Thanksgiving is here and families all across America are making preparations for a sizeable feast. Most families will have the traditional Thanksgiving turkey with sides ranging from cornbread dressing to squash casserole. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with preparing the traditional dishes, maybe you’ve grown tired of it. If your family is like mine, you don’t only have one Thanksgiving meal. There are two to three relatives that you visit and have the same meal, just cooked by someone different. Then, there are the leftovers you take home and eat for a week or so. By the time the New Year arrives, I cringe at the mention of turkey. Since 2020 has been weird anyway, maybe you want to make this Thanksgiving weird too.
When I was a kid, we always went to my grandparent’s house in Alabama for Thanksgiving. My grandfather would get up early in the morning and begin to fry multiple turkeys for our family and a couple of neighbors. Heck, he essentially cooked turkey for the entire neighborhood because there were only about four houses around anyway. He was very well known for his turkey frying expertise and he seemingly had it down to an art. My grandmother should get the credit for the turkey’s taste, since she was the one that did the seasoning. However, he did the frying so he got the credit. I can remember my grandfather spending the entire morning out in his shed making sure the temperature of the grease was just right, while grandmother spent the morning in the kitchen taking care of all of the trimmings.
I’m sure a lot of you have similar memories of spending the holidays with grandparents and watching them cook. My question is, did they teach you how to do any of this? My grandfather was such a perfectionist with his bird that he dared not let me mess with the process. As long as I didn’t get burned by the cooker, set the shed on fire, and the bird made it to the table, it was a success. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about seasoning and frying a turkey, aside from it having to be completely thawed before it goes in the grease. The only reason I know this is from those informative videos the fire department puts out each holiday season. You know, the ones where a guy is dressed in full fire-fighting gear with a frozen turkey on a pole. He drops the frozen bird in the hot grease and all of a sudden it looks like Satan has been loosed from hell. Seeing that I cannot recreate my grandfather’s fried turkey, and I do not want to turn south Mississippi into something resembling the Australian wildfires, I will have to settle for eating turkey somewhere else or cooking something different.
If you are in a similar situation, you might want to try a few venison dishes that are pretty simple to make. Aside from these being easy, the meat comes from just about anywhere in Mississippi, which adds an extra cool factor. Personally, I’d rather eat something out of the Mississippi woods and water rather than something that was caged in who knows where. Here are a couple examples of something to substitute for the turkey this year that will allow you more time with family and less time in the shed/kitchen.
Possibly my favorite way to prepare fresh venison is wrapped in bacon and tossed on the grill. The process is incredibly easy and doesn’t require much skill at all. After cutting the meat into strips about four to five inches long and a half inch thick, I soak the meat in Dales Seasoning. Dales is something that any meat eater should have in their kitchen. Heck, you can put Dales on a leather boot and eat it. The only thing with Dales is the longer you let your meat soak, the saltier it will be. I usually only soak the meat for an hour or so. The next step is rolling up the strips of meat in bacon. I like to put a jalapeño slice in with the meat when I roll it up. I also know people that will use cream cheese in the middle as well. Stick a toothpick through the bacon wrapped meat and toss on the grill. Make sure to keep a close eye on the grill to prevent burning.
If you prefer something with a little different taste, here is another way to prepare venison. Cut up the meat into round pieces a little smaller than the palm of your hand. If you pre-slice your backstrap this way, it’s the perfect size. They should also be about a half inch thick. Soak the meat for a couple of hours in apple juice. Yes, I said apple juice. The juice tenderizes the meat and gives it more flavor. Don’t worry, it gets even more interesting. Remove the meat from the apple juice and baste in barbeque sauce. A sweet sauce works better for this recipe rather than vinegar based sauce. Throw the meat on the grill and sprinkle cinnamon on the top. This provides a unique taste bud experience and takes away any of the “gamey” taste that you may not want. As always, pay attention to the grill and do not overcook the meat.
The last simple option as a substitute, is to fry your venison. If you’ve grown up in the South then you probably already know how to do this. If you don’t know how, don’t worry, you can’t mess it up. Soak the meat for a couple of hours in a milk and egg wash. Add salt/pepper and Tony’s seasoning to flour, mix, and you’re ready. The amount of seasoning you use is up to you. If you live in Mississippi and don’t have Tony’s seasoning in your home, do your guests a favor and order takeout. Heat your grease up to 350 degrees, dust the meat with the flour mix, then toss in the fryer. It shouldn’t take longer than three to four minutes for your meat to be done at this temperature. This dish is a staple at our house because it’s actually something the kids will eat, and it doesn’t take long to cook.
Just the thought of substituting venison for turkey is enough to create havoc in some of your minds, and that’s okay. I like tradition too, but sometimes it might be good to shake things up. We’ve had a New Year’s tradition at our house of eating ham, black eyed peas, and turnip greens for years. I don’t exactly remember what each dish represented, but it’s something about good luck. After 2020, you can bet we are going to shake things up for 2021.