If Christmas is known to some of us as Stressmas (I stole that from The Sopranos), then Thanksgiving can just as easily be called Thanksfornothing. Millions of families pay a ton of money to cook for family and friends who paid a ton of money to fly in, meaning the stakes are generally high. Oh, and the main dining event? A giant roast bird you’re likely to screw up.
Cooking a perfect turkey is akin to hitting a bullseye on a dart board after drinking four pints of Guinness. There’s no room for variation or error. No one says, “I’ll take a bit of the leg, medium rare.” While you might have to field requests for white or dark meat, depending on the cook, one leans dry and the other leans rubbery. Unless, of course the cook hits a bullseye.
If you do hit a turkey bullseye, maybe it’s because you did a brine. Good for you. You dunked a 15- or 20-lb. bird in salted water and let that swish around inside a completely packed fridge. Extra points if none of the water splashed on the produce and no one leaves your party with salmonella. Oh, you have an extra fridge? What, are you reading this while your butler counts your money?
For us common folk, I have a simple Thanksgiving Day solution: Ditch the turkey entirely. Over the past few years, my little family of three has come to the stunning revelation that we don’t need to put work into a 14-16-pound turkey that we’ll feel beholden to eat in the form of leftovers for the next several days. There are loads of options out there that don’t even approximate turkey, ones that might even be cheaper and will definitely be more decadent. Here are three great alternative meats for your Thanksgiving feast.
This should be perhaps the simplest and obvious solution. This king of roasts often makes an appearance on the table during the Christmas season, unless you’re one of the six families in America that actually roasts a Christmas goose (these are the same people who still write in cursive, I’m assuming). Also known as standing rib roast, prime rib can be a big-ticket entree, so consider shopping around for a deal. This is where Costco shines, and some supermarkets might run a special during the holidays.
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It’s not a bad idea to make friends with a local butcher shop and place your order early. And if you’re like me and are engaged in a bona fide sponsorship with one such butcher shop, well, you’re all set. Hey, Goodstock of Round Rock, Texas, I hope you enjoy the shameless plug! I think I just placed my prime rib order without so much as picking up the phone.
Regardless of where you buy your meat, the real question is how to cook it, and I stand behind the reverse sear method—cooking low and slow until the very end, when a blast of heat forms a crackling crust on the roast. I’ve talked about this on my blog (another shameless plug) and have found it works exceptionally well in my Traeger pellet grill (shameless plugs for one and all!). Seasoning can be as simple as kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper, though I prefer an overnight rub of herbs and pepper, then salting right before cooking.
Invest in a probe thermometer to ensure a perfect cook, and remember the temperature of the meat will rise by 10-15 degrees or more once you remove it from the heat, especially if you tent aluminum foil over it as it rests. And you better rest that roast at least 15 minutes before carving to ensure a tender final product. I usually go a full 30 minutes.
Last year I hit a three with nothing but net making this fine roast (see the photo at the top). A rack of pork is basically the porcine equivalent of the prime rib discussed above, but cheaper and arguably just as decadent. I suggest you spring for something like a Berkshire breed or Kurobuta pork to do it right. Since pork isn’t experiencing the same scarcity and price hikes of poultry at the moment, you can probably spring for a cut like this at a premium supermarket or specialty butcher shop.
As far as seasoning goes, consider a wet rub. I like a dijon mustard herb paste with some garlic and olive oil. That, along with salt and pepper, is all you need. The size of this roast is great for smaller get-togethers, too. As with the prime rib, I highly suggest using an internal thermometer; pork can be cooked to a rosy medium (145 degrees), and like prime rib, the resting temp can rise a fair amount, so factor in a 10+ degree rise as you remove it from the heat.
This can get pricey if you’re feeding a crowd, but I would argue that the ease and decadence are worth the payoff for a small gathering. Last year I purchased a gorgeous slab of Ora King Salmon from a fancy supermarket in Austin. While $30 a pound is steep, this stuff is frankly light years beyond the Atlantic farm-raised stuff most people reach for on weeknights.
The key here is the slow roast method. Cooking at 275 degrees until you hit an internal temp of 120-125 degrees, plus a final heat blast under the broiler, will give you perhaps the most decadent of all centerpiece roasts. Salmon of this quality shines when cooked to medium rare, but if you are looking to cook it further, cap it at 135 degrees, tops. Serving it sightly under medium blends the pristine cleanness of salmon sushi with the juicy satisfaction of roasted salmon. Serve with a creme fraiche horseradish sauce like this one from the New York Times.
So try one of these alternatives if you too scratch your head on dropping premium amounts of cash on a turkey that can take days to cook (if you brine). This year just might be the Thanksgiving you’re most thankful for. You’re welcome.