Be Original with the Original

As you begin to get into the menu planning stages of your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to not only think of what delicious sides you’re going to have, but what about the main protein? “Turkey, of course,” is what you are thinking, but why? There are several other meat choices you can serve which are not only more flavorful but are also more authentic to what would have been found on the original Thanksgiving Day table.

We grew up with turkey as the mainstay of the holiday meal, but that had as much space within the Pilgrim’s harvest feast as the green bean casserole Aunt Esther brings every year. Sure, there’s a chance that a few wild turkeys made it to the table, but it’s much more likely the main proteins on the menu were game birds and meats. We will focus on three different proteins which were served at that first feast: Duck, Quail, and Venison.

Pekin Duck With Orange


Waterfowl is something that would have been at the first Thanksgiving feast, and there is no better game bird to represent what Pilgrims often consumed in that area of the country than duck. While much smaller than turkey, it is also much more flavorful. Duck is considered more of a red meat than traditional poultry, which means it’s best when cooked only to medium-rare.

Stuffed Quail


Quail is another game bird that made its way to Pilgrims’ tables in November of 1621. With each guest able to receive their own bird, this small game bird makes for a perfect presentation on the plate. Milder than turkey, quail is a great vehicle for marinating or stuffing to infuse any flavors you desire to incorporate into your dish.

Venison stew with pumpkin


The final protein we know was featured at that first Thanksgiving is venison. With deer being plentiful in the Northeast this time of year, it is easy to see why both the people of the Wampanoag Tribe and the Pilgrims would prepare this delicious meat. Venison is mild and nutrient dense, making it an amazing option for those to experience who are new to game meat.

While you can just serve a traditional oven-roasted turkey to your family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can make a statement, while honoring our roots as Americans, by serving unique and delicious game meat alternatives. Here are a few recipes to get your started:

Whole Pekin Duck with Orange

Stuffed Quail with Spices and Carrots

Venison Stew with Pumpkin