Oven Ready Turkey

By: Jennie-O

Suggested Retail Price: $26.99 for an 11-pound frozen turkey or $10.99 for a 2.75-pound turkey breast

Taste: 2stars

Marketing: 4stars

A woman wrestles with a turkey the size of a toddler, attempting to remove it from the sink. It falls to the floor. Soon, she has heaved it through a window, whereupon it strikes her lawn-tending husband on the back of the head. When he awakes, he will struggle with a never-ending procession of medical bills and expensive rehabilitation. Such is the nightmare of the ruined Thanksgiving presented in a current Jennie-O TV spot for its new Oven Ready Turkey, a handsome fellow that arrives inside a jaunty, dog food–style heavy-duty package.

The bird goes directly from the freezer into your heated oven. There are two versions: the turkey breast, which takes about two hours to cook, and the whole-turkey version, which needs about three to four hours. The secret is in the “Fool-Proof®” sack: a plastic bag that allows the turkey to steam in its own juices. It couldn’t be simpler to cook. The problem is that it’s ultimately less delicious than a Tofurky (see column to the right).

The bird comes cleaned and seasoned by way of something rubbed on its skin to make it look browned, as well as an injectable “solution” of butter flavor, water, turkey broth, and other stuff that’s been juiced into the bird presale. The solution equals 10 percent of the weight of the whole turkey (over a pound!), while the breast is 18 percent solution. The result is a bird that explodes with generic moisture but lacks wholesome, homey juices and crisped skin. It doesn’t really taste like much of anything—the Thanksgiving equivalent of luncheon meat, clammy and insipid.

Tofurky Roast

By: Turtle Island Foods

Suggested Retail Price: $12.99 for a 1.5-pound wheat gluten and soy roast

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 2stars

With food, it’s usually better to produce something completely unique than to score a near miss. Thus, the challenge of Tofurky, the block of organic tofu, wheat gluten, beans, and flavorings that markets itself as an alternative Thanksgiving main course for vegetarians and vegans. The rice and breadcrumb–filled egg-shaped mass weighs less than two pounds and looks somewhat awkward among the carrots and onions the instructions demand you cook along with it. Never before have I felt so bossed around by a cardboard box: It also tells you it’s imperative to thaw the Tofurky for 24 hours—“PLAN AHEAD!”—which I did; directs you to make a homemade basting sauce of sage, soy sauce, and olive oil, which I did; and “HIGHLY” recommends that you purchase a $4 package of Tofurky gravy, sold separately, which I didn’t.

When you’re done hassling with all of Tofurky’s tangential emotional damage and the warm log emerges from the oven, eating the thing is a pleasant surprise. Its texture has more bounce than actual meat, but it isn’t rubbery or slimy; it has an almost seitanlike mouthfeel. Moreover, the soy-onion-sage flavor of the finished product is relatively delicate and well balanced, evoking a turkey dinner without involving, you know, a dead bird. Does Tofurky compare with the real deal? Not even slightly. Should that worry non-meat-eaters and their open-minded friends? Not too much. It has considerably more soul than the average mass-produced dead turkey that represents the Thanksgiving status quo.

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