When it comes to the holiday feast, nothing beats the sight of a perfectly cooked turkey at the center of the table. However, the challenge has been to get consumers to think about turkey in different ways – different cuts, different preparation methods, different meal occasions.

For instance, when people think about barbecue restaurants, the menu items that come to mind are brisket, pulled pork and ribs. Award-winning pitmaster and television personality Ray Lampe, aka “Dr. BBQ,” aims to make turkey a talked-about menu item as well.

“It’s hard to find a BBQ restaurant that doesn’t serve turkey; they just don’t talk about it much, but they serve it,” he says. “At my restaurant, I can tell you it’s a big seller. But everyone wants to talk about the brisket and the ribs and pork shoulder.”

Lampe has been working with the National Turkey Federation as a “spokeschef” for the organization’s “Turkey Smoke” campaign, which added a turkey category to competitive BBQ competitions. Lampe has also developed a number of recipes using turkey to inspire consumers to think beyond the holiday dinner table. He has developed a turkey scotch egg, a turkey tamale pie and turkey breast steaks with grilled asparagus salsa. The recipes are available on the NTF’s website, www.eatturkey.org.

Lampe says that he’s been experimenting with turkey for years, so the partnership is a natural one.

“The challenge of creating inspiration to cook other cuts of turkey or cook turkey more often on the grill, it’s exciting for me. I like opportunities where we can move the needle on something, and this one is a natural,” he says.

Lampe advocates turkey companies to consider new products to help inspire consumers.

“I don’t know that everyone is willing to skin and bone a turkey thigh themselves, but if it showed up in the package in the store like that, then people would take a different look at it,” he reasons. “If we provided some cuts that are a little more attractive to customers, and then some promotion and great recipes floated out there, I think it’s viable.”

Additionally, the industry must work to educate people on the proper way to cook turkey, he adds. People may be familiar with the dry, tasteless Thanksgiving dinners of years past when the bird was overcooked. Lampe calls today’s pitmasters “technicians,” because they know the science behind the meat and aware of the proper cooking temperatures. Turkey, when properly cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees, retains the flavor and moisture and is a great eating experience.

turkey sandwiches

One of Chef Ray Lampe’s recipes developed for the National Turkey Federation is ths grilled turkey banh mi sandwich.

One company that has been active in expanding its turkey offerings is Dakota Provisions. The Huron, S.D., company has introduced a Dakota 44 brand, its first consumer brand. It was named after the 44 family farmers who got together to start the company.

“We understand consumers enjoy turkey but don’t necessarily know what to do with it outside the holidays per our studies. We’ve heard their concerns and desires and have developed a full portfolio of products that address each daypart,” said Renee Robertson, senior marketing manager.

The Dakota 44 brand includes a number of products, including whole birds, deli meat, snack bites and toppers, meatballs, burger patties and more. Robertson says the toppers contain turkey pieces and cheese, so they can be eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient for omelets, salads or quesadillas.

“Consumers today are inventive and food adventurers and looking for healthier meal solutions that still taste delicious,” she adds.

The company’s turkey fritters are designed as a change of pace to the standard chicken nugget.

“Our fritters are made from whole turkey breast instead of being a chopped and formed item. The fritters are sized just right to enjoy as snack or as meal,” Robertson continues, noting that the product is packaged from a 32-ounce to a 4-pound package. “As the on-the-go trend continues to increase, we have also seen interest from convenience stores, and we are very excited with this business opportunity.”

The turkey breasts are available in a variety of flavors, from the standard honey roasted or oven roasted to trendier tastes like Szechuan, Bacon Ranch Sriracha and Maple Bacon.

Releasing new turkey products is only a part of the battle. Promoting them is the next step. Robertson says that the company will be partaking in local community events, using coupons to drive consumers to its retail partners.

turkey products

Dakota Provisions has developed a wide range of turkey products as a part of its new Dakota 44 brand of retail products.

Robertson says that the Dakota 44 products are well-suited to potential customers who aren’t dining out at restaurants due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Consumers are eating at home more or eating on the go in their busy lives. Our portfolio has solutions for no matter how small or large your household is or whether you have time to cook from scratch or need a quick fix,” she says.

While it is not an issue specific to the turkey sector, Dakota Provisions has put an effort into giving customers the sustainability and claims-based attributes that they want.

“Our product line comes from all self-sustainable family farms, and our birds are raised humanely, which allows for natural behavior, and are raised with No Antibiotics Ever,” explains Robertson. “We are proud of the differences we offer so much that we are 100-percent transparent to the consumers. Each package has the farm number their product came from and from our website, you can learn about the farm and the fun facts about the turkey’s home.” IP