5 Great Alternatives to Turkey for Thanksgiving

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.

Vertical image of a collage of assorted main dishes, with a label in the center of the image.

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
  2. Choose Chicken
  3. Party with Pork
  4. Serve Some Seafood
  5. Veggie Vibes

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.

A black and white patterned dinner plate of mashed potatoes and sliced brisket topped with apples and a sprinkle of fresh parsley, beside a fork and a white square plate on a brown wood table topped with a cloth placemat.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Apple Cider Braised Beef – Get the Recipe Now

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:

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…

Horizontal image of two pieces of cooked chicken with an herb and white sauce next to cooked tomatoes and seared potatoes on a white plate.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Poulet Saute a la Paysanne – Get the Recipe Now

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.

If you want to stay within the realm of tradition, we’ll teach you how to prepare a whole chicken with our tutorials for roasted chicken and electric pressure cooker whole chicken.

But if you want a more unique main course, here are some other impactful dishes to consider cooking:

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.

Vertical overhead image of slices of roast pork on a plate with a portion of roasted potatoes and carrots, with striped cloth napkins and silverware, and another identical plate at the top left, with a red enameled cast iron pan containing the remainder of the dish at the top right of the frame.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Maple Glazed Pork Roast with Root Vegetables – Get the Recipe Now

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.

Horizontal image of a plate with cooked sole with herbs on a plate with broccoli and lemons, with a blue napkin and fork.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Sole Meuniere – Get the Recipe Now

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!

Vertical image of half of a vegetable with a brown butter sauce on a white plate next to silverware.
Photo credit: Fanny Slater

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash – Get the Recipe Now

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:

Seasonally available ingredients – like sweet potatoes, winter squash, maple syrup, beets, apples, and cranberries – will fill your kitchen with fall flair and fun.

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.

No Surprises!

You can make your alternative dinner as elegant or relaxed as you want the atmosphere to be in your home.

And use tips to stretch your Thanksgiving dinner – or even how to survive the holidays in one whole piece – in order to get the most out of your dishes.

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!

Horizontal image of a collage of assorted main dishes, with a label in the center of the image.

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.

15 thoughts on “5 Great Alternatives to Turkey for Thanksgiving”

  1. I have never really thought about having an alternative to turkey for Thanks Giving. But the options above look really good! I might be able to convince my family to try an alternative this year.

  2. Wow, these are wonderful options Lynn!!! My family would flip if I didn’t serve turkey for Thanksgiving. We have a whole tradition / ritual for cutting the turkey. But this year, I would like to add an alternative protein to the mix. The last couple of years, i’ve seen that some of the kids and in-laws are not as into turkey as we are. So, i think something like “duck a l’orange” would be a great side option. It even sounds fancy 😉 That should impress a few. LOL!

  3. I am not one to get hung up on traditional foods. In fact, my family rarely does turkey for Thanksgiving. There are tons of delicious dishes that we rarely have because they are either expensive, labor intensive, or complicated to prepare. For a day that practically revolves around food, why waste it on turkey, which tastes just like chicken, and has a tendency to be very dry? We prefer to leave our options open, and plan to have the things we really want. I love salmon, but it is usually too expensive where we live. So a special occasion like Thanksgiving is a great way to give ourselves a little treat.

  4. I’m so use to having turkey during the festive times of the year that I don’t know if I’d be ready to try alternatives. A few of the ones listed here are quite new to me. I wonder if my family and I would be sacrificing the great taste, joy and quality of the turkey to have a substitute like that on the table. But it wouldn’t hurt to have some of these as side dishes though.

  5. I must say I do get tired of turkey during the holiday season. Switching things up a bit sounds like a great idea. In my house I don’t think it would go over well. Turkey is on the menu weather I like it or not.

    I opt for ham a nice juicy honey glazed slice of heaven. I absolutely love it, and not to mention the sandwiches the day after. I’ve made myself hungry can’t wait until Thanksgiving.

  6. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    This Thanksgiving I’m trying some different: Making a turducken! Granted, there’s still turkey inside that though. I’m tempted to try a roast lamb leg dish next year, that dish looks amazing!

  7. Thank you for these options, Lynn! I’ve never been one for turkey and have been pushing for a Thanksgiving duck all my life (I guess I’m a black sheep in my family, haha) but to no avail. Maybe if I show my family these photos I’ll be able to convince them 😉 A great thing about these options is that most are smaller than a turkey, which means fewer days of eating nothing but leftovers! Certainly a win in my household!

  8. I’ve always been somewhat of a stickler when it comes to following Thanksgiving menu traditions. Perhaps this year could be the year for me to spice things up. We typically have duck for our Christmas dinner, but this post sure is making me consider moving it up to Thanksgiving and having something else for Christmas. These alternatives work for Christmas as well! I think the lamb would be a good choice for our Christmas dinner. Thank you so much for ideas!

  9. This Thanksgiving I intend to do exactly what I did last year: Turkey breasts & Lamb. It worked out perfectly for those who couldn’t go without having some form of turkey on ‘turkey’ day & for myself not having to slave over a stove for umpteen hours on end.

  10. There is a potential for turkey shortages this year, due to the Avian Flu, so it’s a good time to start thinking about alternatives for Thanksgiving, just in case. I do love a nice turkey, but have scaled back over the past few years, and often cook a turkey breast, instead of the entire bird. Lamb is looking like a great alternative, and since I’ve never cooked a goose, that’s another possibility.

  11. Everyone of these ideas really makes me drool! Well, most of them I’m not sure I can stomach Veal or Lamb. Its mostly religious related. I didn’t know what Veal is and search it up – not the best idea. Yeah, that’s not going to get on my thanksgiving dinner table any time soon. However, I love your salmon and pork ideas. Do you happen to have a really good recipe for the roasted pork?

  12. These dishes look yummy, but in my world, there is NO substitute for turkey on Thanksgiving. LOL My family doesn’t always agree with me on that, so one Thanksgiving, we had broiled salmon in addition to the turkey. They were happy, and so was I. I may try the roast pork this year, along with my turkey, of course.

  13. I love the idea of serving something other than turkey for the main course. Duck is a great idea, my husband and I both love it. Though, we would never do veal or lamb (I feel bad enough about eating meat, let alone a baby animal). Other good options could be: mutton (instead of lamb), goat (we like it better than beef), rabbit, goose, or a veggie based main dish. I usually stick to vegetarian and vegan dishes, saving meats for the occasional meal here and there, so we’ll most likely have a vegetarian thanksgiving dinner here. I would love to get my hands on some goose or rabbit, if I could find them, for something extra special.

  14. Haha, I am used to it and you can never go wrong with duck. Interestingly my grandfather used to love it and taught me to appreciate it. If it was up to me I would go with duck and maybe lamb, but my family will need some convincing for sure. Seconding the rabbit idea also, it’s very tasty but not a lot of people are keen on eating bunnies.

  15. These are really good alternatives, even though I’m not sure what veal is. I know that turkey is the traditional thing but this is an ever changing world. And sometimes you just want to have something different during the holidays for once.


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