The 11 Best Alternatives to Cooking an Entire Turkey for Thanksgiving

A national turkey shortage doesn’t mean your Thanksgiving is ruined. Keep these recipes in mind if you need to pivot your Thanksgiving turkey plans.

Roast turkey, squash, and roast beef

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer / Cambrea Bakes

This year marks the semi-return of the traditional Thanksgiving. Many of us can gather together with far-flung loved ones in what seems like the first time in years. Just on queue, there are bummer headlines of turkey supplies being down a projected 24 percent. Can’t we just get a break?

Relax. You've made it through far too much since March 2020 for something as inconsequential as the possible absence of a customary holiday protein to wreck what really matters: sitting down with your family (given or chosen) and taking the time to connect over food.

You may head out to the grocery store and find there aren’t any turkeys available to suit your needs, or that the prices won’t work with your budget. Keep these switch-up strategies in your back pocket for assurance that this Thanksgiving will be memorable nonetheless, for all the right reasons.

  1. Can’t find a big bird? Roast two smaller ones. Bonus: two smaller turkeys roasted side-by-side cook faster than one giant bird.
  2. Can’t find a small bird? Go big. Then you’ll have lots of leftover turkey, which you can portion out, freeze, and thaw for leftover turkey meals for months to come.
  3. Cook can't find a whole turkey? Cook turkey parts instead. If turkey is what you want and the pickings of whole birds are slim, look for parts. You may be able to find turkey legs, turkey wings, or turkey breast, and we have recipes for all of those.
  4. Skip the turkey altogether. I look forward to turkey as much as any lover of a traditional Thanksgiving, but some of my favorite Turkey Days have included zero turkey. Go vegetarian, or think of another meat (like roast chicken!). Last year there were three people at our pandemic micro-gathering and we had smothered pork chops with mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cranberry sauce. I had so much free time that day it blew my mind, and my good mood as the matriarch of the household spread to even the dog.

Check out our recipes below for more specific ideas, and may you enjoy a delicious and heart-warming Thanksgiving in exactly the way you want to.

  • Roast Turkey Breast With Roasted Garlic Gravy

    Roast Turkey Breast with Garlic Gravy
    Elise Bauer

    If you can only find big turkeys, consider a turkey breast instead of a smaller whole bird. This one is no-frills (no brining or stuffing) but sure to please.

  • Pressure Cooker Turkey With Dijon Gravy

    Pressure Cooker Turkey with Dijon Gravy
    Coco Morante

    An Instant Pot makes cooking turkey a breeze, though keep in mind the turkey drumsticks (or whatever other part you use—this is great for thighs, too) needs to fit decently in the cooker.

  • Smothered Turkey Wings

    smothered turkey wings with gravy
    Elise Bauer

    Turkey wings are a smart dark horse option for a smaller Thanksgiving table. Not only are they affordable, they may be in stock when the full birds are not. Look for them in the regular poultry section, not with the Thanksgiving turkeys, and find ones that are fresh versus smoked.

  • Glazed Baked Ham

    How to cook ham in the oven and slice it on a cutting board.
    Lori Rice

    I know lots of families who have huge annual gatherings that include turkey and ham. Hams come in lots of sizes, so peek at those if the stock of turkeys is underwhelming.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • Dry Brined Roast Chicken

    Dry Brined Roast Chicken - - whole chicken on platter Recipe

    Our contributor Karishma Pradhan enjoys a smaller family celebration, and the first Thanksgiving dinner she made featured roast chicken, since the scale fit their needs better.

  • How to Roast a Goose

    Roast Goose
    Elise Bauer

    Roasting a goose will make a memorable Thanksgiving for sure! Hank Shaw is a longtime hunter, and his method works for duck, too. He has you carve out the breasts mid-roast so you can sear them later on and serve them medium-rare. If that’s too daunting for you, try our Easy Duck Confit, which requires only duck legs, salt, and unattended hours in a low oven.

  • Cheesy Artichoke Pie

    artichoke pie in filo
    Sally Vargas

    If you like a big stunning platter of something to set in the center of the table, vegetarian Thanksgiving mains can come up short. But not this beauty! Besides, it takes half an hour to assemble and 1-1/2 hours in the oven, which is a timeline you can run with.

  • Vegan Stuffed Squash with Mushrooms

    Overhead view of three vegetarian stuffed squash on a platter.
    Cambrea Bakes

    This is what we’ll be sharing at my house this year. It’s celebratory and goes great with our Vegan Mushroom Gravy. You can make this dish 100 percent in advance! Roast the squash and make and season the filling (tip: REALLY season it—a little lemon zest and lemon juice makes it sing, plus don’t skimp on the salt). About 20 minutes before you plan to eat, stuff the squash and pop them in a 350-degree oven. Garnish with pomegranate seeds for a Thanksgiving upgrade.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • Easy Baked Salmon

    Honey Garlic Butter Roasted Salmon topped with herbs and set on foil.
    Kalisa Martin

    Just because it’s called Easy Baked Salmon doesn’t mean it’s not special. Look how impressive a whole baked salmon filet is! You can serve it with tapenade, remoulade, or try patting it down with gremolata before baking. Keep the mashed potatoes, skip the gravy and try our Lemon-Garlic Butter Sauce.

  • Roast Beef Tenderloin with Sautéed Mushrooms

    Roast beef Tenderloin
    Elise Bauer

    For some reason, Christmas strikes me as a beefier holiday, but why not get some roast beast going on as a preview? This tenderloin serves four and is on the table in an hour. If you have a bigger group, consider Beef Roast Braised in Red Wine (“not your everyday pot roast!”) or Garlic Herb Butter Prime Rib.

  • Pork Crown Roast

    Crown Roast of Pork
    Elise Bauer

    A crown roast is more or less a bunch of connected bone-in pork rib chops reconfigured for maximum drama. This crown roast has a savory sausage and crusty bread stuffing that’s very Thanksgiving-adjacent, and it’ll go great with a gravy made from pan drippings. You may just wind up ditching the turkey next year, too.