Photo: laperla_foto, Getty Images.
There are times during the holiday season when serving a turkey just doesn’t make sense. Maybe you’re entertaining a smaller crowd, want a lower-maintenance meal, need to up the elegance factor, or are forced to feed a vegetarian. Just because there’s not a Butterball on display doesn’t mean your holiday feast has to be any less festive or satisfying. Try another feathered fowl or one of these bovine, porcine, or meatless options instead.
10 Turkey Alternatives for the Holidays:
One tends to associate ham with Easter dinner, but there’s no reason why you can’t live high on the hog on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Save yourself the toil and order one from the HoneyBaked Ham Company, which has stores throughout the U.S. Prices start around $60 for a 6-pound ham, or choose from any number of meals and buffet options. Reserve a ham to pick up in-store or have it shipped right to your door.
If you want the showpiece without the epic wait and excessive leftovers, chicken is your game plan. This bird is so versatile, you could go any number of directions with its preparation. Roast it whole. Break it down and fry it. Be lazy and buy a ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken. Whatever you do, don’t serve your bird in an upright position. It’s crude.
Duck or Goose
Because their breasts are served medium-rare, duck and goose are considered “red meat” birds. They’re also fatty, which makes cooking a goose or duck tricky; you have to break down the bird in the middle of roasting so the legs and wings don’t overcook. In other words: do not attempt a goose or duck for the holidays unless you’re confident in your cooking and carving skills. Determined to learn? There’s an entire cookbook devoted to just these two birds by Hank Shaw titled Duck, Duck, Goose. Good luck.
For some of us, it’s not a meal unless a massive amount of red meat is involved. Cue prime rib, a cut of cow that satiates many with minimal fuss. The keys to a succulent slab of beef is searing both sides before roasting and letting the cooked meat rest before slicing. Leftovers are unlikely, but if you happen to be so lucky, you’ll be rich in roast beef sandwiches for days.
Also high on the impress-your-guests spectrum: a leg of lamb. Season with rosemary and garlic and serve on the bone or buy boneless and stuff with a seductive flavor combination like figs, pesto, and walnuts. Ask your butcher to dress the lamb for you and all you’ll have to do is warm up the oven.
The other white meat is lean, inexpensive, and easy to make. Season, rub, and bake. (OK, there are a few more steps than that. For visual guidance, check out this slick how-to video on kitchn.) Because pork is high in sodium, limit the amount of salt shakers on the table and keep water glasses filled.
Because of its meaty texture, salmon makes a perfect stand-in for meat, but it won’t leave you so full that you’ll have to refuse dessert or unbutton your pants in front of your family. Buy your fish fresh, keep preparation simple, and make sure to vent your kitchen or you’ll scare off your guests with the smell.
Any number of baked pasta recipes will feed a crowd, but lasagna rolls look a little bit fancier and save you all the messy cutting of a traditional lasagna. Load your noodles with cheese, sausage, and sauce ahead of time, then freeze until Thanksgiving morning. (Betty Crocker can guide you though it.)
For those not in the know, a turducken is the Frankenstein’s monster of holiday meals. It involves a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. Because vegetarians can’t (or won’t allow themselves to) indulge in this fowl threesome, culinary wizards have come up with a meatless version of it made by packing a giant squash with eggplant, zucchini, and scallions. This ridiculous recipe is broken down and demonstrated (to unnecessarily peppy music) on epicurious, but since cooking for vegetarians is such a bummer, we recommend watching Los Angeles comedian Henry Phillips‘ version (appropriately titled “Henry’s Big Fuckin’ Veggie Turducken”) on his YouTube cooking channel. You’ll bust a gut–something that might also happen when you eat that many vegetables at once.
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