Roasting is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making your Thanksgiving turkey.
When we’re putting together our Thanksgiving menu each year, the turkey is usually the first thing on our minds. When you think of the bird sitting front and center on the holiday table, the image of a roasted turkey with a perfectly crisp, golden brown crust probably comes to mind. Most of the recipes you’ll come across prepare the turkey by brining and roasting, but there are so many other ways to prep and cook your bird for the big day.
Each cooking method has its pros and cons. Some need special equipment and others are easy for beginner cooks to accomplish. We’ll walk you through each method so that whichever one you choose on Thanksgiving, your bird will be something to be thankful for.
Roasting is probably the most common way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. It is the classic presentation and looks stunning on the dinner table. The skin is usually lathered in butter (which is often flavored with things like woodsy herbs, citrus, or garlic), the cavity is filled with aromatic onions, garlic, and citrus halves, and the whole turkey is trussed with kitchen twine.
We usually recommend roasting the bird at a high heat (somewhere between 400 and 425 degrees) for up to 20 minutes, then lowering the temperature for the remainder of the time. Starting at a higher temperature gives the skin a head start, ensuring it will come out nice and crispy. But if you kept the turkey at such a high temperature, the meat would dry out pretty quickly, so we like to finish roasting the bird at around 350 degrees.
Plan to roast the turkey for about 13 minutes per pound for a whole unstuffed bird, and about 15 minutes for a stuffed bird.
Pros: A roasted turkey will always make a stunning centerpiece and is the most traditional way to prepare the meat. You don’t need any special equipment, just a standard roasting pan.
Cons: When you cook a piece of meat as big as a turkey, it can be tricky to cook both the white and dark meats evenly. Dark meat takes longer to cook, so by the time the legs and thighs reach a safe temperature, you run the risk of the breasts being overcooked. While roasting a turkey is simple, it will take up the majority of your oven space on the big day.
To Brine or Not to Brine
Brining a turkey is one way to impart a lot of flavor and produce a more tender meat. The salt, sugar, spices, and other flavorings are given several hours to soak into the meat before it’s cooked. There are two types of brining techniques that you can use: wet and dry.
For a wet brine, you submerge the turkey completely in a liquid brine mixture in the fridge. For a dry brine, you give the turkey a generous coating of kosher salt and let the salt soak into the skin and flesh of the bird. With both techniques, you’ll want to pat the skin dry to remove any excess brine before proceeding.
How to Stuff a Turkey Safely
If you choose to stuff your bird this year, Butterball recommends following these steps to ensure your turkey and stuffing are both cooked properly:
Use cooked ingredients (like sautéed vegetables, cooked meats and seafood, and pasteurized eggs) in the stuffing instead of raw ingredients.
Stuff the turkey just before roasting. Stuffing it the night before could cause food-borne illness.
Stuff both the neck and body cavity of the thawed turkey and pack it loosely. This means about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of meat.
Tuck the legs and wings back underneath the bird before putting it in the oven. This will help stabilize the bird as it roasts (and as you slice it).
The stuffing should register 165 degrees at the center to be safe to eat.
For safety reasons, don’t cook a stuffed turkey on an outdoor grill or with a water smoker.
Don’t use a fast-cook method (like deep-frying) with a stuffed turkey. The meat will cook before the stuffing is done, which could make it unsafe to eat.
The cheesecloth method (also known as the signature Martha method) definitely makes for the most perfect golden brown skin. Four layers of butter and white wine-soaked cheesecloth are draped over the bird as it roasts. It protects the skin from the direct heat of the oven, which keeps the meat moist. At the same time, the cheesecloth has direct contact with the turkey’s skin the whole time, so it slowly absorbs the butter mixture and slowly crisps up the skin.
It may have a funny name, but a spatchcocked turkey will save you at least an hour of cooking time. This modern technique involves removing the turkey’s neck and backbone with kitchen shears and cooking the bird flat, rather than upright. You can still collect turkey drippings in the pan to make a killer gravy.
Pros: This technique cuts the cooking time in half. Since the legs and thighs (not just the breasts) are exposed to direct heat, every inch of the turkey’s skin will become crisp and golden in no time.
Cons: It can be difficult for beginner cooks to break down such a large piece of meat. If you want to try this method but it scares you, ask your butcher to spatchcock the turkey for you when you order it.
You might be a little reluctant to turn your main course on its head, but this roasting technique helps solve the issue of overcooking your turkey. Since dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, it only makes sense that protecting the breasts from the direct heat of the oven would help them stay moist and flavorful. This way, the dark meat (which won’t dry out as quickly, even when cooked past the safe temperature) serves as a protective barrier for the white meat.
Pros: This will be one of the juiciest birds you’ve ever made, with a lot of crispy skin to go around.
Cons: The only con for this technique is flipping the bird (pun intended) back over to carve it. You want to be super careful when inverting the turkey onto the platter or carving board. We recommend getting your sous chef to help you.
Turkey legs, in particular, can really benefit from a good long braise. Braising is a tried-and-true technique that chefs use to make even the toughest cuts of meat succulent and tender. We like to start by separating the breasts and legs. While the breasts start out roasting in the oven, they eventually join the legs in a well-seasoned turkey broth to braise away.
Pros: The meatiest parts of the turkey are submerged in liquid, keeping them moist, but most of the skin is still exposed to direct heat, allowing it to crisp up.
Cons: You’ll have to break down the turkey (which you can ask your butcher to do for you) and you’ll get multiple large pans dirty (one roasting pan and one skillet to start the legs in).
Smaller Thanksgiving gatherings are the perfect occasion to stray from tradition just a bit. A stuffed turkey breast roulade is always an elegant choice. Your guests will be wowed when you slice into the turkey to reveal a delicate stuffing spiral.
You start by butterflying the turkey breast (in other words, flattening it out and pounding it thin). Then you roll the meat around your stuffing of choice before securing it with twine and roasting it in the oven.
Pros: There’s no bone to work your way around as you carve. Also, less meat means the turkey cooks faster and lessens your chances of contaminating the meat.
Cons: Dark meat lovers will have nowhere to turn, but you can most likely appease them with extra stuffing.
The tradition of deep-frying your Thanksgiving turkey started in Louisiana, but has made its way across the country in record time. If you’re frying your turkey this year, make sure you have a safe setup and start with a completely thawed and dried turkey. Any excess moisture will cause the oil to splatter, which can lead to injuries and fires.
Pros: The meat is so rich, you don’t even need to make gravy.
Cons: You won’t have pan drippings if you do want gravy on the table.
With the domed lid of a charcoal grill, it’s almost like it was designed specifically to fit a whole turkey. Grilling is definitely one of the healthier ways to prepare the bird—it’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper and uses just enough oil to coat the outside, rather than roasting away in a few sticks of butter. You also get a little bit of that smoky grill flavor, without it being as intense as smoked turkey.
Pros: You’ll have more room in the oven for side dishes and dessert.
Cons: You’ll be working outside. If it’s a chilly day, it can be trickier to maintain an even temperature on an outdoor grill.
Since most grills have hot spots and can cook a bit unevenly, we recommend serving the stuffing on its own instead of packed inside the bird.
If you’re looking for a Renaissance fair-worthy turkey leg vibe this year, look no further than our recipe for the perfect smoked turkey. We use applewood to create a lightly smoked flavor that permeates both the flesh and skin. You can marinate your bird with herbs and citrus or keep it simple with salt and pepper.
Pros: Using a smoker means you free up space in the oven. Plus, you can use the bones to make an incredibly flavorful stock later on.
Cons: You do need a smoker to execute this recipe, and the flavor can be an acquired taste for some.
Read the original article on Martha Stewart.