Is the thought of Thanksgiving driving your anxiety through the roof? Is it mainly because you dread the grueling process of cooking the turkey to everyone’s outrageously high expectations?
Here’s our simple – and proudly shocking – solution:
Don’t. Make. The. Turkey.
You can still enjoy a beautiful and delicious Thanksgiving feast, even without that big bird as the centerpiece of your dining table.
For one reason or another, all of which should be respected, you might not be able to cook this traditional meaty main for Thanksgiving.
Maybe your new rowhome or small apartment’s oven is so tiny, that there is no way a gigantic piece of poultry could fit.
Or perhaps you’re following a vegan and vegetarian diet this year.
Or maybe you’re still a novice home cook with a hectic schedule, and have never cooked turkey before – and this year is most certainly not the year to experiment with something completely new and unfamiliar… not yet!
We’re here to reassure you, to boost your confidence by telling you that there is absolutely nothing to worry about if you decide turkey is off the menu.
Because guess what?
There are so many other recipes to make instead – impressive main entrees that you can be proud to serve to your friends and family members.
With many suggestions included from Foodal’s tested collections of homemade recipes, here are five fantastic alternatives to turkey for you to make instead this holiday season.
Ta-ta for now, turkey!
5 Great Alternatives to Turkey for Thanksgiving
1. Better with Beef
Beef has a lot to offer in the kitchen!
It’s versatility, ease of preparation, and meaty heartiness will all facilitate a foolproof outcome, much to the satisfaction and delight of your guests.
The best strategy for this meat is to choose slow-cooked recipes that do not require your constant attention.
This is particularly important when you are hosting a holiday celebration, since you’ll have plenty enough on your plate!
Be on the lookout for slow cooker, braised, or roast recipes, anything that needs to cook in a gently bubbling pot or roasted at a low temperature in the oven for a few hours.
Cooked low and slow in the oven, or happily simmering away in a big pot, you’ll be thankful that your beautiful beef dish can handle things on its own for a while as you pursue your other cleaning, cooking, and entertaining responsibilities.
The final presentation is also something to consider for a Thanksgiving feast – and with most beef recipes, you’ll be able to present your guests with a large, showstopping piece of meat that will rival any whole turkey.
Here are a few tried-and-true recipe recommendations for beef fit for the fall season that’s cooked at a slow and steady pace:
- Apple Cider Braised Beef
- Coffee-Rubbed Roast Beef
- Prime Rib
- Oven Roasted Beef Brisket
- Red Wine Braised Beef
- Slow Cooker Cranberry Chuck Roast
With these styles of recipes, you’re guaranteed moist and succulent results with very little effort on your part.
And, as a most welcome bonus, your home will be gloriously aromatic!
2. Choose Chicken
We’re not here to completely ignore the entire poultry category – there are still some options to serve a bird!
Just maybe not one that takes up the entire width of your oven…
If the size of a turkey is overwhelming, and if size is not what you’re after, a beautiful chicken entree has its many perks:
You won’t need to spend a fortune on the main course, the smaller size will be far more tolerable to manage prepping and cooking, and it will still taste just as delicious.
But if you want a more unique main course, here are some other impactful dishes to consider cooking:
- Baked Chicken with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
- Chicken Piccata
- Instant Pot White Wine Braised Chicken
- Poulet Saute a la Paysanne
- Skillet Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Lemon
- Sweet and Savory Balsamic Chicken
Chicken doesn’t have to humbly stay in the confines of a busy weeknight protein – let it be the shining star of the holiday season!
3. Party with Pork
Much like beef, pork is an easy type of meat to cook, and many recipes require minimal effort – but all will have a remarkable presence on the dinner table!
A large pork roast will always elicit a round of applause from the dinner crowd, with its mouthwatering smell, impactful appearance, and tender texture.
To minimize your prepping and cooking work, decide to use recipes that feature one large cut: a roast, loin, or shoulder will all be smart options.
Take a look at these pork recipes from Foodal – each one is an ideal choice for your holiday feast:
You may have noticed that a few of these options feature vegetables – and we think you’ll appreciate the multitasking power of being able to cook both veggies and meat at the same time.
Selecting recipes that have assorted vegetables roasting simultaneously with the pork will provide you with one additional side dish to serve alongside your other traditional Thanksgiving accompaniments.
Lazy? Certainly not. Strategic? Oh, yeah!
4. Serve Some Seafood
Offering a fish or seafood for the main course can be a sophisticated and lighter alternative to turkey meat.
Not all that hard to prepare, and quick to cook compared to tougher cuts of beef or pork, seafood recipes will serve as an easy and elegant main course.
Head to the fishmonger after you have reviewed our suggestions to cook for your guests:
If you’re hosting a smaller party, this is a perfect opportunity to amplify the preparation and presentation by choosing to do a plated dinner service, instead of a buffet-style feast.
Rather than one large piece of fish, prepare and serve individual fillets of fish, like salmon, cod, or halibut.
But if you’d rather stick to a dinner that’s fun, relaxed, and casual – and maybe even a little messy – hosting a low country seafood boil might be the best idea yet for Thanksgiving!
5. Veggie Vibes
While beef, chicken, pork, and seafood are all satisfactory meat options, let’s explore how you can still serve an impressive holiday entree when following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
And you don’t have to settle for a Tofurky!
The main mission of a Thanksgiving vegan or vegetarian entrée is to be filling, heathy, and flavorful without the use of any meat or animal products.
In order to achieve this with massive success, you will want to rely on heartier ingredients such as squash, beans, potatoes, mushrooms, and grains.
Need a few suggestions? We have some tasty meat-free recipes to share with you:
And don’t miss out on a quick trip or two to your local farmers markets for local autumnal offerings to create the best dishes while supporting your area’s farms and other businesses.
You can make your alternative dinner as elegant or relaxed as you want the atmosphere to be in your home.
But the most important piece of advice we can offer to you is to respectfully let everyone who has confirmed attendance be aware of the menu prior to the big day.
No one should have to experience this shock and surprise if you wait to tell them at the dinner table directly before eating!
As long as you provide this clear communication, there should not be any disappointment when you tell them what’s for dinner.
Whether that will be a succulent pork shoulder, perfect prime rib, pan-seared salmon, braised chicken, or roasted squash, you should all sit at the dining table with a spirit of gratitude for the food and each other’s company.
Do you serve a turkey alternative for Thanksgiving? We would love to know what your own special food traditions are – when you’re taking a break from cooking the holiday feast, leave a comment below for us.
Alright, so you have your main dish figured out… but now for the accompaniments! Arguably the best part of the Thanksgiving feast, review our collection of side dishes as you work on menu planning. Start with these first:
Photos by Meghan Yager and Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on November 10, 2014. Last updated on October 29, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.