Buying Guide
By K.B. Gould
on 11.15.13

The noble, courageous turkey. Subject of paintings by Claude Monet and Norman Rockwell; famed favorite fowl of Benjamin Franklin. As he wrote in a 1784 letter to his daughter, Sally, “For the truth, the turkey is in comparison [to the bald eagle] a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

For the past century and change, the beloved bird has complemented the traditional Thanksgiving feast. However, as home chefs and weekend warriors become more adventurous in the kitchen, many are eschewing tradition for pomp, presentation and flavor. If you’re looking to join the nouveau-thankful, try embracing one of these five options.

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Capon

Because capons — castrated roosters — lack sex hormones, they exercise less than their aggressive counterparts, resulting in fattier, juicer meat that lends itself well to roasting. Offset the morally objectionable practice of “caponization” by buying a free-range bird. You won’t find more tender meat from fowl. This recipe from Saveur is the perfect guide to a capon sage stuffing.

Heritage Breed Turkey

So you want a turkey without the guilt of modern poultry farming practices? You want a heritage turkey, which is raised outdoors with no sub-therapeutic antibiotics. As a result of their long, free-range lifestyles, their meat contains a richer flavor than quick-growing, often ill-treated industrial birds. Here’s our favorite recipe for one courtesy of The New York Times.

Cornish Hen (Guinea Hen)

Holding a smaller Thanksgiving meal? Don’t want to spend the day cooking a 30-pound bird? Buy yourself a couple of cornish hens. Containing almost exclusively white meat, the small birds, slaughtered between five and six weeks of age, should only take an hour to prepare. You can’t go wrong with this cornbread-stuffed cornish game hen with corn maque choux recipe from Bon Appetit.

Rare Breed Chicken

If you want what Heston Blumenthal, celebrity chef and owner of The Fat Duck, considers to be the best chicken on the planet, you want the American Bresse, protected under AOC status (that’s “Appellation d’Origine Controlee” or “controlled designation of origin”) since 1957 (like Champagne, or Roquefort). The only downside? You may have to raise and kill the bird yourself. Let the meat speak for itself with this simple chicken recipe.

Goose

This is an option for the adventurous man who might, say, roast a whole pig in his front yard. Although the goose is a tough bird to cook, that high risk comes with high rewards. More mass means more meat, and the rendered fat is great for potatoes and other Thanksgiving side-items. Want to get that crispy skin? This recipe from Food and Wine explains how.

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