Why come up with three different ways to cook a turkey? After all, we all have our tried-and-true family recipes and secrets handed down over the years. But while we would never mess with Grandma Jean’s famous cranberry sauce, finding different ways to cook a turkey can have a big impact on your Thanksgiving feast. Friends and family will love the unexpected excitement of a turkey done differently while still getting to appreciate other timeless Thanksgiving classics. Plus, you may find that you and your guests stumble upon a new favorite turkey tradition. That’s why we’ve assembled three tried-and-true ways to cook a turkey, along with pros, cons, and helpful hints if you choose to be adventurous this Thanksgiving!
First Thing’s First: Let’s Thaw the Turkey
Before the fun starts, it’s important to start on the right note. Thaw that turkey completely; a good rule of thumb is 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. Just leave it in the fridge for a few days after purchasing! Never, ever leave it out on the counter for more than two hours, or else the temperature of the turkey will begin to reach a “danger zone” for bacteria.
If you want to speed up the process and have a little extra time for hands-on work, wrap the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and put it in a cold water bath. Change the water every thirty minutes until the turkey is thawed. It’s usually about thirty minutes per pound, so tends to be a better technique for a smaller turkey. After it thaws, cook it immediately. You can always thaw a turkey in the microwave, following the microwave instruction manual for the best settings to use. Again, cook it immediately after it’s thawed since some parts of the turkey may have begun to cook during the process.
Roasting a Turkey
Pros: A roasted turkey is a classic. It’s simple and no-fuss: stuff it in the oven or the roaster oven, and then it’s mostly hands-off for the rest of the day.
Cons: Out of all the ways to cook a turkey, this one carries the biggest risk of overcooking since it is so hands-off. Plus, if you are roasting it in the oven, that means there are several hours when no other Thanksgiving dishes can be baked.
Helpful Hints: To avoid over-cooking, start cooking with the turkey breast side down. Then, turn the turkey so the breast doesn’t get dry. To keep an oven free, we swear by an electric roaster oven. A roaster oven will actually roast a turkey in less time than a regular oven, and it leaves the big oven free for all the other delicious Thanksgiving treats.
And while we don’t want to mess with any family traditions, it might be a good idea to skip stuffing the turkey this year. Why? Stuffed turkeys take longer to roast, and there’s a greater risk of uneven cooking. No one wants food poisoning on Thanksgiving! Try making stuffing in a separate roasting dish for a yummy, crispy top. We also recommend rubbing the turkey with olive oil to help it brown evenly and crisply. Delicious!
Grilling a Turkey
Pros: An oven free for other Thanksgiving dishes! Plus, all grilled food tastes wonderful. Try using hardwoods for grilling for a delicious, smoky flavor. Look for a combined grill and smoker that allows you to add wood chips or charcoal, depending on your preferences. Grilling can also take a little less time than roasting a turkey, though that can depend on the size of the turkey.
Cons: Grilling requires the use of indirect heat so the turkey doesn’t burn. This can feel slightly intimidating, especially for the casual griller. Also, it’s a little more hands-on than roasting. You’ll need to rotate the turkey a few times to get the perfect grilled flavor.
Helpful Hints: Don’t be afraid of indirect heat! It just means that you heat one side of the grill and put the turkey on the other, non-heated side. Keep the lid to the grill closed for the most part, and use the lid to control the temperature. If the interior temperature is a little toasty, just open the lid for a few seconds.
Not sure when to rotate the turkey? Try this helpful formula: take the weight of your turkey and multiply it by 12 minutes per pound. Then, divide it by 3. A 14 pound turkey would be 14 lbs x 12 min/lb = 168 minutes. 168 divided by 3 is 56 minutes per rotation. Grill for one rotation with the legs pointing to the back, and one rotation with the legs pointing to the front. For the last rotation, we actually recommend dividing the time in two. Flip the turkey to its other side and do half the time with the legs pointing to the back and half to the front. After all that rotating, your turkey will be perfectly grilled on all sides!
Deep Frying a Turkey
Pros: Deep fried food is some of the tastiest food in existence. With turkey, the skin turns out to be deliciously crispy. The cooking is also fast; the estimated rule is 3.5 minutes per pound of turkey. That’s a little more than half an hour for a 12 pound bird! Finally, just like grilling, the oven will be free for other dishes.
Cons: Deep frying is always a bit dangerous. It should always be done outside, unless you use an indoor turkey fryer made specifically for deep frying turkeys inside. Remember to keep flour on hand just in case a grease fire breaks out! This also means that frying is a much more hands-on than roasting or grilling, as you should never leave the deep fryer unattended.
Helpful Hints: It almost goes without saying that the turkey needs to be completely thawed and completely dried off before it goes into the oil. If a frozen part of the turkey gets into the hot oil, there will be a very unfortunate splatter situation on your hands (and walls…and guests…). If at all possible, invest in an indoor electric turkey fryer. They’re designed to be safe and easy to use. Think: no open flames, no battling the cold November wind, and no relatives worried about your health and safety.
For the best frying experience, don’t rub your turkey with herbs, which will burn. You’ll also have to make any stuffing separately, since you can’t fry a stuffed turkey. The same goes with gravy; try picking up bits of meat at the butcher’s beforehand to make that classic Thanksgiving gravy.