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Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, so it's time to start talking turkey! With all the supply chain issues this year, should we be concerned about finding a bird for our holiday table? How about finding a fresh turkey? What are some turkey alternatives? Master butcher and the author of The Everyday Meat Guide, Ray Venezia, shares his wisdom.
"There are plenty of turkeys," he assures us. "Yes, in general, production and transportation issues are making it a little harder to find everything, but turkeys are still available. You just may not be able to be as picky about the size of your turkey as usual. Be patient with the stores—they try to order what the customers will want, but they can't control nature!"
How to Deal with a Large Turkey for a Small Group
Smaller turkeys might be a little harder to come by, Ray says, because there's more demand for them now with more people having smaller gatherings due to the pandemic. But, if you can only find a larger bird, don't worry! You can cut off and freeze what you don't need and still have a presentation-worthy bird for your Thanksgiving dinner. Here's how:
- If the bird is frozen, thaw it most of the way before cutting it.
- Set the turkey on a cutting board breast-side up.
- Leave one half of the turkey intact.
- On the other half, cut off the leg and thigh in one piece.
- On that same side, cut off the breast and wing WITHOUT including the breastbone or backbone.
- Freeze the pieces you cut off, tightly wrapped.
- Roast the intact half of the bird skin-side up, adjusting the cooking time accordingly.
- Present the turkey at the table cut-side down; it will look great!
What to Do If You Can't Find a Fresh Bird
It might be challenging to find a fresh bird this year, Ray says. If you're getting a frozen one for the first time (or just need a refresher), here are his tips:
- Look for the "Grade A" stamp on the packaging, which indicates a better-quality bird with no tears or blemishes (not all frozen turkeys are Grade A).
- Make sure it says "all-natural", meaning nothing has been added to it.
- Make sure the packaging is still nice and tight, indicating that no air got in.
- Buy the turkey closer to the holiday. Stores go through so many that your chances are higher of getting a more recently frozen bird if you wait a bit. Some turkeys may have been frozen a year earlier and those get put out first.
- Plan ahead when it comes to defrosting (see below). You don't want to be that person who wakes up on Thanksgiving morning with a still-frozen bird.
How to Defrost a Frozen Turkey
In the Fridge: This is ideal if you have time and room. Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
In Water: Use this method if you are short on time and/or don't have room in your fridge. Completely submerge the bird in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 1 hour for every 2 pounds.
Six Alternatives to the Traditional Turkey
If you can't find the bird you want or simply want a change from the traditional choice, Ray suggests these wonderful alternatives:
Roasting Chicken: A large (7- to 8-pound) roaster can feed 6 people no problem. Carve it like you would a turkey and you'll be surprised how much meat there is.
Capon: It's basically like a large roaster, but can be as big as 10 pounds.
Cornish Hen: If you're hosting a very small group, you could get everyone their own Cornish hen. They typically run 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds, so each one is its own elegant individual serving. Cornish hens are easy to cook, and the meat is tender and sweet.
Fresh Ham: If you're okay with a poultry-free Thanksgiving, this is a great option. It's readily available, easy to roast and is so delicious. Pork is also one of the most affordable meats, and the prices really haven't spiked like they have with other meats. Plus, it freezes really well, so you can buy it now and freeze it.
Beef: If you want to go high end, this is a great choice. You can likely get a nice cut, such as filet mignon, at a great price since beef isn't in high demand at Thanksgiving.
Duck: A whole bird is elegant and although ducks aren't very big, you don't need a lot because it's very rich. Look for one labeled "keep frozen", which indicates the bird wasn't previously frozen and defrosted.
Turkey shortages and alternatives aside, Ray shares how to cook turkey like a chef here and why filet mignon might be your best bet for Thanksgiving dinner.
Where to Get Your Turkey in Time for Thanksgiving
If the supply chain shortage has you stressing about where exactly you'll get your turkey this Thanksgiving, fear not—because our editors have found places that will deliver one (or a yummy alternative) to your doorstep. Scroll down for what we've found to make your life a little easier this Thanksgiving.
HARRY & DAVID
A Thanksgiving dinner just isn't complete without a classic turkey. And Harry & David's 10-pound, oven-roasted offering arrives to your door already prepped to pop in the oven and serve to your guests. Plus, they offer a two-day, express shipping option so that you can get your bird delivered with plenty of time to spare ahead of the holiday. Be sure to get your turkey order placed by Friday, 11/19, to receive it in time for Thanksgiving Day.
ButcherBox is big on monthly meat delivery boxes—so it makes perfect sense that they'd be able to help you on Thanksgiving Day, too. Order one of their classic boxes for an animal welfare-certified meat that doubles as a festive centerpiece for the big meal—and arrives just in time for Thanksgiving Day. Their customized boxes are chock-full of everything from ground turkey and whole chicken, to beef briskets and more. Order by Monday, 11/22, to ensure it arrives at your home in time for the big day.
This year has been anything but ordinary—so why not shake up your Thanksgiving turkey, too? Goldbelly's Turducken with Cajun Pork Cornbread stuffing definitely checks all of the nontraditional boxes and is an especially popular choice. (Who knew you could get chicken, duck and turkey all in one bite?) The dish easily feeds 10 to 15 people, and—BONUS!—you can get it as early as this Saturday, 11/20. For standard shipping, be sure to place your order by Thursday, 11/18. For an additional cost, you can also choose expedited shipping options as late as Monday, 11/22.