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Duck, duck, turkey: Why some people might opt for alternative poultry this Thanksgiving

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many government and public health officials are cautioning against sizable family get-togethers this Thanksgiving. The holiday usually marked by large gatherings and copious amounts of food may look a little different this year, and that includes the Thanksgiving hallmark: the turkey.

Without the usual crowd to cook for, hosts are casting around for alternative holiday meals, reconsidering a 20 lb. turkey for something befitting a more modest gathering. This might even mean turning to alternative proteins, like duck or goose, for the day’s meal.

As you’re considering options, here’s something you may not know: Indiana is the top duck producing state in the U.S. According to the most recent USDA census data, Indiana is responsible for producing 2.2 million ducks annually, 45 percent of the country’s inventory. So, for Hoosiers looking to replace their turkey centerpiece with a smaller bird and support local agriculture, duck might be the answer.

Darrin Karcher, associate professor of animal sciences, said Indiana has been the leader in duck production since the 1970s when it overtook New York and Pennsylvania. More centrally located, Indiana was better positioned to ship to a variety of domestic markets. Additionally, Indiana’s already abundant supply of soy and corn meant a ready supply of feed for duck producers. Most of the ducks raised in Indiana today aren’t exported, Karcher added, but sold domestically.

Many often feel intimidated about cooking duck, Karcher continued, but he encourages you not to be.  In some ways, it’s easier to prepare than a turkey.

“Ducks are lean like other poultry but have more of a red meat flavor. The cooking time will be similar to the minutes per pound of a turkey, but ducks are usually much smaller. Where you can gain a benefit is the limited amount of basting required with a duck,” Karcher said. “Typically there is no need to baste a duck in the roasting process, and the drippings can be used for cooking vegetables.”

Although turkey is the preferred holiday poultry, Karcher said that duck sales also go up around this time of year. So those wanting to secure a bird shouldn’t wait until too close to Thanksgiving.

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