A Thanksgiving turkey is the largest food item many American Jews will ever cook. Often weighing 20 pounds or more, a turkey is bigger than an untrimmed brisket and almost quadruple the size of a chicken.
We’ve had fun trying new ways to cook this mammoth bird. There’s no one best way, but here are six of our favorite methods to get you in the holiday mood.
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We’ve combined the beer-can turkey, turkey cannon and standup turkey methods into one entry. The general idea is the same: Cooking the turkey upright on a grill or in the oven shortens the cooking time. Introducing beer just makes everything better.
The beer (or any liquid) helps keep the white meat moist and adds an extra layer of flavor. The result is a succulent, tender, golden-brown turkey.
Pros: Variety of flavors, high awesome factor, speed (especially with turkey cannon), option to use the grill, which frees your oven for other dishes.
Cons: Extra equipment (cannon, stand), handling of a hot turkey in an awkward position, hard to fit in a standard oven, storage of a turkey cannon.
There is probably nothing cooler than dropping a massive turkey into 5 gallons of 320-degree oil. It’s fast and easy and tastes amazing. Frying is one of the most popular turkey cooking methods, especially in the South.
There are pitfalls, though. Disposing of 5 gallons of used oil can be messy, and the oil can cost up to $50. Having 5 gallons of hot oil next to a flame can be dangerous. The National Fire Protection Association reports that turkey fryers are responsible for five deaths and more than $15 million in property damage each year.
Pros: Fastest method, easy, delicious, frees up kitchen space, high awesome factor, fried meat — need we say more?
Cons: Cost, need for specialized equipment, rapidly dissipating flavor, potential immolation.
Each time we try a new cooking method, we inevitably return to the classic roasted turkey the next year. Executed properly, this simple method looks, smells and tastes the most like a traditional Thanksgiving turkey. Season the bird with a bit of salt and pepper, baste it with turkey stock, and stuff it with your favorite dressing. The smell and taste will bring you back to holidays come and gone.
Pros: Simple, traditional, great for novices and the unadventurous, predictable timing, great aroma through the house.
Cons: Difficulty keeping white meat moist, need for experience and modifications (like a bag) to perfect technique, loss of oven availability, low awesome factor.
Not for the impatient, smoked turkey involves slow cooking over burning coals and woodchips for as long as 10 hours. The result, a tender and juicy turkey with an intense smoked flavor, is more than worth it. Nothing beats sitting around a smoker on Thanksgiving with the scent of hickory chips and smoked meat in the air.
Pros: Intense flavor, high awesome factor, possibility to prepare in advance, frees up kitchen space, many varieties (wood types, sauces, rubs), pull-apart meat.
Cons: Special equipment (smoker), practice needed to maintain temperature, risks with fire and smoke, patience necessary, flavor some don’t like.
There are several methods, including rotisserie (if you have a large enough grill) and spatchcocking, which involves cutting out the backbone and laying the turkey flat on the grill. Spatchcocking is an easy route to juicy meat and ultra-crisp skin. Also known as butterflying, it can be done in the oven as well.
Pros: Fast, unusual presentation, frees up kitchen space, even cooking, crispy outside with moist inside, fun word to say.
Cons: Very hands-on, easy to overcook.
The crown jewel of zany Thanksgiving dishes, a turducken is a deboned chicken inside a deboned duck inside a turkey because someone in Louisiana realized that the cavernous insides of a turkey could fit more than stuffing. The fat of the duck keeps the turkey moist and the chicken flavored, resulting in an impressive and decadent dish that can feed a whole Thanksgiving crowd.
Pros: Unusual presentation, high awesome factor, lots of meat, works with many cooking methods.
Cons: Difficult to prepare and assemble the birds, tough to find kosher ducks (can substitute tofu, but that would change the name to turfu — never mind).