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The Bird Is Not the Word

As gorgeous as this is, Id much rather have roast pork.

As gorgeous as this is, I'd much rather have roast pork.

By Dabney Gough, contributor

November 2nd, 2009

I'm just going to come out and say it: I don't like turkey.

I do not like it in a brine.
I do not like it tied with twine.
I do not like it deeply fried.
I do not like it gravy-fied.

I could go on forever, but I'll spare you further Seuss-isms. Just trust me: I actively dislike turkey. Even when it's juicy and moist and flavorful, I still don't like it. In fact, I could go the rest of my life without turkey and I would be just fine.

As Thanksgiving approaches, this presents a real dilemma. As a hostess, I feel somewhat obligated to serve turkey; my guests may feel cheated if it's not on the menu. On the other hand, it's hard for me to get excited about cooking and eating turkey. To be sure, there are some good recipes out there (like this juniper-rubbed version). But in the end, to lift a metaphor from elsewhere in the butcher aisle, you can't put lipstick on a pig. Especially if it's a turkey. To me, at least.

If the purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks, I'd much gather 'round something for which I'm truly grateful! In that spirit, I'm toying with the idea of making a slow-roasted pork shoulder, a dish that is celebration in itself. It's so easy to make, though, that it almost feels like cheating. Something more elaborate may be in order, such as a ballotine; it involves boning out a whole chicken, stuffing it with tasty bits, and rolling it up in foil (like a burrito) before poaching. It looks really cool, is fun to make, and serves a crowd nicely. And it can be really delicious.

Then again, it IS Thanksgiving. I'm truly torn. Should I be selfish and make something I'll really want to eat? Or should I bow to tradition and--forgive the metaphor--give everyone the bird?

If you’re a turkey traditionalist, there’s no shortage of good recipes on FC’s Thanksgiving Dinner Guide, but if you’re not. . .well, I want to hear from you (and soon, please). I look to you, dear readers, for advice.

posted in: Blogs, Thanksgiving, turkey, Dabney Gough, roast pork, ballotine
Comments (34)

Marcy3pu writes: I can't stand the obligatory turkey either. I'm tired to death of the traditional turkey dinner. (Wow, can you hear the turkeys all over the world cheering?) Stuffing, cranberry sauce blah, blah, blah. Then there's the turkey left overs yuk! Talk about overkill... Anyway, lately I've been stepping out of the box with a fresh ham. Not spiral sliced, not smoked,not honey baked--fresh. Stuffed with an apple and sausage stuffing it's the deal! Sides include my mom's sweet & sour brussel spourts, mashed potatoes with turnips, wilted spinach and kale with thinly sliced red onions and hot parker house rolls. Dessert is a sweet potato pecan pie that is to die for. I'm in heaven--no turkeys allowed. Posted: 11:32 am on November 21st

Cindycat writes: For the two of us, I brine two Cornish Game Hens, then deep fry them. Like a tiny version of fried turkey.

If you don't want to go to all the trouble of a turducken, you can buy one. Not cheap, but much easier.

And a comment on side dishes. My grandmother never stuffed the turkey. We made the same recipe but always cooked it in a casserole dish and called it dressing. To this day, I buy stuffing mix to make my dressing. Posted: 12:18 am on November 18th

Shanna_Aquaritopia writes: My grandma cooked turkey all her life, twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas (along with ham and all the traditional sides). After bowing to traditional all her life like a good wife would, somewhere near her 80'th birthday she finally confessed to all that she HATES turkey........ and she never cooked one again. Nowadays she makes ham for Thanksgiving and Italian for Christmas. Only one assh*le ever complained, and he is only related to us by marriage. The rest of the family was happy to see grandma liberate herself : ) Posted: 4:19 am on November 17th

cook1928 writes: My fiance doesn't like turkey either, and since it's just the two of us, we cook up a big feast of lobster and clams every Thanksgiving. It's delicious, but I do miss stuffing... Posted: 5:30 pm on November 15th

CAROLANN57 writes: As vegetarians know, it's not the turkey, it's the side dishes. Well, maybe its also having something to make a sandwich with later in the day but I bet more people take turkey just to be polite than really like the stuff. With being able to buy parts of turkeys all year round, turkey is not a once a year thing. Serve what you like.

After living on chickens during the depression, my dad hated poultry of any type. He'd take a 2" X 2" piece of turkey to say he had eaten some and fill up on the stuffing and the rest. By the time we were in high school, my parents decided to quit pretending and we'd have whatever my mother felt was festive - crown roast of pork, prime rib, leg of lamb or whatever struck her fancy a week before. No one ever said that you couldn't have stuffing, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole with any of those.

Buy a Hungry Man frozen dinner for anyone who makes a fuss and enjoy your time in the kitchen cooking what you like.
Posted: 7:47 pm on November 14th

reciperover writes: Capon. If your turkey haters eat chicken like mine do, serve a capon. Seems to satisfy everyone at the table. Posted: 10:35 am on November 14th

totober writes: Yap, the big bad bird ( I call it) I don't like it but I make it every thanksgiving and I always have to make a separate dinner just for me. this year I will be making PrimeRib YUMMMM and some turkey breast for those that need to have it, but the main focus will be on the primeRib.
I just don't know how to make it.....any ideas???? Posted: 7:58 pm on November 13th

milomilo writes: Dabs:
Great writing style!
Try this for an alternative and to solve the problem:
1. Turkey Breast on the grill and better if you can rotisserie it.
2. The ballotine of chicken, duck or god forbid goose would be dynamite.
3. And yes, follow up with a pork entre or better yet, since the grill will be up and running, a whole beef tenderloin. Always a winner.
Milo Posted: 3:42 pm on November 13th

sergie writes: We do not like turkey either! Duck is our choice for the day, wrapped with bacon cooked on the grill. Goes great with wild rice dressing, chestnuts and brusselsprouts, cranberry chutney. Not that far off the traditional turkey fare and much tastier. Posted: 1:31 pm on November 13th

berferdt writes: My family raised turkeys and chickens when I was young. I associate both with the task of shoveling out the waste. I can enjoy either as long as it doesn't taste like the birds.
While hosting, there is no proscription from presenting more than one option; cooking a small bird and your pork shoulder can be complementary. Pick sides that are mutually complementary. Part of my extended family are vegetarians, and extended family includes vegans. When I bbq ribs, I'll toss in some portabellos so they feel included. They just don't know what they are missing - like eating turkey when there are so many other good things to eat! Posted: 12:54 pm on November 13th

Hotchile1 writes: I'm not a turkey lover. When I was a kid, Mom always fixed a turkey because everyone else did...not until I was in high school did my mother finally speak her peace. She didn't like turkey either. LOL Hmmm... so after that we chose something different until her passing. If we had mom's side of the family...we did have to fix turkey. Once in awhile it was fine to have turkey. Mom would use leftover turkey and make Turkey Tettrazini(SP)and SOS, they were alright and only one time in the year. Now that I'm older(way),I cook a turkey the day before and then I fix what I want on T-Day. My significant other likes this...he gets his turkey, one way or another. I have created a tradition among my friends, which has turned out to be a lot of fun. I call it "Winding Up the Turkey", I'm make turkey enchiladas and friends bring whatever they want to get out of the fridge. Winding Up has helped us all start the holiday season easier and then NO MORE TURKEY for a Year!
Posted: 12:52 pm on November 13th

twcanada writes: I used to love turkey, and then I was diagnosed with a gluten and dairy protein allergies nine years ago, after having suddenly gained a lot of weight for no real reason (I was always quite active, stayed away from junk food, etc.). I also suddenly had rheumatoid arthritis, etc. When they finally figured out gluten and dairy were causing the problems, I changed my diet. Unfortunately, that meant no more turkey. Turkeys are primarily grain-fed and often injected with dairy products. This remains in the meat so anyone with gluten allergies, Celiac disease, etc. cannot eat turkey without having a reaction; I can't eat more chicken either.

So now it is running joke in my family... everyone else gets their turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I have salmon. However, the next day, I don't have the bloating that often occurs after a turkey dinner. Posted: 8:25 am on November 13th

Biscuit writes: I'm with you - I don't care for turkey (unless it's deli smoked turkey with brie and avocado on whole grain bread), stuffing bores me, and just the entire menu - not inspiring or exciting. I gave it a lot of thought, and in my opinion, the only reason the Pilgrims ate turkey is because they HAD turkey - venison - corn - etc. They would have eaten rabbit had they had it (probably did), or peach pie or pasta if that was what was available. The point of Thanksgiving ISN'T turkey - it's sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends to give thanks for all that is good and special. The actual food isn't the important piece. That being decided upon, my family (just the 3 of us) have started a new tradition: we pick a country/ethnic region each year and we use that to make our grand feast! Last year we were inspired by the bounty of the ocean, and ate shrimp scampi, oysters, crab cakes, salmon stuffed with crab and shrimp, etc. It was wonderful! This year we are having Chinese - all homemade, from scratch: wonton soup, szechuan duck, shrimp & cashew stir fry, at least one noodle dish, several types of dumplings. The fun part is that we all get to help cook and it's a lot of fun to be together and create a feast that we all enjoy. Posted: 8:48 pm on November 12th

NancyH writes: Like you, I also dislike turkey. Not only do I hate eating it and cooking it, I hate the entire side dish laden meal that turkey seems to require . . .the stuffing . . . the gravy . . . the cranberry sauce . . . white and red (or both) potatoes. You get the picture.
Several years ago I decided that the emphasis for Thanksgiving (and Christmas) dinner should be that it's a special meal but that doesn't necessarily mean turkey.
So I've been fixing a standing rib beef roast for my holiday meals. I tailor the side dishes to whatever I feel like making that particular year. And it's an excellent excuse to pull out the really good Cabernet Sauvignon wine! Throw in a pumpkin pie as a nod to tradition, and there you go!
Posted: 8:06 pm on November 12th

pat53 writes: I will say I am not a turkey lover! I do not eat it any time of year but will have it for thanksgiving because of TRAD
ITION!! I would love to change it to steaks or a pork roast, and may do that when I move to Florida. I love the other sides, but never need to eat turkey again. No matter what you eat, enjoy your families and friends and
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Posted: 4:40 pm on November 12th

mkozlow writes: I'm allergic to the bird and don't like the smell. I have a very unsympathetic family, so come the holiday I am on my own. While I share in the cooking, come meal time I make a nice steak, an exotic shrimp dish or something I have found on line, BUT for one. I share if they beg enough. Posted: 4:36 pm on November 12th

Bplus6 writes: I fixed, prepared, cooked, cleaned up the house, made from scratch, picked the apples, pumpkins, baked homemade bread, pies, cakes. I've heard, where are the peas and corn? You didn't make stuffing? Among all this, I love Thanksgiving and being thankful. That said, fix your family's favorite meal. For the past several years that has been Chicken Divan. But it could be a pot roast with all its fixin's or it could be lasagna with garlic bread and a salad. Doesn't it makes sense that everyone would be most thankful when served what they love you to cook for them? Instead of pumpkin pie, what if you made the favorite dessert - like chocolate chip cookie? So whatever floats your family's boat is what I am planning to start as our family's tradition this year. It never needs to be turkey, which is not my family's favorite anyway. We have had ham for T-day way more than we have had turkey. Turkey was reserved for years when we couldn't afford to feed 25 with a ham! Gobble gobble. Posted: 4:17 pm on November 12th

twandalives writes: Options are limitless. Salmon, pickerel, rainbow trout, lobster. You could do a small variety, meatballs, fish, pork and/or beef. Whatever you would like will be fine with your guests. Its' about being "thankful" not really about the food. That's just marketing. Being together with family and friends is the best part of any holiday. Have your guests contribute for a truly thankful, Thanksgiving. Share what ever you have Posted: 3:56 pm on November 12th

louiser0707 writes: My family has what the Pilgrims ate - lobster! Posted: 3:54 pm on November 12th

HotelPhyllis writes: For many years I did not have the time or desire to prepare a traditional turkey dinner. I served large char-grilled ribeye steaks and my guests never complained. As the years progressed my guests would ask early in Novenber what they could being to go with the steaks. Posted: 3:46 pm on November 12th

PJShort writes: For turkey haters, a wonderful alternative is crown roast of port with apple walnut stuffing. It looks very special and festive. For a more festive look you can make Christmas themed covers for the bones instead of the white ones that are traditional. If you have no time to make them just tie narrow Christmas ribbon around the white ones Posted: 3:29 pm on November 12th

cookykamp writes: There will only be a few of us for this Thanksgiving, so a large turkey is out of the question. I'm making roasted Cornish hens with a cranberry-thyme sauce, roasted potato wedges, and a simple green veggie. Either asparagus, brussel sprouts or fresh green beans. If you like your pork roast, go for it. I've even known some people to have a butternut squash lasagna for Thanksgiving. Who cares what's on the table? It's all about being with family and friends and giving thanks! Posted: 3:07 pm on November 12th

wheatprincess writes: I cooked a duck last Thanksgiving for my brother, who was my only Thanksgiving guest. We loved it. One year my family had a goose in addition to the turkey; that was good. Another year another brother made a stuffed, rolled, roasted pork. He wanted to practice it before serving it to his in-laws for Christmas. It was really delicious but didn't seem like Thanksgiving, somehow. I have always wanted to serve venison and/or other game for Thanksgiving. As another reader pointed out, that is what was served at the first Thanksgiving. I think they had fish, too. Posted: 3:07 pm on November 12th

sugarshock writes: I find turkey to be overated...and usually (unless I cook it - which isn't often because there are only 3 of us) overcooked and dry. I much prefer to cook a crown roast of pork. This can be stuffed in the "crown" so as not to have your guests feel like all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are gone and can also have a gravy. The roast itself is your table centerpiece and I will guarantee that not one of your guests will wish you cooked a turkey. There are no shortages of recipes on stuffed or unstuffed roast crowns of pork, so you shouldn't have a problem finding one, if you already don't have one. Your butcher will know what you want should you not know what a crown roast is. Good Luck and Happy Thanksgiving. Posted: 3:00 pm on November 12th

soupereasy writes: Haven't had a thanksgiving turkey in decades. Salmon, lamb, pork, beef...
I use turkey through out the year, it is not a treat. Posted: 2:34 pm on November 12th

soupereasy writes: Haven't had a thanksgiving turkey in decades. Salmon, lamb, pork, beef...
I use turkey through out the year, it is not a treat. Posted: 2:33 pm on November 12th

DMickelsen writes: Hey Dabs, I am with ya. Well, I am not as ardent a turkey-hater as you are, but I'm pretty sure that my life would still turn out OK if I never ate turkey again. Just not my favorite protein. But to each her own -- just try and take away my mom's sausage stuffing at Thanksgiving! I would resort to violence in seconds flat. Posted: 4:45 pm on November 10th

barbarawr writes: I do not like it here or there
I do not like it ANYWHERE!

I also hate stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, and green beans soaked in gook. And pumpkin pie, too. My family likes the traditional Thanksgiving food, so I make that, but I don't eat most of it. I make some kind of bread and a big bowl of fresh fruits salad and that's what I eat. HOWEVER, I usually make the turkey from a Southern Living Annual Recipes book (1999 - page 253). It's called apple-rosemary turkey breast. You make the turkey a day ahead of time and then leave it wrapped up for 24 hours. Then you cut it up, pour the "sauce" over it, and I think they want you to serve it cold, but I heat it up. It has enough flavor from the herbs and apples that it doesn't taste much like turkey, and all the sauce stuff makes it moist. True, we don't have a "real" turkey, but the kids are grossed out by seeing the turkey's "arms and legs", so we wouldn't be having that anyway. And this way, it's easier to time when it will be done. Posted: 1:52 pm on November 5th

cesmls writes: Hah! I have the opposite problem. My husband is vegetarian - and I don't like tofuturkey. Also, stuffed squash or risotto is no substitute for turkey - nice moist tender dark meat covered with gravy, bread stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Just tell everyone you are not cokiking a turkey this year - roast beef is always a nice substitute. If anyone gets upset, tell them they are welcome to bring the turkey. Also, lots of markets now make the entire dinner to go - just spend the money and buy the turkey already cooked - and make a nice roast beef. You might be surprised how many people eat the roast beef. Oh, and be sure to make all the other traditional side dishes - and don't worry about the stuffing being oven-baked (or however you do it) - most health experts today don't eat stuffing cookedl in a turkey. And you can make gravy from anything - like the roast beef. Posted: 5:47 pm on November 4th

Erikalyf writes: Speaking of a boned, stuffed chicken... I've always wanted to try to make a turducken! That way you get your Turkey and you can eat it (or the chicken or the duck) too! I know most people think it is an odd choice, but to me, in a word, feast-tacular! Three different birds all stuffed with its own version of stuffing (sausage, cornbread and oyster would be my choice) each stuffed inside the next! I threaten my family with it every year, but having said that, it is three birds, three different kinds of stuffing and de-boning all of them. Well, that is a bit of a daunting prospect. One year it will happen! Posted: 3:54 pm on November 4th

GTO_driver writes: Maybe "the bird is the word" at Thanksgiving but I like the other traditional side dishes better than turkey. Leftover turkey is usually limited to one or two options. Ham has always been a substitute for turkey during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Leftover ham can also be served for breakfast. Posted: 11:46 am on November 3rd

Teheru writes: I'm kinda with you-but philosophically isn't Thanksgiving about being grateful for our bounty and being with the ones you love? Serve what you like, and people bring what they like. I don't care about the turkey either. Stuffing, green beans, mashed 'taters and whatever else (my pal Marty cannot live without a honey baked ham which is far more interesting). Serve what you like and everything falls in place. Posted: 10:43 am on November 3rd

Tyler_M writes: I say go the historical revisionist route and do VENISON! That was the real meat that Massasoit and the Wampanoags used to save the pilgrims' skins in 1621. Duck is also legit. There is only one written account of the "First Thanksgiving" and it does not mention the t-word once. How could any guest play the tradition card if you go straight to the source? Posted: 3:48 pm on November 2nd

MaryMum writes: Well, I'd say "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Perhaps you can spend Thanksgiving in a culture that celebrates thanks with another food, such as...oh, maybe mahi-mahi? But, what about cranberry sauce? How do you feel about that? Oh! And sweet potatoes with marshmallows?
Or, you can do as I try to do, get invited to someone else's home for the big meal, and you don't have to even think about cooking a bird. That's my advice. Posted: 1:12 pm on November 2nd

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About the Eat Generation

Follow the foodie adventures of former Fine Cooking recipe tester Dabney Gough as she takes a bite out of life in San Francisco. By day she's the marketing director for a specialty grocery store. By night, she's usually out exploring the city's amazing cocktail scene.