10 Alternatives to Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a time of culinary tradition, but who says you can’t start a new tradition with a different main dish? Whether you’re feeding a small group, accommodating other dietary preferences, or just looking to shake things up, here are ten delectable alternatives to the traditional turkey dinner, each with ideas for expansion and customization.

1. Roast Chicken

  • Why It Works: Roast chicken is a familiar and beloved dish, making it a comfortable alternative for those hesitant to stray too far from tradition. It’s also perfect for smaller gatherings, as chickens are significantly smaller than most turkeys.
  • How to Make It Special: Enhance your roast chicken under the skin and inside the cavity with herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage. A lemon or orange stuffed inside can add a subtle citrus note that brightens the entire dish.

2. Ham

  • Why It Works: Ham is already a staple at many holiday meals, known for its sweet and savory glaze options that appeal to a wide range of palates.
  • How to Make It Special: Consider a glaze made from brown sugar, mustard, and apple cider vinegar to balance sweetness and tang. Cloves inserted into the ham before baking add a traditional and aromatic touch.

3. Duck

  • Why It Works: Duck offers rich, dark meat that departs from the leaner turkey. Its fat is removed during cooking, producing crispy skin and moist meat.
  • How to Make It Special: Serve the duck with a cherry or orange sauce to complement its richness. Scoring the skin before roasting helps render the fat and allows for better absorption of your seasoning or glaze.

4. Beef Wellington

  • Why It Works: Beef Wellington is a showstopper with a succulent beef fillet wrapped in a golden pastry. It’s an indulgent choice that’s bound to impress.
  • How to Make It Special: Use a layer of mushroom duxelles and prosciutto between the beef and the pastry to add depth of flavor. A red wine reduction sauce can be a perfect accompaniment.

5. Vegetarian Nut Roast

  • Why It Works: A nut roast is a fantastic vegetarian option that’s hearty and flavorful, making it a satisfying main dish for those avoiding meat.
  • How to Make It Special: Incorporate a variety of nuts for texture and flavor, along with lentils or chickpeas for added protein. Serve with a rich vegetarian gravy to round out the dish.

6. Stuffed Squash

  • Why It Works: Stuffed squash is not only delicious but also serves as a beautiful centerpiece. It’s a versatile dish that can be adapted to include vegan and gluten-free options.
  • How to Make It Special: Mix wild rice, cranberries, pecans, and mushrooms for the stuffing. A drizzle of balsamic glaze before serving can add a nice zing.

7. Lamb

  • Why It Works: Lamb is a rich, flavorful meat that offers a welcome change from poultry. It pairs well with a range of seasonings and sides.
  • How to Make It Special: Marinate the lamb in a mixture of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil overnight—roast with root vegetables for a one-pan meal that simplifies holiday cooking.

8. Pork Roast

  • Why It Works: Pork roast can be incredibly tender and flavorful, offering a lighter option than beef but more heft than Chicken.
  • How to Make It Special: Brine the pork with apple cider, brown sugar, and spices before roasting to ensure it stays juicy. A crust of herbs and garlic adds texture and flavor.

9. Salmon

  • Why It Works: For a healthier option, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and makes for a lighter main course that still feels special.
  • How to Make It Special: Create a glaze with maple syrup and mustard for a perfect balance of sweetness and tang. Roasting on a cedar plank can add a smoky depth to the fish.

10. Lasagna

  • Why It Works: Lasagna is a comforting, hearty option that can easily feed a crowd. It’s also highly customizable, with endless possibilities for fillings and sauces.
  • How to Make It Special: Consider a pumpkin or butternut squash lasagna with sage-infused béchamel sauce for a Thanksgiving twist. Adding a layer of spinach and ricotta provides a fresh counterpoint to the rich squash.

Each of these alternatives brings something unique to the Thanksgiving table, offering the opportunity to create new traditions that might become yearly favorites. Whether you’re looking for something classic, adventurous, or dietary-specific, there’s an option here to make your holiday meal memorable.