Hand-Picked Daily GUN DEALS, and Exclusive Coupons Codes >>>

Alternative Meats for Your Thanksgiving Meal

Wanna kick it back to the first Thanksgiving with somethings other than turkey? Add these alternatives to your shopping list.

Are you tired of the same old, boring Thanksgiving turkey served year after year? 

Or do you want to impress your friends and family with a more historically authentic meal?

The First Thanksgiving, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

An oven-roasted turkey probably wasn’t the centerpiece of that first Thanksgiving meal, especially since there weren’t any ovens in the Plymouth Colony.

If you’re looking to spice things up, try adding one (or more) of these alternative traditional meats to your dinner.

They will definitely add a little pizzazz (not to mention historical accuracy) to accompany your sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

snoopy pie

Venison

While we don’t know an awful lot about the specific dishes served that first Thanksgiving (which probably took place in mid-October 1621, not late November), we do know for certain there was plenty of venison. 

Meat, it's whats for dinner.
Aim for the heart and lungs!

According to a letter written by Plymouth Colony leader Edward Winslow to a friend back in England, 

“…many of the Indians coming amongst us… went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.”

While the language definitely sends me into traumatic memories of high school Shakespeare, there is zero doubt that the first Thanksgiving table had plenty of deer meat.

350 faxon legend and a dead deer
Whitetail harvested last year with a Faxon barreled AR-15 in .350 Legend

So, if your wife or significant other is giving you grief about how much time you’re spending in that treestand, just tell her you’re making personal sacrifices to contribute to a bonafide, 100 percent factual Thanksgiving feast.  

Waterfowl

Edward Winslow also mentioned there was “waterfowl” on the dinner menu.

Waterfowl is a pretty generic term, so feel free to interpret it as you will. Chances are good he meant there was plenty of goose, duck, and swan gracing the table. 

mean swan

Many modern sportsmen prefer the taste of a nice wild scaup or mallard over bland domestic turkey. Plus, it’s a nice excuse to spend some extra time in a duck blind (especially if your mother-in-law likes to show up to dinner early). 

The birds were probably roasted and then boiled, or perhaps boiled and then roasted because there were no ovens. 

And the first Americans (both native and pilgrim) definitely enjoyed some leftovers, usually as a hodgepodge soup or stew.

Swan hunts
Good dog! Picture via Fried Feathers

Since there were no refrigerators, Uncle Joe definitely wasn’t staggering to the kitchen in the middle of the night to fix a cold swan sandwich.  

Cod

The original Plymouth Colony was located on what is now called Cape Cod Bay.

While we don’t have any cold, hard evidence that cod was served at the first Thanksgiving, we know the area was a literal breeding ground for this mild, flaky white fish. Cape Cod Bay didn’t get its name for no reason. 

cod
Cod. Like, in the wild.

Salted cod actually became an important export for New England. Cod in some form, either roasted, salted, or boiled, was probably part of the first Thanksgiving fare.

Although the waters surrounding the colony had plenty of cod, the English colonists initially had no idea how to catch them. Thankfully, generous locals like Squanto didn’t just give a man a fish so he could eat for a day.

He actually taught him how to fish, so he could later piss off his wife by spending weekends and holidays in a boat instead of with her parents and the kids.

cod fish and chips
Cod, beer-battered and deep-fried! Not traditional Thanksgiving, but still the best

Oh, yeah… and so they could eat. It was definitely a win/win. 

Shellfish

Plymouth was a coastal colony, and as any good beach tourist knows, you can’t head to the coast without enjoying at least one good seafood dinner.

Most historians agree that a variety of shellfish was served at that first 1621 shindig. 

Mussels via Healthy Seasonal Recipes

Mussels were insanely plentiful on the rocks along the New England coast, as were bountiful clam and oyster beds. There were also loads of inshore lobsters. 

lobster
Lobster!

So, if you want to serve up a nice low-country boil or crack into some fresh Maine lobsters for your Thanksgiving feast, you can just say it’s all in the name of historical authenticity. 

Eel

Although this slippery, slimy entree isn’t mentioned on the official First Thanksgiving menu, we know it was a staple food for early colonists.

American eel
Looks like a skinned wet snake if you ask me

Edward Winslow mentions the eel (and Squanto’s admirable eel fishing prowess) in his writings. There is a high probability that smoked, dried eel helped the Pilgrims survive those first harsh winters. 

Although eel isn’t something our modern palates typically crave, Winslow describes it as “fat and sweet.” Hopefully, they taste better than they look because….gross. 

Seal

They seem cute and cuddly, but fresh seal meat was also a common food for both Native Americans and early colonists in the Plymouth area.

seal meat, greenland
Seal meat in a wild food market in Greenland

Seals were plentiful, and their meat is high in protein and calories, both important ingredients for surviving harsh winter months. 

The pilgrims probably boiled their seal meat with onions and herbs. Their Native American neighbors probably ate it raw. Seal tartare, anyone?

Bald Eagle

The bald eagle was pretty prolific back in America’s youth. It wasn’t uncommon for many Native American tribes, including the Wampanoag, to eat these majestic birds of prey.

The stare of a Bald Eagle
MFW someone mentions eating Bald Eagle

Many historians believe bald eagles may have graced those first Thanksgiving dinner plates.

While bald eagles may have been traditional victuals for pilgrims and their neighbors, I wouldn’t suggest rolling up to Grandma’s house with a roasted bald eagle this Thanksgiving.

Although eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, shooting, killing, harassing, or mocking (okay, maybe not mocking) a bald eagle could land you a hefty fine and some jail time in a cell with some guy named Bubba. 

Wondering what bald eagle tastes like? Probably just like pure, unadulterated freedom.

Bald eagle and chick
Murder birds are so cute!

You just aren’t free to find out for yourself…because of laws and stuff.

Heath Hens and Passenger Pigeons

Although the heath hen went extinct in 1932* and the passenger pigeon in 1914, these two birds were insanely plentiful when the Mayflower first landed on Plymouth Rock.

(Apparently, people are mad sciencing the heath hen back from extinction. Because that totally worked for Jurassic Park; great job, Phil!)

heath hen
Heath Hen, original — not one of those weird remakes they’re working on

Heath hens, sometimes referred to as “partridges” in Pilgrim accounts of that first Thanksgiving feast, flocked in open areas, making them easy to catch in large numbers.

In fact, these birds were so abundant they were later served to servants as a cheap and easy meal. 

Passenger pigeons were also prolific when the Pilgrims arrived. There may have been approximately 5 billion of these birds across North America at the time, which would have made it the most numerous bird on the face of the planet.

Passenger Pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) from DMNS collections.
Passenger Pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) from DMNS collections via The Atlantic

Passing flocks of passenger pigeons were so large and dense that they would blacken the sky. Sounds like something straight out of a horror flick. 

Unfortunately, overhunting contributed to the demise of both of these once bounteous birds, so if you want to add them to your Thanksgiving meal, you’ll need a pimped out DeLorean with a flux capacitor.

Good luck with that. Bring me back some pigeon pie. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to throw down a traditional Thanksgiving supper, you’ll need to add these meats to your shopping list…because you can totally pick them up at your local Kroger.

They will go perfectly with Aunt Sally’s green bean casserole and Grandma’s famous jello salad. Don’t you think?

Bon Appétit!

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? Do you think it would go well with eel or a bald eagle? Let us know in the comments. Need some help putting fresh fowl on the table? Check out our article on the Best Beginner Shotguns for Bird Hunting

The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

6 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Jake

    Tofurky for us...

    November 24, 2022 9:31 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    When I could still tramp the fields, Ring Necked Pheasant was a favorite alternative to Turkey in our family. If we had a successful hunt and bagged the limit, there would be 2 or 3 birds gracing the table.
    I had to stop hunting due to Degenerative Joint Disease ten years ago, but I hunted for 45 odd years. Elk, Pronghorn, for big game, but I miss Pheasant Hunting the most, because I don't recall ever having a year when I didn't bring home at least one or two birds.

    November 22, 2022 4:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mr. Mark

    Great foodie review, Alice! Thanksgiving dinner has been grilled bacon wrapped backstrap and duck (mallard, pintail, gadwall and woodies) for the past many years at our home. Even our "practicing" vegan D-I-L has learned to eat and like venison on Thanksgiving Day! Turkey (or goose) is reserved for a Christmas feast!

    November 22, 2022 9:33 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    John

    fowl they used was duck, geese, pigeon, crane, swan, and eagle.

    November 21, 2022 11:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    dsutton

    Your venison critter looks suspiciously like an elk.

    November 28, 2020 6:18 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Alice J Webb

      Good eye! I actually think it's a stag, which definitely wasn't served at the first Thanksgiving. Guess I'm failing in the authenticity department.

      November 29, 2020 10:42 am
Join the community! Log in
Please provide a valid email address.
Password is required.
or
Register
Please provide a valid display name.
Please provide a valid email address.
The password should contain at least 8 characters with at least one number or special character.
Please accept in order to continue.
or
Trouble logging in?
Type your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.
Please provide a valid email.
Password
Type your new password and hit button below to confirm it.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We already have an account registered for email address () which is linked to your Facebook account.
To log in type your Pew Pew Meter password below.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We noticed that you have previously logged in with your Account which is linked to the same email address () - we can link both of your accounts together.
In order to link your accounts, hit button below and log in to your Account with the same email as above.

Account in Pew Pew Meter means more

Check what do you get by creating an account
Check and save your reviews!
Bookmark and compare your favorite firearms
Manage your newsletter subscription
pew pew tactical logo

new here?

Personalize your experience.
Select what level shooter you are!

pew pew tactical logo

level up your gun knowledge

Thanks! We'll send you the latest guides and training tips geared towards your level.

pew pew tactical logo

welcome!

You'll now receive newsletters of our best articles on techniques, guns & gear.

$47 value

yours free!

targets targets
free

practice targets

printer icon printable

our 9 favorite targets and drills

free

practice targets

printer icon printable

enter your email to download

We'll only use the information provided according to our privacy policy.

success icon

Ready to Download

Click below to begin your download

download pdf