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Thanksgiving Alternatives to Turkey?

We will not have that many people for Thanksgiving and I don't particularly like turkey. I've never prepared anything else though, but I'm debating branching out and trying something new. (If I did do turkey, I would just do a breast.)

Right now, I'm debating between a goose, duck, or capon. I also could get good Scottish game birds too.

Has anyone cooked any of the above for Thanksgiving and care to share their experiences and preferences?

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  1. Many choose the Duck or Capon...simply for the smaller size, or for the same reasons you are considering it, that you don't like Turkey.

    My family also did not enjoy Turkey for many years, so we had the Capons...Our ususal roast was a Full 7-Rib Prime Rib Roast. My Italian relatives always have Lasagna available as well. Many couple who don't plan on spending time with family will simply roast a Chicken. There's no steadfast rule Turkey is required for the day.

    3 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      I know there's not a rule about turkey on Thanksgiving. ;) Having not prepared any of the above, I just wanted to hear varying experiences/techniques.

      1. re: loratliff

        There used to be a famous restaurant in New Hampshire that only featured Duck, or possible it was their signature dish. It was slow roasted for 9 hours and completely rendered of any fat. Great Stuff. As for crisping skin, you can poke, but it only needs 10 minutes at 450-475 to get delectable.

        Many try to impart flavor and taste via aromatics...but I have never had any meat taste like the flavors used have penetrated to the interior of the muscle fibers. If you brine, then you can taste the hint of saltiness or sweetness...but for me you trade off the texture of the natural state of the meat. To me, brined birds have the texture of rubber.

        If you want flavor, concentrate on sauce, gravy or pan juices.

        1. re: loratliff

          Once upon a time, the only way to get a BIG chicken was to buy a capon, for a premium price. But these days my supermarket routinely has roasting chickens weighing over 8#, for $1 a pound when on sale. I too prefer chicken to turkey and since these are larger than some of the poultry farm's capons, which cost three times as much, I go with chicken.

          Duck is sublime, but you'll be hard-pressed to feed 3 people from one duck. General rule is 2 people, one duck.

          There's always pasta carbonara. Google "trillin carbonara" for the amusing reason.

      2. I am roasting a duck. Will probably do it on the rotisserie. I am going to prep in the Asian method, loosening the skin, drying it for maximum crispiness.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          I just read about that exact method on Food & Wine's website. Have you found it to be worth the trouble? I LOVE crispy skin.

          1. re: loratliff

            There is also the five hour duck that is delicious and easy.
            I love the idea of trying something new.

        2. I made the following recipe many times as it's amazing and made it once for thanksgiving as there were only a few of us.

          It's a chicken stuffed with ground beef, rice, and nuts. It's way more delicious than it sounds.

          The recipe is in the link below, second recipe


          5 Replies
          1. re: Siegal

            I can't get it out of my mind. I am making it tomorrow night for dinner. I have never had anything like it and never would have thought about stuffing a chicken with beef, my mind is open...

            1. re: DowntownJosie

              It is so good too.

              Halfway through I uncover the extra stuffing and put it on the bottom of the roasting pan so it crisps up in the chicken fat and juices....

              1. re: Siegal

                Do you roast it for two hrs? Seems like a very long time. I am very tempted to add raisins or dried apricots to the stuffing, have you tried adding dried fruit? Do you think it would be good?

                1. re: DowntownJosie

                  I'm not sure how long I cook it I usually just check it. Maybe check at 90 min as every oven is different

                  I haven't added dried fruit. If you like the mix of sweet and savory I would go ahead. Or since this makes a lot of stuffing maybe add the fruit to either the one in the chicken or the one on the side.

                  I also add more spices (same spices just more). I assume bc I have crappy old supermarket spices while I'm sure the author has high quality fresh ones from a spice store or market.

                  1. re: Siegal

                    Thank you. I make a meat sauce with cinnamon and raisins when making moussaka or pasticcio and I always add raisins to my caponata which also has a little cinnamon in it so just made the transition to this recipe. The funny thing is that I don't particularly like raisins.

          2. Besides all the good bird alternatives, any kind of game: Venison, bison or my own choice, wild boar. You can get it from dartagnan.com.

              1. Based on what they say at the Plimouth Plantation, the original dinner probably included salmon and oysters, if either or both of those appeal.

                1 Reply
                1. re: smtucker

                  Actually, any locally appropriate whole baked fish sounds awfully good. I'm thinking snapper.

                2. My vote is for goose - possibly because I love goose! A goose will serve 4 to 6 people and leftover meat can dry out. You will have lots of fat which should be saved - it is marvelous added to oil for making french fries, great on roasted veggies and terrific on popcorn.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Fiona

                    Hi Fiona,

                    I would love to know how you cook your goose. I've tried several methods and always ended up with a disaster. Literally - the time I tried to cook it on my outside rotisserie, my neighbors thought the house was on fire and called the fire department.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Was looking at them on D'Artagnan... How are they to cook? Just like squab?

                      1. Who says there must be fowl? In the past, I've done Honey Baked ham and brisket. I'm not a fan of the whole turkey dinner thing....a high caloric and uninteresting meal.

                        1. Traditional Thanksgiving meals do not hold my interest much but man, I do love a roast duck or goose or pheasant! Heck, we would rather have wild boar which is what we had for our Canadian thanksgiving in October.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: chefathome

                            Ah, I was looking at a small wild boar roast too! So many good options!

                            1. re: loratliff

                              Isn't that so? You could make a wild boar ragout. This ragout was almost impossibly meltingly tender. Absolutely delicious.

                          2. A few years ago it was my turn to do Thanksgiving, but my oven was out of commission. I came up with a fabulous alternative menuso I suggested grilling guinness beer and molasses brined bone in pork chops with some really fabulous sides.

                            My sister in law said she'd host instead. My husbnd's family is annoyingly particular about Thanksgiving. At least during Christmas I can spread my culinary wings.

                            1. Individual game hens, with wild rice stuffing went over very well for me, years ago.

                              1. There are so many alternatives
                                cornish hens

                                I have served all of them-


                                1 Reply
                                1. The breast is the part of turkey I most dislike. I braised turkey legs (thigh and drumstick) not long ago, in a local dark beer and poultry stock, and they were a huge hit (I braised them slowly whole, then after a while removed them to cool when cooked through but not tender enough, stripping them from the bones which I added back to the braising liquid for a good hour, then strained the stock and added the thigh parts, in smaller bits, back into the reduced liquid. Even the dark meat of turkey is not very fat, and it is extremely nutritious.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: magiesmom

                                      Yes, the guests thought so. It is also economical, for cooks who have to watch their budgets. I've also braised ducks. A duck, of course, renders off a lot of (good) duck fat, so one pours off that liquid after boning the duck and adding the bones to the stock for a while, and separates the fat from the braising liquid.

                                      And one can use some of the duck meat, and the fat, to make an also fabulous duck terrine.

                                      Remember that turkey is a natural for moles and other traditional Mexican and Central American dishes.

                                  1. I'm guessing duck, venison, rabbit or other game would have featured at the first Thanksgiving, so turkey has no monopoly. Clams, oysters, lobster?

                                    I've been considering bison, too, since it's an indigenous American animal.

                                    1. I've done duck for a holiday meal. I par-steam it to get the fat rendering, and then roast it. I like bitter greens sauteed in the duck fat to go with it, and if I've got extra duck fat I'll slow cook potatoes in it as well.

                                      1. But if you follow Calvin Trillin, you'll have pasta carbonara instead.


                                        And here's part of Trillin's essay:


                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          We don't eat eggs, so while it sounds tasty, it's not an option, haha.

                                          1. Goose, goose, and more goose. On the spit, or in the oven, it is a wonderful rich meat that is rarely served in the US, so your guests will get the sense of being special. As I am sure they are.

                                            Brining is nice. Cover the drumsticks so they don't dry out. Do not add a rub other than salt and pepper as the fat is a marvel in and of its' own. Great for stir fry and hash browns.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                              I was also going to suggest goose, which we have done for Christmas before. Goose is amazing, but harder to find and a lot more expensive, even in the Chinese markets where I usually go for duck and goose.

                                              In general it's like cooking a giant duck. You will need to keep an eye on the drippings in the roasting pan - as you have been told there is a lot of fat that gets rendered out and we end up scooping it out periodically with a measuring cup or turkey baster to set aside. Otherwise, yes, you're going to have problems with smoke. Because of the fat I also don't like to stuff goose or duck, not even with fruit.

                                            2. Venison...lobster.. phesant... are all traditional and historic thanksgiving foods

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: girloftheworld

                                                Sorry girl. Pheasant is a non-native invasive species from Asia. However, passenger pigeon and whooping cranes would be correct.

                                                Stuffed with chestnuts.

                                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                    really? how interesting when did Pheasant come here?I see it in orginal prints going way back...or is it perhaps another bird that resembles it...