Who Even Likes Turkey? A Feather-Ruffling Debate

November 21, 2017

Turkey Day is nigh. But is the turkey part really essential? Lindsay-Jean Hard says it's the superstar; Peter Meehan calls it a snooze-fest. They go talon-to-talon here, in our latest installment of How We Holiday.

Stick to the Standards, By Lindsay-Jean Hard

The Judy Bird never disappoints. NEVER! Photo by Bobbi Lin

I am notorious for not ever repeating a recipe in our house. I’ll make something and my husband will be like, This is great! You should make it again!, and I’ll be like, Yeah!—and then never do. There’s always something new and exciting to try. But I’ve learned that when you’re hosting a lot of people, it helps to have at least a few stand-bys to revisit, especially on a day like Thanksgiving when people have an expectation for what will be served. I’d never dream of skipping the turkey: You don’t want people to freak out if you don’t have the regular, traditional stuff on the table.

To be clear though, traditional doesn’t mean played out and boring. It means classic, and some things have staying power for a reason. So at Thanksgiving, there are some recipes that I’m not willing to mess around with. For us, that’s the Judy Bird, the Silver Palate mashed potatoes, the Vegetarian Mushroom-Thyme Gravy, and Canal House’s Cranberry Port Gelée. That covers the must-haves and still leaves room for trying a different salad or squash dish. Last year, I emailed all of our guests and asked them what their favorite Thanksgiving dish was—I wanted to make sure everyone could tuck into their most-loved part of the meal. And you know what? Every single response was a classic one: stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and yes, turkey.

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We started hosting Thanksgiving a couple years ago, and this year, we’re having fourteen people. I’ve learned that when you’re serving many different dishes, you don’t have to scale up every recipe; there’s no way people are going to be able to eat that much food. We always spatchcock our turkey—it’s such a great time saver. I’m also embracing outsourcing a lot more; other people have volunteered to bring stuff, and I’m going to be making use of Zingerman’s Deli and their bread-baking skills. No one is going to give me a medal if I do all of it.

Lindsay-Jean Hard is a Contributing Editor at Food52 and author of a forthcoming cookbook about cooking with scraps.

Drop the Pilgrim Act, By Peter Meehan

Tacos > Turkey Photo by James Ransom

I am part of the Calvin Trillin faction when it comes to Thanksgiving: I don't get turkey. Don't want it. I appreciate the broth that can be made from its bones and know that, combined with a pornographic quantity of mayonnaise, its leftover flesh can be wrangled into acceptable sandwiches. But turkey is a snooze.

Still, there are people—most people, even people who understand the rightness of my feelings on turkey and/or live with me—who want it for the holiday. In these instances (like most instances), I find it wise to follow the words of Chuck D: You've got to give the people what they want, gotta give them what they need. And that is de-snoozed turkey.

How does one wake up the zombie bird from its eternal slumbering stumble of boringness? Dropping the whole pilgrim act. Who wants to eat like a starving Puritan anyway? Literally almost all other cuisines are more promising. So roast it whole, but serve it with hoisin and ginger scallion sauce and lettuce cups and steamed buns and pickles and cook dumplings instead of whatever gross marshmallow-covered thing you usually do. The sauces will save you. Or heat up a couple hundred tortillas, have a bunch of radishes and onions and cilantro chopped up, and make a big vat of mole negro. I like glazed sweet potatoes as much as the next guy, but a chance to eat endless tacos is one that I'll never pass up. Plus, it'd be gluten-free!

One time I tried to confit the legs of some turkeys to take the holiday to southern France, but my oven was on too high overnight and they fried for like, six hours. What to do with turkey cracklings? Turn that crispy, fatty, salty, dry meat into a Thai-style larb, where lime juice and fish sauce could repair the damage done.

Peter Meehan is working on a book about outdoor cooking. He has written numerous cookbooks and was a founder of the magazine Lucky Peach.

Classic turkey on Thanksgiving: yay or nay? Tell us in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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judy December 6, 2017
We like dark meat. This year I bought several thighs. Made stuffing. Put the stuffing in my roasting pan, covered it with the thighs, and then tin foil. Baked. Delicious. Easy, no carving, no carcass. Usual sides. Enough for a couple of leftover turkey sandwiches with all the trimmings. Easy prep.
Cassandra B. November 27, 2017
I personally love turkey, especially if the breast and dark meat are cooked separately...breast roasted and legs/thighs braised.
J.l. M. November 22, 2017
If you don't like turnkey, it may be because you overcook it. If it's juuuust done, and juicy, it's really good. Dry, it's like eating cardboard.
scott.finkelstein.5 November 22, 2017
Competent cooks.
anniette November 22, 2017
I love turkey! The neglected dark meat is richly flavored. Anyone who enjoys chicken and duck will find those same flavors deepened and intensified in the dark meat of turkey. We stuff the bird with Julia Child's Corn Bread/Sausage Stuffing, and roast it at 450 until brown, then tent and turn down a bit until it is 165 everywhere. Aromatics - carrot, onion, sprigs of sage, rosemary, parsley, the neck, liver, and giblets (dog's treat) go under the roasting rack with a bottle of dry vermouth. The resulting fond makes a dark, succulent gravy. The leftover white meat makes tacos and chili pie. There is no leftover dark meat.
txchick57 November 22, 2017
I wonder how many would eat it (or any other meat for that matter) if they had to watch it being "produced." No thanks, life is life. Vegetarian for 44 years here.
Victoria C. November 21, 2017
I haven't made turkey for Thanksgiving for years. I simply don't like it and basically hate that meal. This year I am making the Food52 pork loin recipe by Cara Nicoletti. It's simply delicious and goes well with all the Thanksgiving-y sides. As I am having out-of-town company, I will make a turkey breast so people can have sandwiches Thanksgiving evening.
Janet November 21, 2017
My family would go nuts if they didn't get the traditional Thanksgiving meal. We do mix it up a bit by marinating and deep frying the turkey, which delivers an extremely moist bird. Love the alternative ideas, but I've got to use those for leftovers only.