15 turkey alternatives for your Thanksgiving meal

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Diana Jeffra for The Washington Post)

For many, Thanksgiving preparation is well underway. Hosts have been designated, side dishes delegated, and ingredient lists written up. This year, though, a wrench has been thrown into Turkey Day-coordinating for even the most proactive planners.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 3 percent of the nation’s turkey supply has already been wiped out by a rapidly spreading strain of avian influenza. What this means for consumers is fewer turkeys on grocery store shelves and higher prices in a year that has already seen soaring grocery costs due to inflation and continued supply chain challenges.

Ordering ahead is one solution to avoid last-minute shortages, and if you’re committed to that bird, we suggest you preorder it, pronto. But there’s another option: forgoing the turkey altogether.

This may sound drastic to some — after all, isn’t turkey the iconic main course? But beyond even a devastating bird flu outbreak, there are plenty of reasons other dishes are worthy of centerpiece status. To the uninitiated, turkey’s size alone, coupled with the time and effort it takes to cook, can be intimidating, especially if it results in meat that’s dry and bland. For those of us without big families or large groups of people to celebrate with, it doesn’t always make sense to cook such a big bird. And, of course, vegetarian and vegan diners always appreciate an alternative to turkey, and there are plenty out there that make stunning stars of the show.

So whether you’re trying to keep your celebrations more cost-effective or are looking for plant-based mains that are just as festive and filling as their winged counterparts, we have a plethora of ideas from our Recipe Finder that will help you pull off your best Thanksgiving yet, sans turkey.

Pork

Pernil. In Puerto Rico, major holidays often call for pernil, a mouthwatering spiced pork dish. The classic pork shoulder meal may require patience, but the tender, melt-in-your-mouth result is worth the wait.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Apples, Shallots and Spinach. A hearty and wholesome main, this pork tenderloin features delicious fall flavors from roasted apples and shallots.

Ham

Spiral-Sliced Ham With Cherry-Port Glaze. Baked ham gets a sweet treatment from port, honey and cherry preserves.

Duck

Duck Confit. The name may sound daunting, but cooking this duck confit is anything but. All this mostly hands-off elegant and simple dish requires is salt, spices and duck legs.

Chicken

Baked Chicken Thighs With Butter and Onion. These baked chicken thighs are a great option if you’re looking to minimize costs for your big holiday dinner.

Spring Chicken in a Pot. Though “spring” is in the recipe name, this whole roasted chicken can be enjoyed any time of year. It’s cooked with shallots, herbs and bread, meaning your stuffing is practically built into this one-pot dish.

Beef

Porcini Beef Pot Roast. Mushrooms boost the umami flavors of savory pot roast. Serve with classic mashed potatoes to soak up all the delicious sauce.

Anthony Bourdain’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Boeuf bourguignon screams special occasion. Time, effort and care are rewarded with a hearty, rich meal. It remains one of our most popular recipes of all-time.

Pot roast, spiral-sliced ham, duck confit, lamb and more non-turkey Thanksgiving mains

Squash

Lentil and Pecan-Stuffed Acorn Squash. These acorn squashes are stuffed with citrus-laced lentils and pecans and topped with melty parmesan cheese and fried sage for a satisfying vegetarian main.

Stuffed Squash Roast. Layers of cranberry sauce, rice, roasted peppers, glazed onions, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes make up the luxurious stuffing for this squash roast. It’s an effortlessly stunning centerpiece featuring all the colors of the season.

Mushroom

Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Pecan and Chestnut Wellington. Taking a page from our friends across the pond, Wellingtons are the ultimate festive food. This one stars tender portobello mushrooms that are accented with nuts and herbs.

Mushroom Bourguignon. You can have the flavors of the boeuf bourguignon above without the meat at a fraction of the cooking time with this mushroom bourguignon.

Thanksgiving vegetarian and vegan mains that may eclipse that turkey

Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower With Citrus-Tahini Sauce. These cauliflower steaks don’t actually look like their namesake, but they are just as delicious in their own right with a creamy, citrusy tahini sauce.

Pumpkin

Biryani-Stuffed Pumpkins. This Indian-inspired meal of decorative pumpkins filled with spiced pistachios and saffron-stained rice was made to be the main attraction of your Thanksgiving table.

Pumpkin, Walnut and Sage Crostata. Tarts such as galettes and crostatas are always a rustic, elegant option for a main course. In this crostata, sweet pumpkin is balanced with mustard and apple cider vinegar, and topped with crumbly cheese and fried sage.

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