Friends, I have a confession to make. I hope it doesn’t change how you feel about me, but I have to tell the truth: I don’t love turkey. Nope, not even for Thanksgiving. THERE I SAID IT. Whew. I don’t hate the giant bird, mind you, but I firmly believe that many of us would be markedly happier if we could escape the soul crushing expectation of cooking a 15 pound ball of meat every single year that more often than not ends up being dry, bland, and bitter with disappointment.
My family gave up the turkey game a few years ago, and it was the best thing that has ever happened to us. (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely in the top ten). When I was growing up, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey was the bane of my mother’s existence. She simply didn’t enjoy anything about the process of making the thing, and her angst about it was evident in every unsatisfying bite. One year when it was only going to be my immediate family at Thanksgiving, I got a call from my Mom. She asked tentatively, “So, um, how would you feel about beef tenderloin instead turkey this year?” I think she thought that my sisters and I would be outraged about flouting tradition, but my response — and everyone else’s — was basically “Oh god yes please, I'm so tired of horrible, dry angst turkeys.” And when the holiday rolled around, we had roast beef, and it was juicy and delicious, and when we all held hands and said “Thank you for this meal,” we actually meant it. It was glorious, and we have never looked back.
Obviously, if you love turkey and enjoy making it, then keep on being your bad self and don’t change a thing about your Thanksgiving routine. But if you don’t love turkey and you just kind of put up with it because it’s what people expect, I urge you to take a stand and say “No, I won’t do it, AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME” this year. Read on for 8 reasons that you should feel free to replace the turkey in your Turkey Day:
1. It takes approximately four months to defrost.
OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but it does take four or five days, which is a silly amount of time to have a bird the size of small pony taking up room in your refrigerator.
2. It’s a lot of effort.
Cooking a turkey takes time and a bit of expertise. Everyone has their favorite tricks for getting a good result, which can involve brining, stuffing the bird with lemons and butter, basting every 15 minutes for hours, starting at one temperature and then switching another, covering some parts of the turkey with foil, and on and on and on and on. For people who love turkey, this process is part of the fun; it builds anticipation, and makes them feel like they’ve worked to create something awesome. But for people who don’t love turkey, this is simply a lot of work for something they’re not that excited about in the first place. And if the results are less-than-inspiring, then the whole things just seems sort of pointless.
3. It’s hard to make a turkey that’s actually good.
Because turkeys are so large, they’re hard to cook well: The white and dark meat cook at different rates, so if you cook the dark meat all the way, the white meat dries out; the skin can burn before the meat cooks; and so on, endlessly, forever. So many turkeys — even when people put a lot effort into them — come out dry and flavorless, and we have to drench the meat in gravy to make it taste good. Why do we bother??
4. If you’re going to spend all day cooking something, there are so many more awesome things you could make.
For a lot of people, the best part about Thanksgiving is having a whole day to make an amazing feast with lots of love and care. But you could easily redirect all that effort toward making something else that requires a lot of time, but that has more predictably awesome results. Last year for Thanksgiving, my husband and I, who were having our little celebration on our own, spent all day making slow-cooked ancho-chili-braised beef short ribs, and it was AMAZING.
5. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort cooking, there are still a lot of other tastier things you could make.
Some people are really into work-intensive cooking on Thanksgiving, but others would rather be out of the kitchen, hanging out with family or binge watching whatever show they’re marathoning that year. If you give up the turkey, you can make something that takes a lot less work, with better results. Even simply swapping the turkey out for a roast chicken will make a huge difference: Roasting a whole chicken is super easy, much faster than a turkey, and you’re more likely to get a moist, delicious result.
6. Because vegetarians shouldn’t be trapped in the turkey tradition, either.
A lot of people who serve turkey at Thanksgiving feel obligated to serve a turkey substitute to their vegetarian friends and family members. Enter Tofurkey. I am not vegetarian or vegan, and I can’t speak for people who are, but I would suspect that there are quite a few of them who would love to give up fake turkey as much as we meat-eaters would love to give up the real thing. Why don’t we just skip the turkey — real and, er, synthesized — altogether and make something that’s actually supposed to be meat free? (Check out this hand guide to vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes for inspiration.)
7. It’s really all about the sides anyway.
Many of us only put up with turkey at Thanksgiving so that we can load our plates with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, mac and cheese, buttery rolls, roasted vegetables, and pie. Why not skip the bird entirely and just focus on the good stuff?
8. It’s fun to challenge tradition!
Once you give up the turkey — what is, arguably, the most traditional part of the Thanksgiving meal — suddenly other traditions seem to become more flexible, too. All sorts of creative possibilities open up, and you can have fun customizing your Thanksgiving meal to reflect exactly what you and your guests want to eat. Not a meat-and-potatoes person? Why not try your hand at ravioli stuffed with fall vegetables? Not into traditional pie? Why not try pumpkin soufflés? The possibilities are endless (and tasty!).