Is This Turkey Really Worth $1 Billion?

That's one high-flying bird. 

Is it completely nuts to spend $1 billion—that's one billion dollars—on Thanksgiving turkey?

That's how much this coveted holiday bird is going to cost this year. Actually Americans are shelling out even more than that, $1.05 billion, on turkeys this year, not including the trimmings. That's the total that the personal-finance site Finder.com tallied up for 2016. That whopping number equals around 45 million turkeys, consumed by more than 276 million Americans, according to the National Turkey Federation.

Not to be party-poopers, since we do love a festive bird, but so many other fancy-fowl options taste way, way better. Why aren't we spending $1 billion on those? 

There's an obvious one-word answer: tradition. But this is an excellent time to remember Bon Appetit's article from a few years ago, which put the issue in these terms: "Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that the typically sane cooks of America do irrational things. They buy upwards of 20 pounds of the driest, least flavorful, most awkwardly shaped animal protein known to man. They do backflips brining, frying, spicing, saucing—anything—to try to make turkey more flavorful than it was born to be. There are legions more celebratory, more inherently delicious proteins that can knock the turkey off its platter," wrote Bon Appetit's Hugh Garvey.

The magazine goes on to list suggestions for "8 Thanksgiving entrees better than turkey," from suckling pig to crown roast of lamb to even chicken—the juicier pasture-raised kind. For anyone who is willing to make it past the "why turkey?" question and consider other options that don't stray too far—at least not as far as lamb or suckling pig—allow us to make some suggestions:

1.  Guinea Hen

 

Photo courtesy of Joyce Farms.

"It is just as easy to roast as a chicken, but tastes immeasurably better," wrote chef David Tanis in the New York Times, calling guinea hen "the deeply flavored fowl that most Americans haven’t even tasted. " Plan ahead and you can have the hen shipped to your home in time for the holiday. Joyce Farms sells guinea hen as part of a trio of gorgeous birds fit for a feast (pictured above), along with white pheasant and Poulet Rouge chicken. Tanis has a fabulous recipe for roast guinea hen that's worth making at least sometime this holiday season, if you're hell-bent on turkey for Thanksgiving.

2.  Wood Pigeon

Photo courtesy of D'Artagnan.

The tradition of hunting and cooking this coveted bird runs deep in France, but wood pigeon is having a trend moment too, as the New York Times reported last week. The gamey-yet-delicate bird will amp up the excitement level at your holiday table if you have the nerve to try it, and you should: Here's a mouthwateringly rustic recipe inspired by the great chef Fergus Henderson. You can order wood pigeon from sources like D'Artagnan.

3.  Whole Roast Duck

Rich, succulent meat makes duck a serious treat any time of year. "With just a few hours' roasting and hardly any work at all, you can have a juicy bird with crisp skin—the best of both textures," according to Epicurious, which offers this recipe for whole duck with plum applesauce. D'Artagnan or Maple Leaf Farms are two sources that will ship you a whole duck in time for the holiday. Plunk one of these birds on the Thanksgiving table, and any of your guests who prefer delicious food over predictable routine will be secretly—or very loudly—grateful.

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