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The 7 Best Roast Turkey Alternatives to Try This Thanksgiving

The turkey marketing machine has done an amazing job making you and pretty much everybody else associate the bird with Thanksgiving. Hats off to them for a wildly successful campaign. But let us remind you that there are no culinary laws when it comes to these things. You can make, serve, and eat whatever you damn well please this Thanksgiving.

Turkey is a fine option, we’re not going to deny that. But it doesn’t just need to be roasted and basted, roasted and basted, roasted and basted. You can put the big bird to work in other ways and save the leftovers for sandwiches or reheated goodness all week long. Below, we’ve got some ideas that span the spectrum of meaty proteins, as well as a vegetarian route.

Thanksgiving is all about the magnetic ability good food has to gather folks around the table, not the specific of the food itself. Get cooking!

Turkey Lasagna

lasagna on a plate.
Il Principe

Ah, lasagna, it’s great the day of and for days, sometimes weeks, to come. It’s a bonafide crowdpleaser that will leave no guest hungry. If you’re worried about day-of stress, simply cook it the night before or even weeks prior as it freezes and comes back to life gloriously. Here’s a good recipe from the Food Network’s Ina Garten.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork for 8 to 10 minutes or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until thickened.
  3. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  5. Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 12 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and 1/3 of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.

Turkey Meatloaf

Meatloaf sliced on a serving tray.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Turkey can be plugged into just about any meatloaf recipe out there. It’s healthier meat and bakes extremely well. Speaking of meatloaf, we tend to stick to moderate recipes that serve four to six people. That’s great, but you may be dealing with all kinds of in-laws, friends, and family at your table. Simply bump the ratio up a bit and go with a larger baking tray or several of them. You can create a meatloaf bakeoff and test several recipes against one another during a single sitting. It’s an easy one to pass around the table, grabbing a healthy slab before passing to the right.

Pro tip: If you’re using bread crumbs or cracker crumbs in your recipe, throw in something like mushroom bits to counteract the drying habit of the crumbs and keep the whole thing moist.

Mulled Wine Ham Glaze

Man carving a ham.
Genevieve Poblano / The Manual

Of the celebratory, family-style meats out there, ham is a top contender. And not, it’s not just for Christmas or for buying precooked and doused in a bath of honey. You can cook the ham yourself with relative ease, using everything from a grill or oven to a slow cooker. The pork cut takes kindly to cranberry sauce and even more so to some more inventive alternatives. Need a crafty glaze? Check out Jamie Oliver’s fine mulled wine ham option below.

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce jar of orange marmalade (no-peel)
  • 6 ounces full-bodied red wine, such as Rioja
  • 1 star anise
  • A few cloves, plus extra for the pineapple
  • 1 pinch of ground cinnamon (or half a cinnamon stick)
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 clementine
  • 1 16-ounce tin of pineapple rings in juice

Method:

  1. To make the glaze, spoon the marmalade into a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat, pour in the red wine, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the spices and bay, strip in the clementine zest using a speed-peeler, then pour in the pineapple juice, saving the fruit for later. Allow to bubble away and reduce by half, then switch off — it should be thick and syrupy.

Game Birds

Pheasant on a plate with bread and potatoes.
Alin Popescu/Shutterstock

There’s a vast world of game birds out there that can be even tastier and far more interesting than standard-grade turkey. There’s the decadence of quail, the heartiness of goose, the lean and mean nature of pheasant. You’ll hold on to the same joy of cutting into a whole animal, albeit often smaller, so get several if you’re hosting. Better, the flavors tend to match traditional Thanksgiving sides and all the best holiday wines. You’ll score culinary points for sticking with the bird theme but opting for something with a more distinctive band of flavors.

Seafood Pasta

Pasta being served from a pan to plate.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s something inherently classy about seafood pasta, something that makes your dining room table deserving of the table cloth and your guests the best wine glasses you have. If you’re feeling really inspired, go with a Classic Italian Cioppino. If you’re feeling more modest, just go with a great pasta base and get your hands on some fresh shellfish, mussels, clams, or the like and treat it to generous amounts of olive oil, fresh citrus, garlic, and maybe even a few vegetables.

Falafel

Falafel in a pita.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This vegetarian option is fun, delicious, and will please just about every palate out there. It’s a dish that can go any number of ways and can be customized to the likeness of the eater. We suggest taking the Falafel recipe and then filling the table with a number of topping options. And much of it will keep for some time if you don’t get to eat it all, just make sure to keep the falafel and toppings clear of the pita bread when storing.

Chicken Piccata

two plates of chicken piccata sitting on a table.
Chicken Piccata

This exceptional Italian dish dazzles with its zesty and comforting flavors. It also insulates you from your guests if that’s what you’re after, as it’s fairly involved, at least during the meat cooking and flipping stage (overall, it’s quite easy). So, queue up the recipe below from Giada de Laurentiis (note that it’s just four servings), pour yourself a glass of bright white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, and get to it.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in the same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.
  3. Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock, and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

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LeeAnn Whittemore
Former Digital Trends Contributor
LeeAnn Whittemore is a writer, artist, and graphic designer who grew up in the Midwest before moving to the Gulf Coast. As a…
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