The best alternatives to turkey for Christmas 2024 (as recommended by some of our favourite chefs!)

Gobble up these non-turkey Christmas ideas from top chefs

Updated on 05 September 2022

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The best alternatives to turkey for Christmas 2024 (as recommended by some of our favourite chefs!)

Looking for alternatives to turkey for Christmas dinner this year? We don’t blame you. While the turkey tradition can be traced as far back as Henry VIII, recent trends have seen a move away from the bird as a festive centrepiece. There are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, the sheer demand for turkeys often leads to shortages, high prices and potential last-minute panic, none of which you want during the festive season.


Another reason - which has caused heated discussion at SquareMeal HQ - is that many feel turkey is overrated. In all fairness, the cooking time is extremely long, storing the huge bird can be tricky and keeping the meat itself moist involves endless basting (not to mention serious quantities of butter). The consumption of turkey is largely due to how easy they were to hunt traditionally, and the amount of meat each bird carries around. But, since we aren’t hunting them ourselves anymore, it might be time to look elsewhere.

So, why not revert to what we ate before turkey? This, it turns out, isn’t such a good idea, unless you fancy peacock or stuffed boar’s head. Thankfully, there are some more modern (and easier to source) alternatives you can try this Christmas. We’ve rounded up our favourites, including options like beef, pork and lamb (don’t worry, we’ve included some veggie ideas too). Each alternative has its benefits, which might be better flavour, lower price tag or simply a shorter cooking time.

This being such an important meal, we thought it best to consult some top chefs on the matter. As such, you’ll find some expert tips mixed in for good measure (along with links to their restaurants in case you want to leave the cooking to them). So, have a browse of these enticing alternatives to turkey and see which takes your fancy!


Arguably the king of roast meats, beef absolutely had to go on this list. It's extremely versatile, high in iron and can be done on a budget depending on the cut. We've included not one, but two great ideas for beef at Christmas from top chefs.

Peter Woods, Hawksmoor Group executive chef: “A great alternative to turkey at Christmas would be to go for a nice rib of aged British beef on the bone, as it’s ideal for those cooking for two and can be upscaled for those cooking for a larger gathering. The cut is available from a single bone-in rib up to the full beast of a five-bone rib. Serve with all the British greats such as duck fat roast potatoes, honey glazed parsnips, roast carrots, baked onions and a helping of Brussels sprouts and chestnuts should you desire. Like turkey, the beef will be great for a late evening cold meat sandwich – a traditional Christmas night time snack in any household (especially mine)! Wash down with a good quality bottle of red wine and you can't go wrong!”

Jack Croft, chef-patron at Fallow: “Why not try a dairy cow beef dish this year? You can easily buy this meat from a variety of different online sources. The obvious cut to go for is rib eye. We use it at Fallow for its texture and strong beefy flavour. Dairy cows are super sustainable as the cows have been allowed to graze on grass for longer, this also gives the meat more texture as it’s a much older cow. In terms of presentation style, we’d recommend roasted and carved cote de boeuf style chops, served medium rare with roasties. One crucial thing with the dairy cow is that you always remove the sinew, which can be very tough.”


Lamb is a brilliant festive meat. It's packed with flavour and can be done in so many different ways. You can go for more traditional flavours like rosemary and garlic, or mix it up with something a little spicier... 

Vivek Singh, executive chef and founder of The Cinnamon Collection: “I’m a firm believer in trying different things, and roast lamb is a very versatile meat that can be marinated in spice mixes overnight to bring new layers of flavour to your Christmas meal. Also, it’s essential to let your lamb rest for the same amount of time it was cooked for. This will ensure the flesh is moist and will avoid juices leaking onto the plate.”


If you're already putting bacon on your turkey, why not go the whole hog? Pork is a great centrepiece that doesn't break the bank, and has the added benefit of delicious crackling. There are, however, certain steps you have to take to ensure the fat renders properly...

Gavin Gordon, head chef at The Garrison: "1. Use a very sharp knife and score the skin 1/2 an inch thick into a diamond shape across the whole top layer. 2. Sprinkle on lots of salt (and nothing else), then massage into the skin, making sure the entire skin layer is covered. 3. Let the salt-rubbed skin sit for a minimum of 2 hours at room temperature to dry the skin and remove as much moisture as possible. After, remove excess salt, dry again by patting with a paper towel then season again with a light layer of salt before cooking."


Comfortably the cheapest meat option on the list, ham is a foolproof main for Christmas. It also makes great leftovers, which can be used in pies and sandwiches for days. For tips on elevating your ham, we spoke to gastropub royalty...

Jake Leach, head chef at The Harwood Arms: "We actually love doing a roast ham here at the Harwood, and will be serving it again this year on the menu. In fact, last year, we teamed up with The Ledbury and were selling hams ready to take home for Christmas, which was a huge hit. Of course, for those at home who want to wow their guests with something other than turkey, I suggest getting a big leg of cooked ham (they sell smaller pieces of it as well) and marinate it in a juniper and nutmeg honey mixture for about three days in the fridge. On the big day, take it out of the fridge first thing in order to temper it, and then stick it in the oven at around 150C, and spoon the glaze over the ham every 20 minutes until the middle is hot, so about 75C."


It might not be the most glamorous bird, but don't underestimate the humble chicken. Try stepping things up with a cockerel or capon as they are not only larger but packed with gamey flavour. Read on to discover one of the boujiest roast chicken recipes out there...

Arturo Granato, head chef of Galvin La Chapelle: "One of my favourite alternatives to turkey for Christmas is a stuffed Capon. Capon is essentially a nicely fattened chicken, which is a well-known dish in France and in my native Italy. It is typically only available for two to three weeks before Christmas, so it is a really special dish which is sure to impress family and friends. The dish does require someone with a little butchery skill, so is probably not the best for novices. That being said, the process starts by brining the capon overnight in a salty, spiced brine. You then debone and stuff with a mix of its own trimmings, Toulouse sausages, chicken livers and chestnut. The capon is then rolled in cling film as a ballotine and steamed at 68 degrees for two and a half hours. Slow cooking like this ensures that the meat stays tender and juicy. The capon is then finished off in a pan, and roasted until the skin is golden and crispy. This dish is full of Christmas flavour and is a surprising alternative to the traditional Christmas turkey, and even to a duck or goose dish. I would serve with romanesco, glazed onion cipollini and some black winter truffle for a luxurious touch.”


There are many benefits to opting for fish over meat this Christmas. It's often healthier, much quicker to cook and can be a great way to shake things up a little. The trick is choosing the right fish, and pairing it with some great sides.

Rick Toogood, owner and head chef at Prawn on the Lawn: "There are a few things you can do as an alternative to turkey at Christmas. The first is getting a large white fish, like hake, and asking your fishmonger to butterfly it. You can then stuff it with lightly fried garlic, onions, mushrooms, chestnut and spinach, or if you prefer some traditional stuffing. Tie it up like a roasting joint and cook in the oven at 180 for 20mins or so. Another great option is to slice potatoes like you would for dauphinoise. Fry off some onion and garlic, and layer both in a roasting tray. Pour in some chicken stock to the top level of the potatoes, season and bake in the oven for 20 mins at 180 degrees. Then place a 1-1.5kg turbot on top, scored and stuffed with fried herbs (like thyme and rosemary), lemon and some more garlic, along with some seasoning and roast for a further 30 mins. A porcini and onion gravy works amazingly with both of these dishes, as well as all the usual Christmas trimmings."


Who says you have to eat meat at Christmas? If you've got veggies and vegans coming for your festive meal, or are plant-based yourself, check out these inventive meat-free centrepieces. They're also a great way to help save money and the planet!

Helen Graham, executive chef at Bubala: “Try mushroom shawarma with oyster mushrooms, marinated with oil, tamari, ras el hanout and maple syrup. You can then skewer them and serve with a selection of accompaniments such as tahini, pickled red onions, salad and your favourite chilli sauce. Giant roasted chunks of pumpkin are great for a Christmas centrepiece too - I pair mine with bitter greens braised with some stock, date syrup and preserved lemon. Perfect with some salsa macha on the side made with toasted seeds, garlic oil and smoked harissa from Belazu. Slow-cooked celeriac also goes down a treat - try cooking whole, rubbed with spices and oil before serving with tahini sauce or whipped tofu, and a green sauce spiked with chestnuts, rosemary, paprika and preserved lemon."

If this all sounds like too much work, you can always head to one of these restaurants open on Christmas Day this year - we won't judge!

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