Seven Delicious Alternatives to Turkey to Serve on Thanksgiving
A big bird isn't for everyone, and this Thanksgiving might just be the one to part with tradition and try an alternative main that will be met with just as much—or more—enthusiasm. If not turkey, then what? The selections here are just as dazzling as a whole or carved bird and beautiful enough to stand on their own. Whichever entrée you pick, don't let the fact that it's a nontraditional choice hold you back from making plenty of the arguably more important holiday sides.
For a centerpiece that rivals a whole bird, consider a crown roast. These gorgeous, circular roasts cook in the fraction of the amount of time it takes to roast a turkey, serve a crowd, and come with stuffing. With 16 chops around the crown, there's enough pork to serve up to 16 and enough lamb to serve six to eight (which accounts for the fact that lamb chops are much smaller). Two foolproof and irresistible preparations with autumnal flavors to try are our Crown Roast of Pork with Chestnut-Rye Dressing and Crown Roast of Lamb with Pilaf Stuffing.
These beautiful crowns look complicated but are actually easy and fun to put together—the end result is such a reward. Have your butcher prep the meat and form a crown with two racks of meat using our Crown Roast 101 for a step-by-step tutorial.
Just as its name implies, tenderloin is one of the most tender cuts of beef and pork. It also cooks fast and looks absolutely festive sliced on a platter with roasted vegetables and herbs as a garnish. A quality tenderloin is delicious with just salt and pepper and a great herb or horseradish sauce, but for the holiday we recommend trying our Marinated Beef Tenderloin (which infuses a tart Worcestershire and lemon marinade into the meat), adding a festive crust like our Leek Crusted Beef Tenderloin, or serving it with harissa and vegetables in our abundant Pork with Couscous and Vegetables recipe.
Take all the effort that you were going to put into roasting a turkey and make Beef Wellington instead—it's a guaranteed showstopper. Though old-school, you'll find that this dish stands up to the test of time. Traditionally it consists of beef tenderloin coated in pate and a mushroom mixture, sometimes wrapped in Parma ham, and is then encrusted in flaky golden buttery puff pastry. It's really a meal in one. For a modern update, try our Pork Wellington with Prosciutto and Spinach-Mushroom Stuffing, which pairs new flavors with the classic crust.
If you're swapping out turkey for a vegetable main, select a dish that feels different than the sides. The best route? Think big. Place a whole roasted head of cauliflower in the center of the table with a tasty sauce alongside or bring out a platter of stuffed squash—these mixed grain stuffed acorn squash are quite beautiful adorned with a pomegranate relish. Another option is to slice up our hearty Broccoli and Potato Samosa Pie.
While seafood might seem outside of the box for Thanksgiving, here is some food for thought: Culinary historians actually believe the original Thanksgiving feast consisted mainly of seafood. A side of salmon doesn't take long to roast in the oven, and it's delicious when spread with a brown sugar and maple glaze before being baked. If you live somewhere warm or can brave a few steps into the cold, grilled lobster is a delightful and decadent centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table.
Sometimes roasting a whole turkey is just too much—too much time, effort, and maybe even too much food. For smaller crowds, swap the turkey with chicken, Cornish game hens, or stuff and roast individual quails for each guest, which is very elegant for a plated meal. Our Roast Chicken with Sourdough Stuffing and Cranberry Stuffed Cornish Game Hen bring a festive Thanksgiving vibe to the table.
Last but not least, baked ham has all the warm, rich fall flavors we expect in a Thanksgiving spread. It's equally as fun to carve tableside and slices of leftover ham make excellent sandwiches. Looking for a place to start? Use our foolproof guide to baking ham and make yours a bit more seasonal with a jammy pomegranate glaze.