5 Reasons to Cook an Alternative Thanksgiving Bird

Move over, turkey. Here's why you should add duck, quail, goose or pheasant to your shopping list.

Small alternative cooked bird with pomegranate in pot.

If you’ve never dared to look beyond the chickens in our Meat department (well, they are pretty good-looking chickens), it might be time to try something new. Cooking alternative birds — duck, quail, goose, pheasant — can be an intimidating prospect, one reserved for the Julia Childs of the world. But if Julia were here, she’d likely remind you to be daring and unflinching when it comes to conquering the kitchen. With that spirit in mind, here are five reasons these more obscure birds are definitely worth serving this holiday season.

1. They're dark, rich and unique in flavor.

Some of these birds, such as duck and goose, are known for having more dark meat. Both are generally quite fatty and, as anyone who cooks with butter can attest, fat can equal more flavor, though you will have to plan accordingly (extra fat can be messy, too). Aside from richness, the meat of these birds is, well, gamier. With stronger, earthier flavors, these birds are quite different from the poultry your guests are likely used to. These bold flavor profiles stand up nicely to citrus, hearty herbs and sweet, fruity glazes, so you can really amp up the seasonings, making for a seriously impressive holiday centerpiece.

2. They’re great for gatherings of all sizes.

When the guest list doesn’t call for a 15-plus-pound turkey, these alternative birds give you some delicious options for smaller dinner parties. Impress a date with pheasant, which serves about two. Duck is good for an intimate group of four, and a goose serves a few more with enough for up to six guests. If you’re solo, you could even pick up one quail, which is just the right size for a dinner for one.

3. They're quick-cooking and versatile.

Dinner party in a flash: A quail can be ready with just 10 minutes per side on a skillet (compare that to a roast chicken which can take upwards of an hour). As for cooking methods, duck, pheasant and goose can roast in the oven just like you would a turkey. The fattier duck and geese should be slow-roasted so the fat renders and you get a crispy skin. A quick reminder: Just like all poultry, make sure your bird reaches an internal temperature of at least 165°F.

4. They're not as hard to cook as you'd think.

These birds are easy to overcook as they are typically much leaner than most of us are used to. But there’s an easy way to ensure you end up with tender, moist meat — dry brining, where the bird gets rubbed with a salt and seasoning mixture well before cooking to develop as much moisture as possible. Another tip: To avoid overcooking duck while going after that desirable crackling skin, you can finish it off under the broiler to crisp up quickly.

5. They're the perfect excuse to try something new.

While cooking one of these birds can require a little more skill than roasting a turkey or a chicken, it’s always good to stretch yourself in the kitchen. It might take a few tries, but before you know it, you’ll have a special occasion-worthy recipe under your belt. When your friends see you carrying a glistening, fragrant whole duck to the table, they’ll instantly forget about your instant ramen days.

Ready to try your hand at cooking one of these birds? Here are some recipes to get you started:

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