
DG: Something about it is a little Ikea catalogue to me.
GM: It also feels a bit ’90s Dean & DeLuca to me, weirdly. Maybe because it reminds me a bit of a D&D deli case?
HDC: Maybe I’m just jaded, but I didn’t realize how much I was wanting one of these covers to just come at me from left field. This bizarre meringue on top of sliced-up sweet potatoes does that.
ED: If anything, I’m now laughing at how this is the most controversial of the covers so far and it has the massive cover line “COME TOGETHER.”
Food Network Magazine
DG: Is this a current photo or from 1960?
GM: Nickelodeon Gak.
HDC: Respect the aggressive amounts of parsley below this turkey. But this muddy teal is not working for me. I also do not like the mix of fonts in “Your Thanksgiving Handbook.”
DG: Look at the new “slow-cooker dinners,” which is on the edge of Instant Pot territory. But why is Bobby the only Food Network chef that’s called out?? How could they not include Ina? I would also read an Alex Guarnaschelli Thanksgiving issue.
HDC: Like last year, I must say this would be 100 percent better if it were 100 percent Ina. This eggplant color has been a theme throughout the covers, though — like the flower in the Southern Living arrangement.
GM: I like the $5,000 Grocery Sweeps. Like, that’s different.
HDC: This cover is depressing me. It’s sad like the pilling carpet of a CVS. It’s listless.
GM: I think it probably speaks to how loyal the readership is. It would be perfect if one of these notes on the cover was just like mega-weird and everything else was the just as it is: “Hide a camera in your turkey like Robert Irvine.”
HDC: I’m still not over how weird the lemon and parsley turkey is. Who looks to lemon and parsley for Thanksgiving?? Give me sage, give me acid from cranberries. I just don’t think it’s the time.
DG: I was going to say parsley isn’t great with turkey, but sure with lemon, it’s like chicken. What would Samin [Nosrat, cookbook author and host of Netflix’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat] say?
HDC: SAMIN. WHERE IS THE SAMIN THANKSGIVING COVER?
DG: These covers all have 1,000 percent too little Samin.