For many of us who’ve spent time living below the Mason-Dixon line, the chicken-and-biscuit chain Bojangles’ symbolizes a lot of what’s great and also awful about the South. The stores’ ubiquity, especially in North and South Carolina, demonstrate how easy it’s been to transform the delicious cuisine of a region that’s long been fiercely proud of its food into bastardized, processed, unhealthy fast-food simulacra. It’s partly because of places like Bojangles’ that the South struggles with obesity so.
On the other hand, Bojangles’ is really freaking delicious. Sure, it’s not your grandma’s chicken, biscuits, and sweet tea—but what if grandma’s passed? Or what if you grew up in, say, Wisconsin, and never even had a Southern grandma?
So when I heard that Bojangles’ is selling pre-fried Thanksgiving turkeys at many of their locations across the southeast, I was on it like the sickly film Bo’s sweet tea leaves on your teeth. (The chain has been selling the popular turkeys since 2004.) A trip to my nearest Bojangles’ in Oxon Hill, Md., yielded a 12-pound Seasoned Fried Turkey in a sealed plastic bag. (The turkeys are roasted, fried in vegetable oil, frozen, and shipped to restaurants; they can be pre-ordered and picked up, frozen or thawed, for around $39.99.) Our dinner guests weren’t expecting to be served turkey five days before Thanksgiving, but they good-naturedly agreed to enjoy a spicy turkey dinner in the name of journalism.
An oil-slick orangey yellow when it came out of the bag, the turkey turned a nice golden brown during its two hours in the oven. But heating up a big bird from its refrigerated state was trickier than the instructions suggested; we covered it in foil for most of its cooking time, but the outside of the legs and breast still dried out quite a bit, while the deep insides of the bird never got quite as hot as one would hope. (The turkey arrived fully cooked, so that wasn’t really a health risk, but it was a bummer.)
Aside from those dry edges, though, the meat—both white and dark—was as thoroughly moist as you would expect from a fried bird. The turkey is flavored, according to the restaurant, with “Bojangles’ unique seasoning,” but fans hoping for a turkey as spicy as Bo’s fried chicken will be disappointed. The seasoning left red striations in the breast meat, but the turkey was so mild that my children—whose palates are oversensitive enough that they once complained a gingerbread cookie was “spicy”—ate it without complaint. The primary flavor notes were poultry, umami, and salt; indeed according to the nutrition label, a 3-ounce serving of the turkey contains an impressive 630 mg of sodium, 26 percent of your recommended daily allowance.
The four adults at the grown-up table ate heartily, and with a homemade gravy, the turkey wasn’t bad. But we found ourselves eating a bit absently, desultorily picking at the platter long after plates had been cleared—the way you always grab the last few French fries off your child’s tray, whether you’re full or not. We realized that Bojangles’ turkey is, indeed, a fast-foodized version of a roasted holiday favorite. It is just like a regular turkey, except greasier, packed with sodium, and thus more addictive. “If I was 25 again,” one dinner guest said, “and hosting a bunch of friends for Thanksgiving, I would definitely buy this.” If I was 25 again, I’d eat so much of it I’d have a grease hangover on Friday morning. As a 39-year-old, I managed to stop myself, but I can report that a Bojangles’ Seasoned Turkey Carcass makes a mean stock.
You’re Doing It Wrong: Turkey