Is it possible to write an article about cooking a Thanksgiving turkey without the phrase "let's talk turkey" included? No, of course not. Neither is it possible to omit the sayings "jive turkey" or "going cold turkey." It’s just too much of a turkey shoot.
Ok, we're done. And now that’s all out of the way, we can get to the real meat (white or dark, buddy?) of this article: cooking fall’s favorite bird. You've got four different options, each with their own merits – some with more than others.
Roasting: The Classic Route
Like most things in life, the safest option for cooking your bird is to rely on a tried and true classic. It's easy, it's convenient, and it's what just about everyone is used to.
To start, place your rack on the lowest rung of your oven and preheat to 350°F while you remove the neck and giblets from your thawed turkey. Add in your stuffing and massage the skin with butter, salt, and pepper. Put the bird breast side-up on a rack in a pan, pour two cups of stock into the bottom of the pan, and throw it in the oven.
You should baste every half an hour or so, and loosely cover the top with tin foil if the skin is starting to brown too quickly.
Aim for 13 minutes per pound of cooking time. The only way to be absolutely sure of doneness, though, is to use a thermometer. Once the breasts are at 165°F, you're done. High fives all round, then life freeze-frames as you triumphantly punch the air.
Crispy skin and succulent meat.
Works for both small turkeys and giant turkeys, so come one, come all.
Stuffing. Sweet, delicious stuffing.
The four-hour (or so) cooking time means extra time with the family.
Trying your hand at a classic means criticism can be harsh if your turkey isn’t perfect.
The four-hour (or so) cooking time means extra time with the family.
Deep Frying: Dangerous, but Delicious
If you’re the kind of guy who mixes moonshine in his bathtub, washes himself with a rag on a stick in a steel trough, and partakes in lengthy car chases set to banjo music, then boy, do we have a way to cook your turkey.
Jokes aside, this is a thoroughly impressive way to do Thanksgiving, and results in a beautifully crisp, addictingly delicious bird. But it's also very dangerous, as you need to manage a huge vat of very, very hot oil. Plan to do this outside, and work very, very carefully. The National Turkey Federation (seriously, that exists) even has their own in-depth how-to for frying turkeys.
To prepare your turkey, thaw it and remove the neck and giblets from both cavities, and remove any excess fat from around the neck to allow your oil to pass through the carcass evenly. Remove the truss or string holding the wings. Clip off the tip of the wings up to the first joint, and the tail. To reduce spattering, wipe any excess moisture from the inside and outside of the bird.
You’ll need a 30- to 40-quart vessel, with a lid, basket, lifting hook, and burner. Measure the appropriate amount of oil needed for your bird (there should be a marker inside the fryer), taking into consideration the displacement that'll occur once you drop the turkey in, then preheat the oil to 375°F. Turn off your burner just prior to (slowly) lowering your turkey in, turning it back on once the eagle has landed.
Maintaining the oil at about 350°F, you’ll want to give it approximately three to four minutes per pound of meat. Once the bird is cooked, check the internal temperature is at least 165°F degrees in the breast, and let it cool on paper towels for at least 15 minutes before serving.
This is going to turn some heads. Prepare yourself for legendary status with the family.
The best Thanksgiving leftovers you've ever had.
It's dangerous. You really can’t have kids or pets running about while you’re doing this.
You need to invest in some heavy-duty equipment to do this safely.
This only works well on birds 10lbs or smaller. Any bigger, and the skin will burn before the meat is cooked. So you may have to fry twice, or cut the guest list.
You need a lot of space. So no, Manhattanites, you cannot do this on your fire escape.
Smoky and Savory
You'll have to bundle up for this if you live in a colder climate, but using your grill for Thanksgiving opens up the possibility of wood chips, which can impart a smoky richness to your turkey.
As per usual, thaw your bird, remove the giblets and pat down the inside and out with a paper towel. Most importantly, remove the truss around the wings; it’s essential heat can flow through the body, and that can’t happen if it’s still tied. Spread butter all over your turkey, under the skin, and inside the cavity. Then wrap the wingtips and legs with foil to prevent them from blackening.
You'll also need a large aluminum tray, filled with two cups of water, to catch drips and maintain moisture levels. Place it under the grill's grates, directly below where your turkey will be. Then:
For Propane Grills
Get a smaller aluminum tray, fill it with pre-soaked wood chips, and place it off to the side underneath the grates.
Turn up burners (except the one directly underneath the pan) to high, close the lid, and heat to 350°F. Then set your turkey down directly above the water pan and close the lid.
For Charcoal Grills
Light a modest amount of charcoal and scatter it evenly around the drip pan. Close the lid and check your temperature – again, you want it at about 350°F, and you'll have to tweak the airflow or charcoal levels to get there and maintain it.
When you're at the right temperature, scatter pre-soaked wood chips directly onto the charcoal. Then place your turkey onto the grate, above the drip pan. Keep a close eye on your setup throughout the cook, replenishing wood chips and charcoal if either gets depleted before the turkey is done cooking.
Regardless of your grill type, your cooking time should be about the same as it would in an oven, so plan on the same 13 minutes per pound rule. But since this is a little more finicky, check your temperature early and often. As soon as the breast hits 165°F, you’re done. Put the cooked turkey on a platter to rest for about twenty minutes, then slice and enjoy.
Assuming you do it well: deeply charred (but not burnt) skin.
You can add a smoky note, and can pick from all kinds of wood, each with subtle flavor differences. Apple and peach wood work well, but feel free to experiment.
You have to be diligent, always keeping your eye on the grill. So no, you can’t just set it up and walk away to pound a few.
Depending on your grill setup, this only really works if the weather plays ball. Walking through a snowy backyard, wrapped in a scarf and mittens, to check on your temperature every twenty minutes isn't very fun.
Microwave: If You're Really Lazy
This one’s for the guy that’s always one step ahead of the game. The dude that’s into efficiency over effort. The kind of winner that thinks, "Can I bathe my dog by throwing his ball into the local carwash?"
Turns out that yes, you can totally cook an entire turkey in the microwave. And no, you don’t have to cut it up before hand. It's even been approved by the USDA.
That said, this is going to result in a pretty unappetizing turkey. If you're into rubbery skin and a complete lack of flavor, though, go for it.
Place your completely defrosted turkey in a dish, then cover it all with an oven bag to ensure even heat distribution. Wattage differs with various microwave brands, so it’s best to check the owner's manual for settings. And make sure you have three inches clearance above, and two to three inches clearance either side of the bird. It'll take approximately 10 minutes per pound on half power.
Once it's cooked, let the turkey stand for around twenty minutes before you serve to your astonished and very disappointed guests.
Easy cleanup means more boozing time. We’re guessing that if this method appeals, you’re a boozer.
While you wait the twenty minutes for the bird to cool, you can cook your vegetables in the microwave as well. Who needs the oven?
No crispy skin. Like, at all.
You can’t cook your stuffing inside the bird.
Your guests will never come over again. Actually, this may be a pro.