12 Turkey Alternatives For Thanksgiving Dinner

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

There's no doubt about the fact that turkey is the traditional main dish for a Thanksgiving dinner, but that doesn't mean that you have to have it year after year. There are plenty of situations which may call for something other than turkey, whether it's because you're serving a smaller group, because you prefer the taste of other meats or simply because you're a vegetarian. We've gathered up some of the best alternatives to a Thanksgiving turkey, each of which is just as satisfying and delicious as this traditional meat.

Reasons to Choose an Alternative to Turkey

The traditional idea of Thanksgiving involves dozens of relatives gathered around a huge table with a giant turkey right in the middle of everyone. But not everyone's Thanksgiving fits this picture. One reason that many people choose an alternative to turkey is because they are serving only a small group of people. In this situation, making a whole turkey is out of the question because it would takes weeks or even months for the leftovers to be eaten up. Some people simply don't like turkey, which makes the potential alternatives more appealing for them. Meanwhile, others are vegetarians and need a meatless option to make their holiday meal complete. Finally, some of the main dish choices on Thanksgiving are based on the regional availability of certain meats.

There are some people who also cite health reasons for their decision to choose an alternative to turkey at Thanksgiving. Some people prefer alternatives because of the fat content in turkey, which is higher in the skin and the dark meat areas of the bird. Excess sodium can also be found in some Thanksgiving turkeys due to certain sauces or brines which are used during cooking. While turkey is still a good source of protein, these health concerns are enough for some people to look for alternatives.

Turkey Alternatives

Since there are so many reasons that people consider using an alternative to turkey at Thanksgiving, it's only natural that there are numerous options available to them as well. Listed below are the most popular turkey alternatives for this holiday. Please note that the vegetarian options have been listed separately so that those who wish to abstain from meat can also find satisfying options to eat instead of turkey or other meat.

  • Goose: This type of bird was a traditional main dish in many European cultures, which has caused it to become a special dish to eat on holidays for some families.
  • Duck: Like the goose, the duck hails from European roots and is another bird choice to replace a turkey.
  • Ham: In America, ham is also often eaten on holidays. For many people, ham is not only easier to make but also more enjoyable as far as taste goes since it can easily be paired with different glazes and sauces.
  • Pork Roast: This dish is a favorite among pork lovers because of its rich taste and the fact that it takes much less time to prepare compared to a turkey.
  • Chicken: This bird is not the most popular alternative, but because it is a meat which most Americans are very familiar with, it may be used as a substitute. Since chickens are generally smaller than a turkey, some people enjoy the fact that they can still cook a whole bird but have fewer leftover than if they had chosen a turkey.
  • Crab: In areas on the West Coast of the United States, the Dungeness crab season begins in November, making the timing perfect for a Thanksgiving meal of seafood.
  • Venison: Like with Dungeness crab in the West, the availability of deer meat around Thanksgiving coincides with deer hunting season in the Northeast region of the United States.
  • Turducken: This unusual alternative is a chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is stuffed inside a turkey. It is generally not the healthiest choice, but may be a fun option for adventurous eaters.

Vegetarian Options

  • Tofurkey: Vegetarians and vegans may choose to eat a tofurkey on Thanksgiving. This is a tofu dish which is enhanced with imitation turkey flavoring. For those who don't eat meat, the texture and taste of this option are the closest they can get to the real thing without actually eating turkey.
  • Vegetable Lasagna: This is a hearty dish that provides a satisfying main dish without including any meat. Many vegetable lasagnas include mushrooms or eggplant, both of which are somewhat "meatier" vegetables in their texture.
  • Eggplant Parmigiana: This is another vegetarian dish that includes meaty vegetables like eggplant and mushrooms to provide a filling and satisfying main course.
  • Vegetarian Roast: Some specialty food stores sell vegetarian roasts, which consists of grains and vegetables which are firmly packed into a loaf tins so that they cook like a pot roast.


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