5 Different Ways to Cook a Turkey: Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

Different Ways to Cook a Turkey for Thanksgiving

Each year, people across the country sit down around the table on Thanksgiving to eat turkey, one of America’s favorite festive birds. Although most of us are used to eating turkey that has been roasted in an oven, there are many different ways to cook a turkey that you might not know about. If you would like to test out a new way to prepare turkey this holiday season, try one of these 5 turkey cooking techniques.

1. Brining

Regardless of how you decide to prepare your turkey, one of the best ways to get a flavorful bird is to brine the turkey first. Brining adds moisture and flavor to the meat, preventing it from drying out. It takes anywhere from 10 to 24 hours to brine a turkey.

You’ll need a container large enough to hold your turkey and fully submerge it in brine, as well enough room to refrigerate the container. Brine is made with table salt dissolved in water and seasonings, such as herbs, garlic, honey, brown sugar, chili peppers, and molasses.

2. Oven Roasting

Oven roasting is by far the most popular way to cook turkey, but everyone has a different opinion about the best way to oven roast a turkey. The typical process of roasting a turkey consists of thawing the turkey, stuffing it, and sticking it into an oven for a few hours. Many people also elect to cook the stuffing separately rather than in the cavity so that the meat roasts more evenly and potential sanitary concerns are avoided.

Since the outcome of oven roasting can result in dry, stringy, and tasteless meat for the unpracticed cook, there are a number of methods to help ensure the turkey remains moist. Some people recommend deconstructing the turkey and roasting the parts separately to ensure that the white meat is as tender as the dark meat. Another option is to place the whole turkey into the oven when it is completely frozen and solid for a perfectly browned, tender, and moist bird.

Yet another alternative is to roast the turkey upside down, or in other words, breast-side down. When you cook a turkey breast-side down, the skin on the breast does not get too brown and the juices from the turkey moisten the breast while the turkey cooks.

Oven temperatures will vary, but should be set at no lower than 325° F. Cook times will also vary by size of bird, as well as whether or not the bird is stuffed. An unstuffed 16 to 20 pound turkey will take 5 to 5-1/2 hours to cook. The meat can be brined, seasoned or injected with marinades and can also be basted throughout the cooking process, in order to help to keep the bird moist.

3. Deep-frying

Deep-fried turkey has become popular in recent years because of its crispy texture and tender, delicious interior. However, stories abound of people who have started house fires or injured themselves by deep-frying turkeys at home.

Deep-frying a turkey over the stove can be dangerous, but you can use an electric fryer to minimize risks. When deep-frying a turkey, either use a fresh turkey or make sure that the turkey is completely thawed. Add peanut oil to a fryer, but do not exceed the maximum fill line. Preheat the oil in the fryer to 350° F. You should not stuff a turkey when deep-frying. Cook the stuffing separately.

Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and flavor it with seasonings, injections or marinades while the oil is heating. When the oil is heated, lower the turkey into the fryer and make sure that it is fully submerged. Cook it for 3.5 minutes per pound. When the turkey is done, slowly lift it from the pot and let it drain on paper towels.

4. Grilling

Grilling is not a traditional way to cook a turkey, but it creates a tender, juicy bird with a crisp exterior. Remove giblets from the turkey and stuff the cavity with onions, herbs, spices, lemon wedges, and vegetables. Tie the legs together with a kitchen string. Spread softened butter and salt and pepper on the turkey skin and place the turkey breast-side up on the grill in a rectangular metal or foil drip pan. Cover the grill and cook the turkey for 11 to 14 minutes per pound. Make sure you have plenty of additional charcoal and somewhere to light the coals off the grill. Continue brushing the turkey with melted butter or basting sauces to keep it moist while it cooks.

5. Smoking

Smoked turkey is tender and flavorful. It takes 30 to 40 minutes per pound to smoke a turkey. Avoid smoking too large of a turkey because it can increase the risk of food contamination. To smoke a turkey, you need a meat thermometer, smoker, and good hardwood. Hardwoods that add a nice flavor to smoked turkey include hickory, oak, cherry, and apple. Use a kettle grill as a smoker, and build a fire that holds a steady temperature of around 235° F. Plan on smoking the turkey for about 30 minutes per pound. Brine the turkey before smoking, and use dry rub or brush olive oil on the skin to give the meat more moisture and flavor.

While all of these Thanksgiving turkey tips can result in juicy, tender meat, no matter how you decide to cook your turkey, you will need to make sure the bird reaches an internal temperature of at least 165° F in order to be safe to eat (United States Department of Agriculture). Test the temperature of the turkey in two different places, but not too close to the bone, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes after it is done so that the juices can settle. Try one of these five different ways to cook a turkey today, and change up the taste of your turkey this Thanksgiving.