I didn’t get why people hate Thanksgiving turkey until I ate goose

Don’t look at me like that.
Don’t look at me like that.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Probst
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with turkey: It dominates the traditional Thanksgiving holiday table, but it’s also tricky to cook and not exactly the most delicious bird. Some even call it “flavorless.”

I’ve always defended the turkey against snobbish culinary types. I’ve got a soft spot for tradition; substituting chicken just seems quotidian and red meat roasts dominate other holidays. Ben Franklin didn’t want to put the turkey on the national seal, but he appreciated its virtues. Let turkey have its day to shine!

Then I ate my first roast goose. It was a revelation.

I’m in Germany for the Thanksgiving week. In the spirit of doing extremely stereotypical things upon arriving in a different culture, my first dinner order was “eine portion gänsebraten frisch aus dem ofen mit rotkohl, grünkohl, kartoffelklößen und einem bratapfel mit preiselbeeren.” Which is to say, “crispy roast goose with red and green cabbage, potato dumplings and a baked apple with lingonberry sauce,” a traditional German holiday meal.

Everything about the roast goose topped my experiences with roast turkey: The skin was crispy. The dark meat was flavorful and rich, with just the right amount of gaminess. Most importantly, the meat wasn’t dry; it flaked off the bone almost like pulled pork.

“Everything on this plate improves on Thanksgiving,” my wife said upon tasting it, and she’s right—I’m ready to make this the future of holiday dining. Alongside the golden goose, airy potato dumplings stand in for American mashed; acidic red cabbage replaces heavy creamed greens; and a baked apple with lingonberries stands in nicely for the cranberry sauce.

Roast goose
Reader, I ate it.
Image: Tim Fernholz

There’s a reason goose tastes so much better than turkey. In a word, fat.  “One of the reasons farmers raise geese is to be the pigs of the air,” food writer Hank Shaw told GQ for a pean to the bird. “In Jewish cultures and northern European cultures where people don’t raise pigs, geese are traditionally a lard animal.” Like their fellow fatty waterfowl, the duck, geese tend to be more like red meat—”think of the breasts as bacon-capped sirloins, while the thighs are more like brisket,” GQ advises.

All that fat can make for tricky cooking, but also crispier skin and moister meat. I’ll take the trade-off, since roasting turkey doesn’t fall under “simple” cooking tasks, either. Doesn’t this look good?

When Europeans first started importing the birds from the new world, they were a luxury item favored by the rich—Bob Crachit was planning on goose for dinner in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol because he was poor; only Scrooge could afford the novelty of a turkey. But today, part of the problem with bad American turkeys is that factory farms have bred them to be extremely large, which makes them tougher to cook through and indeed too big to even mate—you may not want to read this until after dinner if you’re eating turkey tomorrow. As an added ethical bonus, most geese aren’t factory farmed, outside those used to produce foie gras.

It’s probably too late for you to alter your fowl plans for Thanksgiving, but Christmas is just around the corner—and the goose is getting fat.