6 Ways to Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey

6 Ways to Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey

You can’t have Thanksgiving without an awesome turkey! While we figure most of our post-65 readers already have a turkey-cooking plan, it’s never too late to consider improvements or cooking alternatives.

We’ve read way too much about turkey cooking, and we’d love to present to you 6 ways you might consider cooking your Thanksgiving turkey this year.

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1. Spatchcock Your Turkey

Spatchcocking your turkey is the best way to evenly cook a whole bird at once. You can also do this with chicken!

This technique involves slicing the bird in half along the backbone, removing the backbone (save for stock!), breaking the cartilage that keeps the bird from laying flat, and turning the bird over.

It’s much easier to grasp when you can see the technique in action:

From here, you can move on to your favorite recipe instructions, like this Spatchcocked Turkey with Sage Butter and Gravy recipe from Food Network.

Overall, this simple spatchcocking technique can help prevent dry, tough turkey breasts.

2. Dry Brine Your Turkey

Dry brining involves rubbing a Kosher salt mixture onto your turkey and letting it rest in the fridge before cooking.

The benefits you get from a dry brine include fully infiltrated seasoning and also a juicier piece of meat. The salt draws out the turkey’s juices as it sits in the refrigerator, which then soak back into the meat and break down the tougher muscle proteins.

Photo Credit: Bon Appétit

Note: You can also do a wet brine, but Bon Appétit tested this method against a dry brine and found the dry brine gave a better result: “When you use a wet brine, it’s difficult to fully dry the turkey afterward, dampening your crispy-skin dreams. Plus, drawing a turkey bath in a huge cooler is a messy nightmare and zero fun to clean. Dry brine for life.”

While a dry brined chicken only needs to sit in the fridge overnight, a turkey is large enough to need 2-4 days to get all of the benefits.

By leaving the turkey uncovered, it dries the surface of the skin, which will translate into a perfectly golden-brown skin that’s nice and crispy!

A simple dry brining recipe comes from Ask Chef Dennis:

  • 3 TB kosher salt
  • 1 TB black pepper
  • 1 TB fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 TB fresh sage, finally chopped
  • 1 TB orange peel, finely zested
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

Simply rub this salt mixture all over the turkey – including under the skin to help penetrate the meat – and refrigerate, uncovered, for 2-4 days.

To roast the turkey after a dry brine, a good rule of thumb is to start at 425 degrees, roast upside down for 45 minutes, decrease oven to 325 degrees, and cook until the turkey reaches 165 degrees for the breast. This can take an additional 2.5-3.5 hours. Be sure to let the turkey rest at least half an hour before carving.

3. Sous-vide Your Turkey

Sous-vide, French for “under vacuum,” is a low and slow way of cooking your food to an exact temperature under a water bath.

Photo Credit: Chef Steps

Sous-vide machines can set you back anywhere from $70 to upwards of $1,500, though a $150 machine can do the job fantastically. Yes, a sous-vide machine is yet another kitchen contraption, but many swear by its ability to cook food to an exact temperature.

When it comes to turkey, this could be the perfect way to avoid those dry slices of overcooked turkey breast!

Chef Steps has a thorough guide to doing a sous-vide turkey for Thanksgiving, but here are the basic steps:

  1. Preheat your sous-vide machine in a large pot of water to 150 degrees.
  2. Break down your bird into pieces (separate the breast from the thigh and legs)
  3. Make stock with the extra bits
  4. Pre-sear your turkey pieces
  5. Combine a salt and sugar mixture, sprinkle all over the turkey, and bag it up
  6. Sous-vide the legs for 12 hours
  7. Adjust temperature to 131 degrees and add breasts for 8-14 additional hours
  8. Broil the cooked turkey pieces to crisp up the skin

This method does require you to start the turkey cooking the morning of Thanksgiving Eve, but it could be the best cooking method for your Thanksgiving feast!

4. Smoke Your Turkey

Smoking a turkey doesn’t take quite as long as doing it sous-vide, but it’s still an all-day event. However, the results are sure to impress!

You will need a smoker as well as apple, cherry, or hickory wood. It typically takes about 6 hours to smoke an average turkey at a cooking temperature of around 250 degrees.

The general rule of thumb is that it will take 30 minutes per pound of turkey to cook.

A smoked turkey is juicy, tender, and extremely flavorful! If you love a warm, smokey flavor on your meat, this is definitely a cooking method to try out for Thanksgiving.

Photo Credit: Dinner at the Zoo

Dinner at the Zoo recommends brining your turkey, stuffing the turkey cavity with aromatics and veggies, and rubbing it down with a BBQ rub. Then, smoke the turkey at 250 degrees for 6-7 hours, or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Let the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

5. Fry Your Turkey

One of the biggest advantages to smoking or frying your turkey is that it’s one less thing taking up your oven space. Another big plus? A fried turkey is simply delicious!

Deep-frying a turkey gives you juicy, tender meat and a nice, crispy skin. Let’s face it… what’s not good fried?

Photo Credit: AllRecipes

To fry a turkey, you’ll need about 3 gallons of oil, such as peanut oil, and a turkey fryer. You may want to do this outside in case of any oil spillage.

Thanks to indoor turkey fryers like the Butterball Electric Turkey Fryer, you can fry your turkey in the kitchen if you prefer.

Rub your favorite seasoning all over the turkey, and lower your turkey into 400-degree oil. Cook the turkey for 3.5 minutes per pound, or about 45 minutes. You’re looking for a temperature of 180- degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.

AllRecipes has a very simple recipe (and video) to follow for frying a turkey, and as long as you have the tools necessary, this is really one of the fastest ways to cook a bird!

The only con here is that you don't get the pan drippings from the turkey, which can be used to make the gravy. If that's a deal breaker for you, consider one of the other recipes!

6. Break Down Your Turkey Into Parts

If you’re all about doing a traditionally oven-roasted turkey, consider breaking the turkey into parts instead of roasting it whole.

Photo Credit: Tasty

Why? The breasts cook at a different pace than the thighs, which is why many expect turkey breasts to be dry and tough. However, you can avoid this calamity by simply cooking your bird parts separately. You’re going to serve it that way anyway – why not give it a shot?

Tasty did a video tutorial for this cooking method, including how to break down the turkey before cooking. Here are the general steps involved:

  • Butcher the turkey into parts
  • Dry brine the turkey parts in the fridge overnight
  • Make your turkey stock
  • Make your gravy
  • Roast your turkey parts at 425 degrees for 30 minutes
  • Rotate the baking sheet and reduce temperature to 400 degrees
  • Continue roasting until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 170 degrees – remove parts from the oven when they hit their target temperatures
  • Loosely cover parts with foil and let rest while you warm the gravy

It’s a much more practical way to cook your turkey, and while you don’t get to see the famous “whole roasted turkey” on the table, you can still make the presentation festive and nice to look at.

Make Your Thanksgiving Turkey Plan!

While changing up a tradition isn’t always necessary, sometimes it’s nice to try something new. You may discover your new favorite way to cook a turkey!

How will you cook your Thanksgiving turkey this year? Let us know in the comment section below!

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