It might be popular to hate turkey, but picking on the bird ruffles the feathers for some chefs

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Wait, what’s that? You don’t like turkey? You HATE turkey? You think turkey is the worst thing served at Thanksgiving?

Sigh. Here we go again.

While the big bird may be the most popular icon for the holiday, it’s far from everyone’s favorite. Hating on turkey has become more popular over the last decade. More and more, people are adding different centerpiece options or entirely replacing the bird on the table.

“It’s comforting. It’s very versatile. It’s inexpensive,” says chef Sara Watson, expressing her love for the bird. iStock / Special to The Forum

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A 2003 piece in The Atlantic magazine, “Turkey is the worst part of Thanksgiving,” ripped it apart before anyone could even bless the bird.

“If you believe in American exceptionalism, then the last thing you should be doing is eating this second-rate bird this week,” the piece opened.

Sure, it was somewhat satirical, but it packed more zingers than your uncle’s hip flask.

“Turkeys might be the only animal on this planet that are so boring that they need to be stuffed with two other animals (ducks and chickens) to become delicious,” wrote Alexander Abad-Santos.

Ouch! That hurts more than cracking the breastbone to spatchcock the bird.

While turkey may not be the shining white knight on the table, before you’re ready to stick a fork in it, some area chefs would like a word.

“Thanksgiving without turkey is like Christmas with no Santa. It’s essential,” says Ryan Nitschke, executive chef at Luna Fargo and Sol Ave. Kitchen in Moorhead, where he is also a co-owner.

“I eat it all year round,” says Sara Watson, chef and co-owner of the restaurant Blackboard near Vergas, Minnesota.

Sara Watson, chef and co-owner of Blackboard. Forum file photo

Sara Watson, chef and co-owner of Blackboard. Forum file photo

“It’s comforting. It’s very versatile. It’s inexpensive. You get so much meat off the turkey. If you like chicken, I don’t understand why you don’t like turkey,” she says. “I’d rather do one turkey than three chickens.”

These chefs hear the same critique when people say they don’t like turkey: It’s dry and flavorless.

That’s changing, says Lauren Zobac, a chef at BernBaum’s in Fargo.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve all gotten better about handling turkey,” Zobac says. “God bless her, but my grandma’s turkey is not as good as mine. We treat the meat better.”

“It’s not a fatty bird. It’s easy to dry out because it’s a longer cooking time,” Watson says. “A common mistake is people underseason and it’s bland.”

All three chefs suggest a brine for the turkey. Watson has taken to using apple cider in hers. Zobac is opting for a dry brine with salt, pepper, brown sugar and her secret, a pinch of MSG.

“I know that will freak people out. Really it’s just umami,” she says. “Take the time to dry brine. It’s your one chance to season it through and through. A lot of cooks underestimate the importance of salt.”

Chef Ryan Nitschke in Luna Fargo. Forum file photo

Chef Ryan Nitschke in Luna Fargo. Forum file photo

“Turkey at Thanksgiving is essential,” says Nitschke. “Learn how to cook it. Experiment with a new technique or recipe.”

He’s smoked and fried the bird, even deboned one, stuffed it and trussed it before roasting.

“Cooking with the bones in is always better in my opinion,” he says.

Zobac has done wet and dry brines, spatchocked — splaying the bird to cook it flat and faster — and even a turducken, which she calls “a travesty.”

Watson likes more of a traditionally prepared bird, but says turkey is more than a custom — it’s a sensory way to welcome people to the table.

“The smell of a turkey roasting is amazing,” she says. “It’s such a great presentation. It’s very much a nostalgia thing for me. I can’t imagine doing Thanksgiving without a turkey.”

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