Hey fast food, let's talk turkey, specifically why you don’t serve it

closeup of turkeys
Photo: KENA BETANCUR / Contributor (Getty Images)

Beef, chicken, fish. Beef, chicken, fish. Go to most fast food restaurants, and those are your protein options. There’s nothing wrong with those options. I love all of them. But goddammit, why don’t we eat turkey more often? I wonder this every Thanksgiving, because I do genuinely love the flavor of turkey. It has more character than chicken and can really take to almost any seasoning.

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The trade publication QSRweb ponders why turkey fares so poorly on fast food menus. Restaurant data service Black Box Intelligence trawled over data from online review sites including Yelp, to extract statistics for over 600 brands. In 2019, for every 100 mentions of beef, there were only six mentions of turkey. In 2020, that number dropped to five. Poor turkey. You are disrespected.

QSRweb decided to ask some hard-hitting questions and turned to the one company you think of when you think of turkey: Butterball. Richie Jenkins, Butterball Foodservice’s director of business development and marketing, took the hot seat.

Q: How does turkey stand up as a competing option to chicken, particularly as a fried sandwich protein? In fact, do you know of a traditional fast food outlet that is serving a fried turkey sandwich?

A: We’re confident that anything you can do with chicken, you can do with turkey. But in all honesty, we feel that way about other proteins, as well.

Turkey is an exceptionally versatile ingredient, which I think sometimes gets overlooked. If you were to visit our website, you’d see we feature a lot of recipes with turkey where you’d typically see other proteins used. Turkey in unexpected places as we call it.

Bringing recipes like these forward is meant to inspire operators and help them ideate interesting ways to use turkey instead of beef, pork or even chicken on their menu. But is there a deep-fried turkey sandwich out there right now? Not sure. Should there be, and could there be? Absolutely.

So even there’s probably not a fried turkey sandwich out there, and the possibilities exist for our maligned gobblers. I’m telling you, there’s gold in them there turkey breasts. When asked how to approach this challenge in the fast food arena, Jenkins had this to say:

The biggest challenge is getting that first turkey item on the menu. We all know the name of the game is cross-utilization, especially when it comes to protein. Once a chain has an established menu, they maximize efficiencies by using those same ingredients over and over again, even when creating [limited time offerings]. It makes sense for a lot of reasons, particularly because bringing in a new code means a lot of work and coordination by countless departments and disciplines within a chain organization.

So really, there’s potential. It’s just that restaurants aren’t nearly as excited about the prospect of selling turkey. I enjoyed the Thanksnuggets I got from Perdue last year, so who’s to say that a blended meat turkey nugget wouldn’t slay at, say, Hardee’s or something? Or Chipotle, how about pavo en mole (turkey in mole sauce) for a limited-time-offering? It looks like there’s potential. The full interview can be found here. For the love of Jeebus, please make turkey happen!

Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

DISCUSSION

dannisree
Dennis Lee

You guys are great and brought up points I hadn’t thought about. I can still dream about turkey! I like that it has a deeper flavor than chicken. Maybe I am just bored of chicken.