Chicken vs. Turkey: The Battle for Thanksgiving

According to some fast research on Google Trends, interest in chicken for Thanksgiving has more than doubled in the past ten years while interest in the classic turkey for Thanksgiving has gone down almost 20%. This surprised me, because not only is turkey THE American tradition for Thanksgiving dinner, it’s also priced insanely cheap in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Any meat under $1/lb is bound to be popular. But it would seem turkey is losing its grasp on consumers when they plan their holiday menus. If not for tradition or economics, why on earth are Americans turning to the simple chicken for one of the most celebrated dinners of the year?

Don’t believe me? Check out the data.  Here’s a chart showing the search interest in “thanksgiving chicken”, which is on a distinct rise:

// here you can see that interest in “thanksgiving turkey” has lost some of its popularity://

There are probably, oh…. 3 million variables at play here, give or take, so we need to take this data with a grain of salt (or maybe a heavy pinch generously sprinkled with coarse ground tellicherry peppercorns). I’m not trying to imply that turkey dinners are on the way out and chicken will completely replace them. That’s nuts. Turkeys are great. But as the times change and people’s opinions on food evolves, there will be some shifting in what we eat, how we eat it, and why we eat it. Even traditions evolve.

But wait, is turkey production really that distinct from chicken production? Besides size and flavor, are they really that different? Why would there be a shift at all, when chickens and turkeys are both bred for efficient meat production and both are considered one of the top meats of the American diet?

Here’s what I think is going on:

Good chicken is more common than good turkey

We know we’re not alone in our quest for higher quality poultry. People have seen the documentaries, they’ve read the books, they’ve tasted the difference between cheap corporate food and humane local food. And while you can get turkey or chicken that is raised locally, organically, and overall great, good local chicken is far more common because they are easier to raise and more people are raising them. It’s fairly easy to find a good chicken farmer that’s not too far away which you can use to stock your freezer for the year. Why buy a turkey when you have great chicken in the freezer already? And because a quality turkey is more of a speciality item, they’re only available in limited supply leading up to the holidays.

Grilled Heritage breed Chicken

Chicken has a Lower overall cost than turkey

The price per pound for turkey and chicken can be comparable in the local market segment, too. But to buy a turkey means to buy more pounds of meat, so a 10-15 pound turkey will inevitably cost more than a 5-6 pound chicken. For smaller families or families on a budget, a smaller bird can bring plenty of good quality meat to the table for a special occasion without requiring as big of an investment.

Cute wild turkey families hang out by the side of the road don’t look so delicious

I know I’m not alone in the now common visage of a flock of turkeys foraging by the roadsides in the late summer and early fall. Maybe I’m just paying more attention over the past few years, but it sure seems like turkeys are becoming more and more common. But maybe there’s some truth to my observations: in 1974, there were no wild turkeys left in NH, but after a reintroduction effort and controlled hunting practices, they now number over 40,000 in our small state. And you know how people don’t like to eat deer because they’re cute or “beautiful”? Same applies to turkey families, especially if you catch a picture of the baby turkeys with their mommies and post it to Facebook and get lots of likes. For some people it’s hard to eat those cute little delicious guys. Just like Bambi.

Wild Turkey by the road

Chicken is versatile

Anyway, like I was sayin’, chicken is the fruit of the land. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s uh, chicken-kabobs, chicken creole, chicken gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple chicken, lemon chicken, coconut chicken, pepper chicken, chicken soup, chicken stew, chicken salad, chicken and potatoes, chicken burger, chicken sandwich. That… that’s about it.

Eh? Anyone? Bubba! My point here is obvious, and everyone knows it.  There are more chicken recipes out there than any other meat specific recipe.  I know it’s not a precise, reliable statistical analysis, but this chart says a lot about how Americans cook:


Hmm, just a side note, pretty interesting how chicken takes a big jump every January.  I wonder why that is?  New Year’s Diets?  People are sick of turkey?  CHARTS ARE COOL!

Cheap Turkey Doesn’t Taste that Great

You know how a garden fresh ripe tomato tastes completely different from a strangely firm, rubbery grocery store tomato? It’s because, like everything in the grocery store, it was grown to sell, not grown to taste good. Commercial turkey meat is not raised for the best taste or texture, it’s raised so there is a lot of it. And just like those tomatoes, the differences are so clear it makes me sad that so many turkeys are raised so poorly. They could not only have better lives if raised better, they could taste SO much better. And people just don’t see turkey as worth the effort and extra cooking time when they know they could make a more reasonable and flavorful meal with a chicken, cheap or not.

But wait, turkey is good

Despite all of this and the fact that we actually raise and sell chickens, we’ll definitely be participating in the consumption of multiple turkeys this Thanksgiving, I’m sure of it. For us it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a turkey. We’ll just be sure to invest in a good one!

So what do you think? Which bird will be the centerpiece of your holiday dinners this year?

Hey you! Looking for a new chicken recipe? How about our Rooster Tomato Sauce over some nice fresh pasta?

chicken tomato sauce recipe