5 Turkey Alternatives to Make for Thanksgiving This Year

If you’re bored of that great big bird, these festive mains will bring excitement back to the holiday meal

November 13, 2023 6:15 am
Roast Beef Feast with Yorkshire Pudding, Potatoes, Broccoli, Salad and Gravy
Beef wants to be included on Thanksgiving, too.
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We understand if you’re a staunch Thanksgiving must include a turkey kind of person. It’s really the one time of year that the bird is the star of the show, though it sometimes makes an encore appearance on Christmas tables a month later. But if you’re like us, you’re probably kind of bored with turkey, eating it year after year for decades of your life with the same sides and the same wine and the same Aunt Carol who’s still nagging you about why you’re childless. While we can’t promise you relief from persistent badgering, we can guarantee these five turkey alternatives will make for an excellent Thanksgiving meal.

A close up horizontal photograph of a chefs hands carving a prime rib on a wooden carving board. Isolated on black
Roasted Prime Rib
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If you’re looking for “wow” factor at Thanksgiving, prime rib is the perfect choice. Not only is it visually impressive, but it is a much more forgiving main dish . Because of its high fat content, prime rib can hold at a temperature without drying out like turkey. Additionally, it doesn’t need any thawing or brining, making it an excellent “day of” choice. Plan for a half pound per person, as some of the weight is in the bones. Given how fantastic leftover prime rib is, don’t worry about going big here.

Roasted Prime Rib

Servings: 8-10

  • 1 bone-in prime rib roast (4-5 pounds)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
    1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a bowl, mix minced garlic, olive oil, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Rub the mixture all over the prime rib.

    2. Place the prime rib on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 15 minutes. Once browned, reduce the heat to 325°F and continue roasting until a a meat thermometer reaches an internal temperature of 120°F for medium-rare or 130°F for medium, about 15 to 20 minutes per pound of roast.

    3. Once the beef is at the desired temperature, remove from the oven and let it rest, tented with foil, for about 20 to 30 minutes before slicing.

Woman cutting ham on wooden board at table indoors, closeup
Glazed Country Ham
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Ham, of all things, can be a show-stopping dish that could outshine any turkey, any day. But when we think of a holiday ham, nine times out of 10, we imagine a rubbery, dry piece of clove-speckled meat. This is because those hams were “wet-cured,” quickly brined and made for cost, not flavor. A country ham, however, is the exact opposite — a cured, smoked and/or aged ham that has a rich, intense flavor and toothsome texture. The curing process can take several weeks to several months, depending on the desired flavor profile and intensity. For this meal, it’s recommended that you buy the country ham ready-to-cook with the curing salt removed, unless you want to soak the ham for a few days ahead of time. Either way, this glazed pork dish will be the talk of Thanksgiving meals to come, if nothing for the leftovers alone.

Glazed Country Ham

Servings: 12-14

  • 1 whole country ham (6-8 pounds)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • .5 cup Dijon mustard
  • .25 cup apple cider vinegar
    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    2. Mix the brown sugar, Dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar in a bowl. Coat the ham generously with this mixture.

    3. Place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan and bake for about 15 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 140°F. Baste occasionally with the glaze while cooking. Remove once it’s reached temperature, let rest for 15 minutes, then thinly slice to serve.

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Vegetarians have a tough time at Thanksgiving, often relegated to the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. This stuffed butternut squash, however, is a crowd-pleaser for all that pairs well with the entire Thanksgiving Day spread. This dish also requires less cooking time and preparation compared to the elaborate process of roasting a whole turkey, making it an incredible side or vegetarian main.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

Servings: 4

  • 2 medium butternut squashes
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped
  • .5 cup dried cranberries
  • .5 cup pecans, chopped
  • .25 cup feta cheese (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • .5 tsp. salt
  • .5 tsp. black pepper
    1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

    2. Cut the butternut squashes in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and place them cut side up on a baking sheet.

    3. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and spinach, and cook until wilted. Mix in the cooked quinoa, cranberries, pecans, thyme and feta (if using). Season with salt and pepper.

    4. Fill each squash halfway with the quinoa mixture, cover with foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the squash is tender. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes for a golden top. Serve immediately.

This grilled pork loin is a go-to for many reasons. First, it avoids using the oven, which is always at a premium during Thanksgiving. The smoky flavor from the grill brings a nice element to the table, complementing the rest of the spread. Pork loin is also very cost friendly, which is always a plus. This recipe can also be used on trimmed pork tenderloins, if feeding a smaller crowd, adding to the true versatility of the recipe.

Grilled Pork Loin

Servings: 4-6

  • 1 pork loin (2-3 pounds)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • .5 tsp. black pepper
    1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

    2. In a bowl, mix olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the pork loin.

    3. Grill the pork loin, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F, about 20 to 25 minutes.

    4. Remove from the grill and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Person serving seafood paella on a plate
Seafood Paella
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With its colorful presentation and rich flavor derived from the combination of seafood and saffron-infused rice, paella makes for a festive and communal dining experience. The versatility of seafood also allows for an array of textures and flavors, providing a feast that caters to a wider range of palates compared with more conventional, often predictable, turkey-centric Thanksgiving meals. The below serves four, so scale up or down accordingly. Use whatever seafood you like, or even add cooked chicken thighs right before service.

Seafood Paella

Servings: 4

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • .5 tsp. saffron threads
  • 3 cups chicken or fish broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb. mixed seafood (like shrimp, mussels and squid)
  • Lemon wedges
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
    1. In a paella pan or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion, garlic and red pepper until softened.

    2. Add the rice, smoked paprika and saffron. Stir for a minute until the rice is coated and toasted lightly.

    3. Pour in the broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is nearly cooked.

    4. Add the frozen peas and mixed seafood. Cover and cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes or until the seafood is cooked through and the rice is tender. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges, and serve tableside.


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