What can I serve on Thanksgiving instead of turkey?

Thanksgiving is a beloved American holiday centered around a big meal with family and friends. The traditional main course is a turkey, but not everyone wants to serve turkey or can eat it. Fortunately, there are many delicious Thanksgiving main dish alternatives to turkey that can make for a memorable and satisfying holiday meal.

Why serve something other than turkey for Thanksgiving?

There are several reasons you may want to forgo the customary turkey this Thanksgiving:

  • You or your guests are vegetarian, vegan, or don’t eat meat.
  • Someone in your group has an allergy or intolerances, such as to poultry.
  • You want to save time and skip roasting a large bird.
  • You had turkey recently and want something different.
  • You want a main course that’s gluten-free.
  • You prefer dishes from your family’s heritage or culture.
  • You’re looking for a lower-cost alternative to pricey turkeys.

Serving a non-turkey main course can help make your gathering more inclusive, affordable, or better suited to your tastes and needs.

What are good Thanksgiving entrées without turkey?

You have ample options for mouthwatering holiday mains that don’t involve turkey. Here are some of the most popular and recommended choices:

Roast beef

For a classic alternative, oven-roasted beef tenderloin or prime rib makes a savory, beefy centerpiece. Accompany it with traditional sides like mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy.


Baked glazed ham is a time-honored Thanksgiving tradition in many families. A smoked, spiral-cut ham can be the juicy, salty main your guests crave.

Cornish game hens

Individual miniature poultry that roast up with crispy skin in under an hour, Cornish hens offer portion control and rich flavor.


Herb-crusted rack of lamb makes an elegant, gourmet statement. Or braise lamb shoulder or shanks for tender, fall-off-the-bone meat.


A baked smoked pork loin, Puerto Rican pernil (slow-roasted pork shoulder), or porchetta (herb-stuffed pork roulade) brings festive variety.


For a lighter meal, oven-roasted salmon, shrimp, or lobster tails can headline. Skip meat but keep rich taste with crab cakes or stuffed clams or scallops.

Plant-based mains

Satisfying vegetarian and vegan options include stuffed squash, portabella wellington, lentil loaf, cauliflower steaks, or savory tarts and galettes.

Ethnic specialties

Cook a family recipe or dish from your heritage, like Indian biryani, Polish pierogies, or empanadas from Latin America. Or try an American spin on classics like tamale pie or matzo ball-stuffed roast chicken.

What should I consider when choosing an alternative main course?

When selecting a non-turkey entrée, keep the following considerations in mind for the optimal dish:

  • Guest tastes and dietary needs – Choose something broadly appealing or offer multiple mains to satisfy preferences.
  • Your cooking abilities – Pick recipes matched to your skill level and kitchen tools.
  • Timing – See how long the dish requires to cook and if oven space is needed.
  • Cost – Calculate the price per serving and look for budget-friendly options if needed.
  • Leftovers – Will extras refrigerate and reheat well for your post-holiday meals?

You know your crowd best. Think about what will please them—then put your own spin on the meal.

What should I serve alongside my alternative main course?

The sides are key to rounding out your meal. Smart choices complement your main protein or dish. Here are some top picks:

Classic Thanksgiving favorites

Can’t fully break from tradition? Keep holiday menu staples like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, roasted vegetables, biscuits, and creamed greens.

In-season produce

Highlight what’s fresh like squash, Brussels sprouts, roasted root vegetables, or a fall salad with pomegranate and fennel.

Comfort foods

Warming dishes like mac and cheese, baked beans, potato gratin, or corn pudding can up the coziness factor.

Ethnic specialities

Try Spanish rice, Indian dal, or other traditional sides from your heritage or favorite cuisines.


Don’t forget pies, cakes, cheesecake, fruit crumbles, and other sweet finales. Play with both homey and elegant options.

Aim for a balanced plate with carbs, vegetables, and some lighter dishes to prevent meal monotony. Bread, cheeses, relishes, and appetizers add extra variety.

What are some specific recipes to consider?

Here are over a dozen tempting recipe ideas for fantastic Thanksgiving mains minus the turkey:

Dish Recipe highlights
Oven-roasted prime rib Seasoned with herbs and garlic; served with au jus and horseradish sauce
Cider-glazed ham Pineapple and apple cider glaze; scored ham baked until caramelized
Apricot lamb shoulder Braised with dried apricots and white wine; fall-off-the-bone tender
Porchetta Pork rubbed with fennel, rosemary, sage; rolled and slow-roasted
Mediterranean stuffed squash Acorn squash filled with chickpeas, tomatoes, spinach, feta
Mushroom wellington Puff pastry wrapped around mushrooms and root vegetables
Jerk chicken Island-inspired chicken baked with spicy jerk seasoning and lime
Tamale pie Layered casserole with olives, peppers, and melty cheese topping
Crab cakes Spicy lump crab patties with remoulade; can sub salmon cakes
Scallop gratin Baked scallops with parmesan breadcrumbs and white wine sauce
Empanadas Latin American stuffed pastries like beef, chicken, or cheese
Lentil nut loaf Savory plant-based loaf with lentils, walnuts, and mushrooms

This range highlights the diversity of tempting recipes available beyond traditional turkey. With the right non-poultry main event, sides, and dessert, your holiday spread will feel festive, delicious, and anything but boring.

What are simple options for first-time cooks?

Attempting an intricate gourmet recipe is probably not the best idea if you’re a Thanksgiving rookie. Start with one of these simpler but still scrumptious mains:

  • Baked ham – Choose a precooked spiral-cut ham; just heat through and glaze.
  • Lasagna – Make ahead a veggie or meat lasagna for easy oven baking day-of.
  • Enchiladas – Fill tortillas with your choice of fillings and top with sauce and cheese.
  • Crockpot or Instant Pot recipes – Braise brisket, chili, or stews with minimal hands-on effort.
  • Roast chicken – Season and throw in the oven for classic roasted comfort.
  • Fish en papillote – Bake gentle white fish wrapped in parchment with wine and aromatics.
  • Sheet pan dinners – Toss veggies and protein on one pan for low-fuss roasting.

Don’t be afraid to also buy a few dishes premade from your grocery store or local restaurants and supplement with your own homemade sides.

What are good options for large groups or crowds?

When cooking for big gatherings, opt for main dishes that can be made in large quantities or batches. Consider these quantity-friendly choices:

  • Chili – Make a big pot of beef, turkey, or vegetarian chili.
  • Pulled pork – Slow cook several pork shoulders you can shred and serve as sandwiches.
  • Smoked brisket – Texas-style brisket has lots of meat that goes a long way.
  • Shrimp boil – Cook shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes in a seasoned broth.
  • Taco/fajita bar – Set up a DIY topping bar for easy self-service.
  • Whole roasted pig – An impressive but pricey centerpiece for a crowd.
  • Paella – Make an extra-large pan of seafood paella packed with flavor.

For dessert, buffet-style cakes, cookies, pies, and trays of fruit or sweets allow people to grab their own servings.

What are elegant choices for holiday guests?

If you want to impress dinner guests with your culinary skills, try these upscale entrée selections:

  • Beef wellington – The iconic tenderloin wrapped in mushroom duxelles and puff pastry.
  • Rack of lamb – Fancy racks roasted with a glaze or crust until medium rare.
  • Lobster tails – Luxurious, butter-basted broiled lobster.
  • Standing rib roast – A majestic, oven-roasted prime rib served au jus.
  • Duck confit – Gourmet French-style preserved duck legs.
  • Coq au vin – An elegant French chicken braised in red wine sauce.
  • Smoked salmon – Thin slices of smoked salmon make a delicate starter.
  • Scallops – Seared or bacon-wrapped scallops starter or entrée.

Complete the upscale menu with fancy side dishes like risotto, asparagus spears, or roasted exotic mushrooms.

What are budget-friendly options?

If cost is a concern, look for inexpensive main dishes under about $2 per serving. Economical options include:

  • Roasted chicken – Whole birds can feed a crowd.
  • Pork shoulder – Cheap cut that braises into succulent pulled pork.
  • Brisket – Affordable tough cut that gets tender when smoked low and slow.
  • Bean or lentil dishes – Meatless protein-packed options like chili, dal, or mujaddara.
  • Veggie shepherd’s pie – Made with ground meat subs like beans, lentils, or soy.
  • Pot pies – Comforting homemade crusts wrapped around vegetable fillings.
  • Breakfast for dinner – Classics like eggs, pancakes, French toast, or quiche.

Cut down on costs by purchasing ingredients in bulk, minimizing food waste, and repurposing leftovers creatively.


You have endless enticing options for a celebratory, non-turkey Thanksgiving meal. Go with something tailored to your guests, your budget, your skills, and your taste preferences. From glazed ham to stuffed squash, the possibilities are endless. With savvy sides and desserts, you can craft a deliciously memorable holiday feast without the bird.

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