Why My Family Eats Smoked Bologna Sandwiches On Thanksgiving Night

It’s definitely not your typical leftover turkey and sides sandwich.

pieces of fried bologna in a skillet
Photo: Monica Farber

In my family, it's ALL about the food. Whether we are celebrating the holidays with my mom's side of the family or my dad's, you'll find everyone piled into the kitchen, doing their part. The years we gather with my dad's crowd of more than 50, my ever-so-talented great-aunt Hope has stepped up to the plate when it comes to organizing the kitchen. After all, it's a lot of mouths to feed! She delegates each menu item weeks in advance, and everyone typically makes the Thanksgiving dish they're known for—sometimes with a few added surprises.

We obviously have all the best sides , plus the traditional fried turkey and oven-roasted turkey , but one year, a smoked bologna started appearing in the kitchen too. Now, it's not served with the meal, but rather, it's served for the post-Thanksgiving feast, a sort of evening "snack" sandwich. It's the perfect answer for when you're almost still full from your late-afternoon lunch, but you're also craving a nibble to tide you over until morning.

Though it's a newer family tradition, you can find at least part of our crew making a bologna sandwich for dinner in lieu of the classic leftover turkey. This isn't just any old bologna sandwich. We break out the good stuff—homemade pickles and a loaf of Hope's freshly baked brioche bread. Slice it, fry it up in a skillet, and melt cheese on top; then, slap it between two pieces of bread and finish it off with mayo, mustard, and pickles.

When I asked Hope how bologna first made its way onto the menu, she said they grew up eating fried bologna sandwiches . Then, a few years back, for my great-grandfather's 100th birthday and later his 102nd, my uncle (technically second cousin, but, like I said, we're a big family, so it's all a jumble) smoked a bologna to serve as an appetizer on white bread. "Bologna is majorly good, so it is good for all occasions," he says. He loves to smoke meat for any and all celebrations, so ever since then, as a bit of an ode to his childhood, a smoked bologna appears on Thanksgiving (and at many other large family gatherings).

"Don't get fancy with it. The cheap stuff is better," he says. Just buy a log of the mystery meat, baste it in mustard and your favorite seasonings, and then throw it on the smoker for a few hours. Since it is pre-cooked, you don't have to worry about over- or under-cooking it, just getting the smokey flavor. I wouldn't go as far as to say that smoked bologna sandwiches are my favorite Thanksgiving tradition , but it sure is a nostalgic one.

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