Think Outside the Oven: 7 Roast Turkey Alternatives to Try This Thanksgiving

Roast turkey has been a Thanksgiving tradition for so long, most people would consider it sacrilege to forego the four hours in the oven for another cooking option. But you’re not most people, are you?

This year, instead of the same hum-drum roasted turkey recipe everyone else uses, it’s time to think outside of the oven. Treat your family or friends to a truly memorable Thanksgiving dinner by dressing up the ole gobbler in a new cooking-style. Heck, you might even start a new tradition.

Grilled Turkey

alternatives to roast turkey for thanksgiving grilled

There’s no reason to shy away from grilling your turkey on Thanksgiving, especially for all you lucky ducks that don’t have winter weather to deal with. Grilling can be easier than oven-roasting and, as with burgers, steaks, and dogs, grilling will elevate the flavors on your Thanksgiving table in a way that’s unparalleled. Since you’ll have the grill going, you can also opt to use veggies and sides that you might not if the grill weren’t in play. Think of corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, or a pepper and onion blend. Even if you stick to tradition with your side dishes, having the bird on the grill will free up loads of space in the kitchen for oven-baked sides.

Pro tip: add some wood chips to the charcoal to impart smoky flavor without using a smoker.

Smoked Turkey

alternatives to roast turkey for thanksgiving smoked

Speaking of smokers, now is the time to put that bad boy that’s been chilling on your back patio to work and smoke your turkey. Smoked meat pairs sinfully well with the buttery, creamy sides that come along with Thanksgiving dinner.

Bear in mind, though, that smoking does take a while, so you will want to create adequate time for the process. This recipe’s cooking time clocks in at about 20-30 minutes per pound of bird. To juggle the time, you’ll need to get up super early (you can nap after dinner) or smoke the turkey the day before, but oh boy is it worth the extra effort.

Braised Turkey

alternatives to roast turkey for thanksgiving braised

Ok, so braising a turkey does still involve using the oven, but it eliminates the possibility of the bird drying out since you’ll be cooking it partially in liquid. Cook for Your Life offers a simple recipe for braised turkey breast that will give you juicy, perfect turkey every time. This recipe uses only the breast of the turkey, so it’s ideal for smaller dinners or holiday cooks who don’t want to spend all day basting. Braising doesn’t require the same hawk-eyed attention as a roasted turkey does while cooking, which allows you to get out of the kitchen and into the living room where you can enjoy holiday cocktails with your guests. It’s max flavor for minimal effort.

Deep-Fried Turkey

how to deep fry a turkey feature
iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve never had deep fried turkey, then you haven’t lived. It’s crispy, juicy, and bursting with turkey goodness. But if you’re going to attempt the fried turkey yourself, you must be smart about it! To conquer the holiday with both yourself and your meal intact, you need to follow the directions in your recipe closely and have the proper equipment on hand. For a complete how-to, check out our guide to deep frying a turkey without killing yourself.

The biggest tip for frying a turkey is to make sure you don’t overfill your fryer with oil. This is a common mistake that can result in overflowing oil, a ruined mess of a bird, and, most importantly, can lead to a severe grease fire. Frying is the method that requires the most attention and focus, but it’s also the quickest, and when successfully executed, the results are genuinely unbeatable.

Recipe Alternatives

Turkey Pot Pie

turkey pot pie thanksgiving

Here’s a crazy thought: Why does the turkey have to bear the main course burden all by its lonesome? What if you took that tasty Thanksgiving bird and combined it with other ingredients to create your main course? And no, we’re not talking about the infamous turducken.

If you’re craving more variety in your Turkey Day dinner, a turkey pot pie will give you and your guests the same holiday warm-fuzzies in a new (and easier to make) form. The Art of Doing Stuff has a fantastic turkey pot pie recipe that can be prepared ahead of time and cooked from frozen on the big day. They created the recipe to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, but we say why not start here? That way you can gobble up all the Turkey Day flavors in every bite (not to mention the Tupperware space you’ll save while packing up leftovers for everyone to take home).

Turkey Soup

broth soup steam

Another alternative to the traditional bird is this incredible turkey soup recipe from Chopped winner and pitmaster Leonard Botello IV of Truth BBQ. What screams fall more than a hearty stew bursting with seasonal flavors? Botello’s recipe combines shredded turkey with carrots, celery, onion, and herbs, all served over a bed of rice for a Thanksgiving bite that just keeps on giving, spoonful after spoonful.

Pro tip from the pitmaster himself: include turkey fat and/or skin in the soup to maximize flavor.


  • 3-4 whole carrots, peeled
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Shredded turkey
  • 2-3 cups wild rice


  1. Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy cast iron dutch oven on the stovetop.
  2. Using a handheld cheese grater to shred the carrots, celery, and onions.
  3. Add the vegetables to the pot with minced garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add chicken stock and shredded turkey (optional: include fat and skin for max flavor)
  5. Rough chop the thyme and add to the pot along with the bay leaves.
  6. Bring a pot to a simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Prepare the rice separately.
  8. Serve soup over rice and enjoy!

Turkey Dumplings

pan fried dumplings

A great autumn feast should be warm, flavorful, comforting, and just heavy enough to give you that stuffed feeling. For our money, dumplings are a heck of a good choice if you want to whip up a holiday spread that still turns a Thursday dinner into a legit Thanksgiving smorgasbord. This Turkey BLT Dumpling recipe from Brooklyn Chop House pairs everyone’s favorite holiday bird with simple ingredients like bacon, fresh lettuce, and diced tomato for a delicious twist. To top it all off, serve it with Chinese plum sauce for a flavor bold and complex enough to make your guests think you spent all day cooking.

(Makes 12 dumplings)

Ingredients for the dumplings:

  • 1 pack pre-made dumpling skins
  • 1 lb cooked, shredded turkey
  • 9 lettuce leaves, chopped
  • Half of a tomato, finely chopped
  • 4 oz cooked or raw bacon, chopped (depending on desired crispiness)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced

Ingredients for the plum sauce:

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • .5 oz fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/8 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • .5 tsp crushed dried chili
  • 3lbs. plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tbsp of cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp of water

Method for the dumplings:

  1. In a large bowl, knead the turkey with salt, scallion, and bacon.
  2. Line a baking sheet with wax paper and sprinkle with flour. Place 12 dumpling skins on the wax paper. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the filling onto the center of each skin and top with lettuce and tomatoes.
  3. Bring up the sides of the wrapper; press and pleat the edges to seal in the filling. By the pleated edge, pick up each dumpling and transfer to the baking sheet, pressing down lightly to flatten.
  4. In a nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Arrange half of the dumplings in the skillet, pleated edge up. Cook over high heat until the bottoms are lightly browned. Add .5 cup of water; cook and cover until the filling is cooked through.
  5. Uncover and cook until the bottoms are well browned, then transfer to a plate.

Method for the plum sauce:

  1. Combine garlic, ginger, onion, brown sugar, water, teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili, plums, and lemon in a pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Mix water and cornstarch.
  3. Combine the solids from the pot with the cornstarch mixture in a blender, and put back with the liquid and let simmer until thickened.

Have you ever tried going nontraditional with your Thanksgiving turkey? If not, make this the year with one of these awesome alternatives to roasting. If you need a soundtrack for working your culinary magic in the kitchen, listen to our tasty cooking playlist.

Article originally published by Liz LaBrocca on November 18, 2015. Article updated November 16, 2018, by LeeAnn Whittemore.

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