Take-and-Bake Thanksgiving Dinner from Animales BBQ

When I mentioned to James Norton that I was getting a take-and-bake Thanksgiving dinner from Animales BBQ instead of making a meal from scratch, he asked if I’d write up a story about the value proposition, and I thought, sure, that’d be easy enough. Was what I paid ($180 plus tax, etc.) worth what I got?

But as Thanksgiving Day unfolded, and I alternated popping prepared pans of various dishes into the oven while decorating the Christmas tree, knitting, and reading, I began to think about value in wider terms. Specifically, I thought about guilt: Generational guilt. 

There have been a plethora of articles published lately about how young adults (and middle-aged ones, too–I speak from experience) no longer want their parents’ stuff, which is leaving Boomers and those somewhat younger in the position of trying to figure out what to do with all of it. As someone who still has nightmares about having had to clean out my parents’ house under extreme duress more than a decade ago and had enormous pangs of guilt over the many, many things I didn’t keep, I totally understand. At the same time, my husband and I recently became empty-nesters and realized our son and daughter weren’t going to want much of our stuff either, so we’ve experienced it from both sides.

Bear with me–this ties to the Animales Thanksgiving dinner value proposition, I promise. As I popped each dish into the oven, I still had a remnant of guilt over having abandoned my parents’ Thanksgiving tradition. My mother was an excellent cook and hosted Thanksgiving for a dozen people for years. While other holidays varied as to what she’d cook, Thanksgiving had a strictly set menu that was not to be tampered with: Roast turkey with sage stuffing inside, copious amounts of mashed potatoes and gravy, wild rice hotdish, candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows, three pies (pumpkin, pecan, sour cherry) and the usual relish tray. Variations were not considered. 

When I took over the Thanksgiving dinner, it didn’t cross my mind to change the menu, although I did make one adjustment: My mother always got up at zero dark thirty to get an enormous bird in the oven so we could have an early afternoon dinner. Unsurprisingly, this often made her a bit crabby (especially the year the oven caught on fire), to the point where no one else entered the kitchen while she was cooking. I said enough of that. We’ll have dinner at 6 p.m., and everyone can help. That change was accepted as long as I didn’t mess with the menu. 

One year, we invited some neighbors who brought stuffing with pineapple in it. I never heard the end of that. The horror I’d inflicted on my family!

My parents have been gone several years now, as have the grandparents and aunt and uncle who came for Thanksgiving. I got tired of turkey leftovers and realized that no one in my existing family is that wild about turkey. I also got tired of the work of it, even with help. For some reason, cooking for Christmas felt fun, while cooking for Thanksgiving did not. 

But the thought of doing something other than the standard Thanksgiving menu in any way, shape, or form, felt like I was dishonoring my immediate ancestors. 

And there it is–generational guilt rearing its passive-aggressive head again.

I first stood up to that guilt two years ago with a Thanksgiving dinner from Animales BBQ, with a smoked turkey breast and various sides that largely didn’t match what I grew up with–but the simplicity and deliciousness won me over. Turns out my family much prefers smoked turkey to plain roast turkey. 

Yet this year, when my fingers hovered over the mouse, ready to click on “buy” when Animales launched its Thanksgiving dinner order page, I still hesitated and felt a twinge. I realized it was yet another thing I had to let go of, along with all the furniture and clothes and knickknacks I’d let go from my parent’s house (and the 75+ empty Folgers Coffee cans in the basement–Depression Era parents saved everything). 

Then I thought of a way to reframe it. My mother and grandmother were delighted when innovations such as boxed cake mixes arrived. So easy! So little effort! It made their lives more pleasant. Now they could frequently put sweets on the table for their family. 

I decided to think of my Animales dinner that way: Time- and labor-saving and an improvement I hugely appreciated, particularly coming on the heels of some wildly busy work weeks. Putting on the whole homemade deal for three people felt like more than necessary. 

This is a long way of saying a big part of the value proposition to me was not a cost-to-quality/quantity equation. It’s about how Thanksgiving was a day of relaxation and fun and relatively little cleaning up to be done. It’s about putting the energy into enjoying the actual dinner with family and the hours of board games that followed (because this meal allowed us to move the eating phase back to midday, as our daughter had a Friendsgiving event that evening – also Abducktion is a really fun game). And in that equation, the value was significantly more than the dollars paid.

That, in turn, might skew my view of the basic value proposition. In terms of quantity, we received a sizable half turkey, two containers each of roasted veggies and wild rice pilaf, one container each of cranberry relish, gravy, and mashed potatoes, six cheddar biscuits, dressing for the roasted veggies, and a pumpkin cheesecake with lingonberry sauce. 

That may not sound like enough for $180, but I stand with the view that the cost was fine for the quality and quantity. Turkeys were expensive this year, and Animales didn’t use cheap frozen birds. The website noted that one Thanksgiving dinner would feed 2-3 generously and up to 4-6. That was our experience; we all ate heartily on Thanksgiving and had plenty of leftovers. The only quibble about quantity I had–and this is part of my generational heritage that will never go away–is we could easily have eaten twice the amount of mashed potatoes. But the wild rice pilaf? Lovely and nutty, a gentle side to the smoky, peppery turkey that somehow managed not to be dried out. The cranberry relish was both sweet and tart. The biscuits were a nice carb addition. The cheesecake on its own was a nice substitute for pumpkin pie, but adding the lingonberry sauce made it a much more complex dessert. The turkey was the star, followed closely by the roasted vegetables. The latter were fine on their own, but when the herby vinaigrette with pickled shallots was drizzled on top, that took the veggies to an entirely higher level and added some acid that cut through the richness of everything else. 

Your mileage may vary. That said, I was far from alone–Animales had an enormous refrigerated truck on-site for distributing orders on Wednesday. But for me, a relaxing holiday weekend as we gear up for the December holidays wasn’t just appreciated, it was needed. Who knows what I’ll do next year? Friends and folks on social media were posting photos of Thanksgiving dinners without a morsel of turkey in sight. Maybe I’ll follow their lead.

Or maybe I’ll just order Animales again and start my own tradition–one that I will urge my own kids to modify any way they like.