Who Invented the Turducken?

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Whether you interpret this question as "Who's to thank for the turducken?" or "Who's to blame for the turducken?" the answer is equally muddled.

Nearly every attempt to trace the history of the turducken—chicken stuffed inside of a duck, which is then stuffed into a turkey—cites early examples of similar poultry nesting dolls from the 18th or 19th century. The 1774 book The Art of Cookery contains a recipe for "Yorkshire Christmas Pie" that involves stuffing pigeon, partridge, fowl, goose, and finally turkey all into one another. Several sources claim that, in 1807, Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière, a famous Napoleonic-era gastronomist, served a rôti sans pareil, or "roast without equal," that applied the same principle to what may have been as many as 17 different birds. An American reference pops up in the 1832 diaries of John B. Grimball for a "Charleston preserve of fowl" that included dove, quail, guinea hen, duck, capon, goose, and either a turkey or peacock.

With precedents like that, the three-bird turducken doesn't seem quite so extreme. But still, credit is contested. The honor is often awarded to Paul Prudhomme, a celebrity chef who claimed to have invented the Thanksgiving indulgence at a lodge in Wyoming (although he wouldn't say when). Prudhomme himself, however, was from Louisiana, and was credited during his lifetime with popularizing Cajun and Creole cuisines—a notable fact that lends some credence to a less widely-circulated theory that turducken actually stems from a specific nine-bird dish created by the owner of Corinne Dunbar's, a Creole restaurant in New Orleans.

Prudhomme's recipe for turducken appears in his 1987 cookbook, and it was around then that he started serving the decadent dish at his New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul. Elsewhere in Louisiana, at a butcher shop in Maurice, brothers Junior and Sammy Hebert claim that while Prudhomme's celebrity status helped raise the dish's profile, they actually beat him to the invention—at least of the name. Junior has said that, in 1984, a farmer came into his shop with a chicken, a duck, and a turkey asking to have them stuffed. Junior improvised, putting the three together before filling the cavity with cornbread stuffing and calling the whole thing a "turducken." Unfortunately for the Hebert brothers, Prudhomme would go on to trademark the name in 1986.

Although we'll never know for sure who first engineered or named the turducken, it's largely uncontested that football announcer John Madden gets credit for making it a phenomenon.

''The first one I ever had I was doing a game in New Orleans,'' Madden told The New York Times in 2002. ''The P.R. guy for the Saints brought me one. And he brought it to the booth. It smelled and looked so good. I didn't have any plates or silverware or anything, and I just started eating it with my hands.'' That game wasn't on Thanksgiving, but Madden liked the dish so much he brought it back for his holiday broadcast and it quickly became a Thanksgiving tradition.