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November 11, 2008

Top 10 Alternatives to a Traditional Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

turducken.jpgObviously anything could be an alternative to a traditional roast turkey for Thanksgiving, from a ribeye steak to a deep fried turkey. But I wanted to pick foods you know would work (because of their association with native Americans, for instance) or that I've actually served or had served to me.

By the way, I'm cooking this year and I'm having a traditional roast turkey dinner. I was just talking to my brother, who's coming from the West Coast, and he says he's bringing some interesting recipes he got from Sunset magazine. He's talking about adding Swiss chard to the stuffing.

Sorry. No way.

Here's my list: ...

* Wild duck with sauerkraut (particularly appropriate because Baltimoreans eat sauerkraut with Thanksgiving dinner anyway, which I've never understood)

* Goose with fruit stuffing. Unfortunately the one time I cooked a wild goose (a hunter friend had brought it to my in-laws), it also contained buckshot.

* Native American foods like beans, squash and corn for vegetarians and vegans

* Turducken (partially boned turkey stuffed with boned chicken stuffed with boned duck)

* Small roast chicken with cornbread-pecan stuffing for a couple or people eating alone

* I make a very good stuffed ham (with a bread stuffing where the bone would be). I haven't tried it for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be an easy make-in-advance choice that would taste good with traditional sides.

* An old college friend invited us to Thanksgiving once and served each of us a whole lobster. Lobster didn't go very well with the side dishes the rest of us had brought, but it was so wonderfully extravagant no one was complaining.

* My sister-in-law, using recipes from Gourmet magazine, served curried turkey breast with cranberry chutney one Thanksgiving. Her family was outraged, but it sounded kind of good to me for a change.

* In some places on the West Coast, Dungeness crab is a common alternative to turkey because the season starts in November.

* Crown roast of pork with wild rice stuffing. Pork has a autumn feeling to it (I would never serve it for Christmas dinner even though I know it can be traditional), and the fact that it's a crown roast makes it seem grand enough for an important meal.

(Photo of turducken by William Archie/Detroit Free Press/MCT) 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:36 AM | | Comments (63)


What is it with the sauerkraut thing anyway? I mean, I've eaten it every Thanksgiving for my whole life (because I've lived in Baltimore my whole life.) I never realized it wasn't a nationwide habit til I started meeting non-natives who thought it was weird.

Joyce W. -- I always understood that the Baltimore thing with sauerkraut at Thanksgiving was due to the substantial number of people with German heritage.

Turducken - What the??? I mean come on....

hmpstd is right.

Given that Sauerkraut was practically a staple in German cuisine, it was very common to be served alongside the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in German-American households.

For generations and generations, Germans comprised the largest ethnic group in the Baltimore area, and throughout much of Maryland(much to the chagrin of my Irish and Italian friends). And over the course of these generations, the German tradition of sauerkraut at Thanksgiving spread throughout the whole region.

In Baltimore at least, sauerkraut on T-Gving has eventualy trancended its German-American roots and has become a local Baltimore area tradition

I'm certainly not from German heretage, but no Thanksgiving dinner in my household would be complete without it.

If you don't understand the sauerkraut thing, talk to Jacques Kelly who, I am sure, will be able to bring you up to speed. Why is it that regional or ethnic food is otherwise acceptable? Many Italian-Americans have lasagne for a Thanksgiving side dish. You have also pointed out that some people in California serve crab for the holiday meal. Baltimore has a rich German heritage that often gets overlooked after more than a century of inter-marriage and integration. The west side at the turn of the 20th century was the heart of German-Protestant culture. The Harford Road corridor was the heart of German-Catholic culture. Sauerkraut at Thanksgiving is a vestigal celebration of a heritage that has, for the most part, been absorbed by the "anglo" mainstream.

(Did you know that Redwood Street used to be German Street until World War I made it politically incorrect? I say give it back its original name!)

In any case, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year in Afghanistan where I have been posted for a two year assignment. And I have my can of sauerkraut especially for the feast.

My most lasting early memories of Thanksgiving was the smell of the sauerkraut cooking on the basement stove in my grandmother's house. I would be very disappointed if it weren't served on that special day!

I got an e-mail from Chef Paul Prudhomme who is asking for people who make Turducken to take pix of the process and send them to him. You will be awarded a Turducken Graduate certificate.

Thanks for giving us vegans/vegetarians some consideration, although "beans, squash and corn" sounds pretty bland compared to the other dishes described. Most of us are quite adept at navigating meat-centric holiday gatherings without much thought from our hosts--I usually bring a luscious vegan side dish or two, and watch everyone else rave about it. :)

I always ask for suggestions for the Top 10 lists in an earlier post, and many of these were suggested by readers. Please do let us know in advance what you'd like to see included. EL

My husband is from Long Island (where eating around the holidays takes on a whole new meaning). Food such as lobster, shrimp scampi, flounder, etc are staples with all '4th quarter' holidays. God love those New Yorkers, they know how to eat!

I will be cooking my FIRST Thanksgiving dinner for two and have opted away from the standard bird and will be making a stuffed turkey breast. It appears to be extremely straight forward; the stuffing is wrapped into the large breast and tied together to cook.

It looked really easy for a novice like myself and is beautiful when sliced.

I really don't like sauerkraut all that much, but I love the fact it is served on Thanksgiving in Baltimore. So many of our traditions have become homogenized that it is comforting to know that sauerkraut lives in Baltimore.

Sauerkraut is a mainstay on my family's table, and every year my wife, who is from Chicago, comments on why it shouldn't be there.

Now, EL, as a southerner, your back ground with regional Thanksgiving dishes is understandably lacking. The South really only starting celebrating Thanksgiving around WW II. Thanksgiving as a national holiday -before that it was just a New England thing- was introduced by President Lincoln, so the South often viewed the event as Yankee holiday.

Oh, I've made a Turducken before, and while I appreciate the novelty of the FrankenBird, the problem is you have to cook everything to well done. This is ideal for chicken and turkey but not so much for duck.

Finally, I can't beleive none of the regulars have mentioned the dreaded word: Tofurkey.

Robert: This vegan repudiates any and all preparations of Tofurkey!

Its Thanksgiving, if you arent going to eat turkey you might as well be a terrorist. And if you are a veggie, just eat the side dishes. The heck with all this crazy fancy smancy stuf this lady lists. Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving or move to Canada or something.

Oh, EL.... Two different crustaceans mentioned, but none of our beloved Blue Crab.

I mentioned previously that, although the season goes April 1 to December 15, the traditional ending is Thanksgiving. It is a tradition with several Eastern Shore/Watermen families to serve Blue Crabs for Thanksgiving as a celebration of both the holiday and the end of the season. I would have much preferred to see this on the list to keep it regional rather than the Dungeness Crab.

So...why didn't you suggest it earlier? EL

My family was Irish. Thanksgiving consisted of one large boiled potato which me Da carved into slices for the ten of us, oh and there were side dishes of rancor and bitterness. Ahh.. good times.

Elizabeth, will there be oysters in that stuffing? Can't be Baltimore traditional without oyster stuffing.

No, sorry. Chestnuts. But there will be scalloped oysters on the side. EL

Cornish game hens were my go-to turkey alternative for small Thanksgivings. Easy and quick!

We eats always a whole goat.

Hey, I found some Old Bay. Would that be a good seasoning for stuffing?


Ok, if Baltimore is so full of people of German ancestery, where are the German restaurants? The biergartens and the bratwurst, sour beef and dumpling places? And most of all where is all the great strudel?

Joyce, I've noticed some older German restaurants in Highlandtown... although they are few and far between. As for sour beef and dumplings, you barely have to throw a stone to find a local restaurant featuring that one their menu. I think, like others who commented have pointed out, that while Baltimore has a strong German heritage, it's been watered down, especially over the last 40 years. Anyway, for a good German store, try Binkert's on Philadelphia Road. All my Eastern European family/friends even make the drive down from PA just to stock up.

As for sauerkraut at Thanksgiving, I'm not a native, so for me it gets a big "no." The first time I ever encountered that was at my husband's Italian side of the family's Thanksgiving dinner.

Maryland was founded by and for English Catholics. So where are all the English Catholic restaurants?

Really, if there was such a big German presence before there are few remnants of it now. On the other hand go north to PA and Lancaster and Berks County and many others are oozing with German food and traditions. I just got my big box of PA Dutch smoked meat from Kutztown PA. Mmmm.... smoked turkey, ham, bacon, turkey bacon (kind of a mistake), ring bologna, sweet bologna, and the king of them all Lebanon bologna. I highly recommend this company.

Plus people around here eat this miserable fake sauerkraut that made with vinegar. Nicht so gut. Essen Sie nur das natürliche Sauerkraut, das mit Kohl, Salz und Wasser gebildet wird. Sorry, that happens sometimes.

A whole goat? Bucky, please pass the Old Bay...

Thanks, Bmore Girl, will check out Binkert's.

Sauerkraut, I've discovered is not just the cold out of the jar stuff I had growing up. I now make it with some kind of pork and caraway seeds and a bit of beef broth. My sister in law makes it with tomato paste and brown sugar. My son's old day care provider made hers 3 different ways every Thanksgiving. She told me her son would complain that the house smelled like a toilet blew up!

My Mom makes sauerkraut the way you do, with the pork and caraways and some broth. Not a real big fan of it myself.

(Mom's grandparents came over from Germany.)

Here's my line up: Roasted capon, )stuffed of course), garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts, creamed onions, cranberry sauce, sauerkraut, succotash and something involving pumpkins and apples, although not in the same dish, for dessert. It covers all ethnicities, and my guests keep coming back...

What in tarnation is an Old Bay, like a some kind of horse?

Hey Goat Sucker (chupacabra),

Old Bay is not Snickers, or any horse. It is the seasoning that MDers put on pretty much anything we please.

I Capon is a rooster that has been castrated at a young age. I couldn't really distinguish the flavor from a regular ole' chicken..but hey, whatever floats your boat.

As for my family, I love 'kraut. It has been a family tradition and it is a German thing. My Dad is of German heritage.

I used to be a die-hard vegetarian and would always just eat the side dishes at TG dinner but now I've realaxed a little bit on the vegetarian lifestyle and will eat some turkey.

Had Thanksgiving dinner at Hogates in DC a long time ago. I remember having mashed sweet potatoes or yams infused with rum {which makes my mouth water even now. }Are these root vegetables traditionally served in the south for Thanksgiving?

Yes. EL

Don't forget the influx of Polish tradition in East Baltimore-now we have kelbasa in our sauerkraut.

Anyone else already looking forward to the leftovers? Thanksgiving sandwhiches..dark meat turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on whole grain breads. YUMMY. I may have to go back to Pentagon City in Arlington to get one.

Wouldn't that be kielbasa in the kapusta?

So where are all the English Catholic restaurants?

OMG, my grandmother was an English Catholic and meals at her table were strictly social occasions. My head tells me that was your humor again, but my instincts are screaming Is he crazy??

EL, I think I did mention it in a previous post, from

I like the Top Ten alternatives/addtional proteins served.

Having several friends who are Eastern Shore-born watermen, they usually have crabs for Thanksgiving Dinner. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is the end of the crabbing season in the Bay.

Posted by: Trouble | November 5, 2008 1:17 PM

Ahh, sauerkraut drowning in a pool of turkey gravy -- now that's livin'...!

This year we'll be in Myrtle Beach for Thanksgiving and I was thinking of perhaps doing a fishing excursion on Wednesday to have as the Thanksgiving meal on Thursday. Can you successfully put stuffing in a fish? Anyone know or imagine any good fish recipes for Thanksgiving? I suppose the natives would have included some fish at that first meal with the pilgrims, would you agree?

OMG: Though it might be fun to argue whether Cecil Lord Calvert was more interested in commerce or religious freedom for his English Catholic brethren, it seems that they were mostly on the outs by 1649. Remember that the Act of Toleration of that year did not so much forbid persecution of Catholics (and Lutherans and Roundheads and Barrowists, to name just a few of the others) as establish the schedule of fines for those caught in the act. Ergo, no English Catholic restaurant or holiday food tradition left here.

As for signs of the presence of Germans in Baltimore, I think the rather impressive statue of Martin Luther at the East end of 33rd street counts for something. My read of the demographic migrations of the ethnic communities that landed in Baltimore is that it was much like a game of leapfrog between Germans, Poles and Italians. That may be the reason that Baltimore neighborhoods continue to hold to such distinctive identities.

JTM -- it's not clear whether fish was on the menu for the first Thanksgiving, although, according to this article, it quite possibly included lobsters and mussels.


I just visited that smoked meat site. The meats there all look delicious. I am going to try them out.

PCB they are really really good. You just can't get anything like it nationally. Please report back.


I will report. Just have to figure out what to try. I'm especially eyeing that smoked turkey. I love smoked turkey.

Not only do we have sauerkraut with Thaksgiving dinner, we have TWO versions of sauerkraut - one with, one without, barley

I've been eating the smoked turkey ham all week. It's terrific. Try any of the Kutztown bolognas, they're all great. "Balogna" is a misnomer, they're beef sausage really.

Might go with the lebanon first, since that is the traditional.

I know, real beef bologna beats the crap out of that Oscar Meyer stuff.

ah the Lebanon. The classic. Either Weaver's or Kutztown are great. I think it has a peppery taste, completely unique and essential to my childhood. Weaver's is the better know, but I prefer the Ktown, because I'm a rebel, that's just how I roll. It is a true bologna in the old style as it is (... hold onto your Maker's BG ... ) lacto-fermented and smoked. Bam!

JTM - Lord, yes! you can stuff a fish. With crabmeat of course (and of course Old Bay).

Owl - I haven't wanted to admit my ignorance but can stand it no longer. What exactly is lacto-fermenting? Please explain with little words that my overworked brain can understand.

I agree smoked meats are wonderful but my favorite lunchmeat is the mortadella. The unashamed chunks of fat swimming in a sea of lunch meat are just too irresistible!

Hey OMG - so that stuff you left in my fridge on election night is not bologna? it's beef sausage? as in the kind one has with cheese and crackers?

I was a little freaked about by hearing the words lebanon and bologna. If it's just sausage/salami to have with my cheese I might actually try it. Once you explain lacto-fermentation

then its the Ktown for sure. Thanks for recommendation.

Bourbon Girl,
Owl can assuredly explain this better (and probably more accurately), but if its beef sausage, it would be excellent with some good cheese and crackers.

Good mortadella would also have pistachios embedded in it. At least the Boar's Head mortadella down here has pistachios in it.

Fl Rob, yes you are right. But the big chunks of fat seem so decadent that's all that stays in my mind!

I first encountered the mingling of the aromas of cooking sauerkraut and roasted turkey when I moved from Boston in 1959 and started attending Dumbarton Jr High in Towson. If the bus arrived early we waited in the cafeteria or if it was late we had to at least walk by it.

To my Irish New England attuned sense of smell it was a most strange combination. When I initially found out what the new aroma was, I was astounded. Sauerkraut was to be eaten with pork or hot dogs in my experience.

The extended family talked about this strange combination when we returned to Boston for Thanksgiving and my parents decided that the next time they served the turkey lunch at school, I should buy it and try it. The next time was Christmas time and I tried it; it was an interesting combo.

My mother included it in our family Christmas dinner that year and it became a family tradition to have sauerkraut with turkey. I believe my mother felt that it was a step of putting down roots in our new locale. We became Baltimoreans.

I have continued the tradition even after moving out to Kentucky.

It will be interesting this year as I will be cooking dinner in N.Va for us, our children and their spouses, and my brother- in- law and his son, and anyone else they have invited ; some will not have experienced the “ experience “.

As a note, in Boston we always had mashed rutabaga when we had turkey. I remember that I read something from James Beard that addressed both sauerkraut and rutabaga with turkey as being a bitterness/acidic contrast with the rather bland taste of turkey. I never found it again.

I always thought that mortadella translated to something like Sausage of Death but I just looked it up and found that morta=myrtleberry. Still, it's the stained glass window of deli meats.

My English grandmother always mashed a huge, stringy, bitter yellow turnip in with the potatoes as the potato accompaniment to turkey dinners.

Sausage of Death? I love it.

I want some Sausage of Death!

I haven't had Lebanon bologna since I was a kid. I'd forgotten about it until it came up here. I'm going to have to get some.

Mashed rutabaga! Yes! Very underrated vegetable, rutabaga.

There is always the option of cooking just the turkey thigh and breast meat - it's still turky, but it's not quite traditional but it makes great sense as it let's you cook each to perfection. I have some links to cooking methods at

Neither of my parents was raised in Baltimore, so we didn't eat sauerkraut. I became acquainted with it at ny mother-in-law's Thanksgiving feasts. It's perfect: the acidity cuts through the richness of the turkey and gravy and stuffing. I "borrowed" a kraut recipe from a friend who owned a local tavern: cook some chopped bacon til crisp and brown and drain the pieces on paper towels; lightly brown the drained kraut in the bacon fat, then add some (8-12 ounces) of beer, a little brown sugar, caraway seeds, and the bacon pieces. Cover and cook until the kraut has absorbed most of the liquid. DEE-LISHUS!!

And, even though it's premature, happy Thanksgiving, all!

I like your recipe for kraut, Dottie. I'm going to try it this year. Especially because it's got beer and bacon in it. Do you simmer it for a pretty long time or do you cook it on med/high heat til the liquid's absorbed?

The thing no one has mentioned that I hear a lot is macaroni and cheese. I never heard of having it on Thanksgiving until I was in my 20's and found out LOTS of people consider it a staple at their TG dinner.

I heard at the annual Cancer Control Conference the other day that "processed red meat" and "bbq meat with a char on it" are carcinogens. What a downer!

Joyce, everything contains carcinogens. It is the amount that is the issue.

Mac and cheese at Thanksgiving? Never heard of it. Of course, I'm an unrepentant Great Lakes Yankee with time served in New England.

I can't imagine having store-bought sauerkraut at Thanksgiving, but homemade would be wonderful. My mother-in-law made it last year and I couldn't believe how different it was from the stuff I grew up with. So much tastier!

Meanwhile, The Sun's website just posted this item about something which definitely would NOT be recommended as an alternative to turkey, especially in a mobile home kitchen. (Don't let this happen to you!)

hmpstd - just sitting here during my lunch giggling over that item! Brought to mind the series Sordid Lives!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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