5 Thanksgiving Menus That Don't Involve Turkey

Turkey is notoriously bland. These other mains are not.

Published Nov. 8, 2022.

Maybe you’re not into the whole Norman Rockwell vision of Thanksgiving. Maybe you have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving itself! Or maybe you just think turkey itself is a big, bland, boring bird that doesn’t deserve to be the centerpiece of a meal. 

Whatever the case may be, know that if you don’t like turkey, you are not alone. And you don’t have to suffer.

It’s time to rethink Thanksgiving and cook a feast you’ll want to eat—a feast that you can actually be thankful for. Make something celebratory! Surprise and delight your family! (Maybe they’ll thank you!)

Here are some of our best ideas for an alternative Thanksgiving that will be fun, delicious, and festive. We’ve tried to suggest meals that would capture the spirit of plenty and the senses of gratitude, sanctuary, and pleasure that come from gathering with your community—no turkey (or Pilgrims) required. 

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1. Fried Chicken Thanksgiving 

From left: Garlic Fried Chicken, Creole Fried Chicken, and North Carolina Dipped Fried Chicken

This may seem like a bit of a lateral move. But if one or more of your guests insists on eating some kind of bird on Thanksgiving, why not give them the best possible version of it? 

Making fried chicken and all the fixings isn’t a huge departure from regular Thanksgiving. You can still make mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and cranberry sauce if you want. But I think we all know that they’ll be much better in the company of crispy, craggy fried chicken. 

I’m partial to our North Carolina Dipped Fried Chicken recipe, but we have many others that are great. Take it in any direction you like. 

2. Barbecue Thanksgiving

From left: Smoked Prime Rib, Best Potluck Macaroni and Cheese, and Braised Collard Greens

Few things are as uniquely American as barbecue, which is rooted in both indigenous and African foodways. You could certainly smoke turkey—we have several excellent recipes for it. But why not do something a little more memorable? Smoke prime rib! Some pork! Or my personal favorite, a whole side of salmon

You can go traditional Thanksgiving with your sides again if you prefer, or do all the best barbecue fixings: mac and cheese, coleslaw, collards, broccoli or sweet potato casserole. And of course, you can still have pie at the end. 

3. All-Pie Thanksgiving

From left: New England Pork Pies, Mushroom and Leek Galette with Gorgonzola, and Pear-Butterscotch Slab Pie

Pie is the best part of Thanksgiving, I think most of us will agree. Why relegate it to the last course? A bonus: Most of the meal can be made ahead—all you have to do is reheat day-of and serve.

(Full disclosure: I had an all-pie Christmas one year. It was delicious, and I would do it again.)

Start with some small appetizer-size pies—maybe pork pies, Jamaican Beef Patties, Cornish Pasties, butternut squash tartlets, or even these Empanadas de Pollo. (Anything with flaky pastry is a pie in my book). Add something large but lighter, such as some spanakopita or this Smoked Salmon and Leek Tart or even this Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Level up with chicken pot pie or steak and ale pie, and don’t forget the vegetarians—this mushroom, leek, and gorgonzola galette is a favorite on the Reviews team, though this asparagus and goat cheese tart is a close second.

Add a crisp bitter salad to cut all the rich pastry—I like this frisée and Bibb lettuce salad—and then hit all the dessert pies and tarts you know and love. (No holiday is complete without a lemon pie in my family, though this Pear-Butterscotch Slab Pie wouldn’t go amiss either..) 

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4. Seafood Extravaganza Thanksgiving

From left: Salmon Rillettes, Rhode Island–Style Fried Calamari, and Cioppino

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is traditionally served at Christmas, but why wait? There are plenty of fish in the sea for both holidays. 

Put out a whole table of things for guests to pick at. Perhaps crack a dozen oysters and pop a few tinned fish and then add some Salmon Rillettes and baccalà mantecato. Fry some calamari, and don’t forget the Shrimp Cocktail—one of those things that everyone seems to love. (I like the Mexican iteration, Coctél de Camarón, but you do you.) 

As a centerpiece, make a big pot of something more substantial—a brothy seafood stew, maybe. Maybe moqueca or Cioppino or Clams Steamed in White Wine. Don’t forget the bread. 

Or do a pasta instead, such as linguine allo Scoglio, fideuà with clams and shrimp, or Nori Pappardelle with Mussels and Butter

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5. Sichuan Feast Thanksgiving

From left: Pai Huang Gua (Sichuan Smashed Cucumbers), Dan Dan Mian (Sichuan Noodles with Chili Sauce and Pork), and Bang Bang Ji Si (Sichuan-Style Chicken Salad)

Turkey looks pretty bland indeed when you realize you could be eating Sichuan food instead. I’d much rather go for some Mapo Tofu, Dan Dan Mian, bang bang ji si, Pai Huang Gua, or maybe this Sichuan-style eggplant or Sichuan-style charred green beans

Sauté some pea shoots, make some wontons in chili oil, and serve with abundant rice. Put out some nicely cut fresh fruit at the end, and you’ve got yourself a true feast.

I know I’d be thrilled to eat—or make—any one of these alternative meals. So this year, spare the turkey and spoil your friends!

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