19 Festive Turkey-Turnative Recipes for Thanksgiving Dinner
Our blessing to skip the standard bird.
Maybe your local market was hit with a turkey shortage this year. Or maybe you’re just looking to mix up the traditional holiday menu. Either way, there’s no shame in swapping out the usual Thanksgiving protein for something a little more exciting.
Smaller groups will appreciate the quick cook time and all-season availability of more diminutive fowl: a sweetly spiced whole chicken, perhaps, or a juicy, fire-roasted duck. If you and your loved ones are of a more carnivorous sort, go big with an even meatier main like a rosy prime rib roast, braised short ribs, or bone-in leg of lamb. Vegetarian guests, on the other hand, will delight in skipping the meat entirely; for them, set out a plant-based lasagna Bolognese or a crispy mushroom-broccoli polenta that everyone will enjoy. Whichever way you slice them, each one of these festive turkey alternative recipes for Thanksgiving is something to be thankful for.
This festive lamb roast recipe from the late, great food writer Johnny Apple conjures up the era when people knew their butcher by name.
Writer Calvin Trillin is no fan of the Thanksgiving turkey; in fact, he famously argued that the traditional bird ought to be replaced with a platter of this eggy Roman pasta dish.
This autumn stew recipe from Gage & Tollner chef Sohui Kim is a nod to classic kalbi-jjim (or galbi jjim) while also applying French technique, which often involves braising meat in wine to introduce depth of flavor. Says Kim, “I’ve come to firmly believe that red wine and soy sauce can and should coexist—just like the unexpected assortment of dishes and people that make their way to the table at Thanksgiving and somehow meld in the warmth of togetherness.”
When adapted to feature kosher cuts of meat, cachopa, one of Cape Verde’s signature dishes, makes an excellent Shabbat stew or replacement for cholent. This recipe from writer and culinary historian Michael Twitty also works well as a slow cooker supper for Shabbat afternoon.
Vegetarians know better than anyone that Thanksgiving dinner is all about the accompaniments. This recipe from writer Julia Sherman is the marriage of two brilliantly simple but satisfying side dishes—crispy pan-fried polenta and cheesy roasted broccoli. Gild the lily by topping the dish with savory roasted mushrooms and you’ve got a plant-based main course that even the most hardened carnivores will love.
U.K.-based chef and writer Romy Gill developed this sweet and savory, spice-roasted chicken to appeal to her daughter, who was unimpressed with the bland birds served in her school cafeteria. Paired with sweet potato oven fries and a simple green salad, it makes a lovely family-style feast.
Cookbook author Suzanne Zeidy cooks this juicy chicken—rubbed all over in bracing, floral sumac—in a rotisserie, but a grill or oven yields equally delicious results.
Fresh uncured ham makes a wonderful holiday roast, tender and marbled but not fatty. Oranges, with their clean, citrusy spark, are an excellent foil for the pork’s richness.
A low and slow braise is the best way to transform tough cuts of meat into fork-tender morsels. This version, made with a crosscut whole beef shank, is cooked in white wine and rich beef bouillon. Crunchy roasted radishes and a funky flaxseed, herb, and vinegar relish balance the pot roast's richness with acidity and texture.
The recipe for this traditional Portuguese dish from the Vinho Verde region comes to us from winemaker Joana Santiago. The meaty dish was originally cooked in a wood-fired oven, then finished and served in a terra cotta “torto” roaster conveniently shaped in such a way that the leg rests directly over the rice. This allows heat to circulate all around it while still letting its flavorful juices drip into the saffron-scented rice below. Consider the old-school terracotta roaster an optional flourish for this festive roast.
This pork shoulder recipe is an adaptation of a celebratory Cuban dish made with a whole suckling pig. An overnight marinate in garlicky mojo and a generous fat cap ensures that the slow-roasted meat cooks up tender and juicy every time.
Ditch the roast entirely this year and go with a classic baked pasta main instead. Unlike the heavy red-sauced versions popular in the United States, this Abruzzo-style recipe relies on an ethereal egg and tomato sauce that puffs when the lasagna is cooked, giving it a soufflé-like appearance.
In this plant-based take on the creamy, meat-stuffed lasagne Bolognese, ground beef is replaced with earthy shiitake mushrooms.
SAVEUR’s chief content officer Kate Berry and her mother Kim Nguyen often make this comforting and aromatic stew to celebrate festive occasions. Over the years, Nguyen has adapted the traditional Vietnamese recipe to her own tastes and to the ingredients available to her in Orange County, California. Adaptations aside, the two women, both avid gardeners, never skimp on the classic accompaniments—a bountiful mix of fresh herbs, scallion, and lime.
Smoky red Kashmiri chile powder and ghee are the foundations of this festive lamb shank recipe from Ahdoos Hotel in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Fred Morin and Dave McMillan of Joe Beef in Montreal cook a mix of birds over flames and embers, using hooks and chains to suspend and rotate them (different-size birds will cook at different speeds). “The spin, the way the fat drips down, all combines to make a wonderfully burnished bird,” says McMillan. Ambitious home cooks can hang birds using twine or wire over a backyard fire, or simply roast birds on a rack set in a roasting pan in the (indoor) oven.
Good venison is buttery and beefy, hardly gamey at all. Because the loin is so lean, it is best cooked over a steady push of medium-high heat—not high heat, which creates a bull's-eye effect. To help the outside caramelize, chef and cookbook author Amy Thielen adds malted milk powder to the spice rub, which also adds a subtle, nutty richness to the final sauce.
Normans use apples and cider in many savory preparations—with game, poultry, even fish. In this classic pork dish from Jean-François Guillouet-Huard, of Domaine Michel Huard, it's important to use a slightly tart variety so the end result isn't too sweet.
Prime rib is a beloved Omaha, Nebraska, steakhouse specialty. One of our favorite versions comes from the now-defunct Piccolo Pete’s, where the meat was rubbed with Italian spices and blasted with high heat to form a flavorful crust.