Turkey Time: How Do You Cook Your Bird?

Posted by Annette Bellisari on

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it's time to start thinking about the feast you're going to prepare. If you think turkey always must be the same year after year, you need to keep reading.

The classic way to cook turkey is to thaw a frozen bird, stuff it, then roast it. But year after year of preparing the dish in the same way can get a bit dull. At its most basic, wash the turkey, stuff it, and preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Rub the outside of the turkey with butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and fresh rosemary. Bake according to size. It really is that easy. If you are not stuffing your turkey, roast it breast down to ensure the meat stays juicy and tender.

Brining the turkey has become almost commonplace. Using a brine not only infuses the turkey with flavors, it also ensures the meat stays moist while cooking. Just be sure the turkey stays cold while it's in the brine, you don't want to spoil the meat before you get a chance to eat it. A cooler and ice can be used if there isn't enough room in the refrigerator.

My favorite way to cook a turkey is to spatchcock. How it is done is you remove the backbone of a whole bird and lay it flat to cook. You can spatchcock practically any bird; think turkeys, chickens, Cornish game hens and even pigeons. Though the presentation isn’t traditional, there are a few reasons we prefer to spatchcock turkey:   It’s quick. Because the bird is flattened, the cooking time is cut almost in half.

The bird cooks evenly. With a whole bird, the breast meat often dries out before the dark meat is done. By flattening the turkey, the legs and thighs (dark meat) are more exposed to the heat, and so they cook in the same time as the breast. The skin gets nice and crispy. Since the whole bird is equally exposed to heat, every inch of its skin will evenly brown and develop that crave-worthy crispiness. There are numerous videos that can show you how to spatchcock a bird! 🦃

Smoking is a slower cooking process for turkey but yields tasty results. Although, if you've never smoked anything before, I wouldn’t suggest you start experimenting at Thanksgiving. One of the best things about smoking a turkey is the different flavors infused in the meat from the wood chips. Smoking also keeps the meat moist and smooth. Along with the unique flavor and texture you get from smoking a turkey, it keeps the turkey and the mess out of the kitchen. Don't worry if the meat looks a little pink. If the internal temperature is 165 degrees, it's fine. Sometimes there is a chemical reaction from smoking that can change the color of the flesh.

Although it's not the healthiest way to cook turkey, deep frying your bird sure makes it taste great. Another bonus to deep frying is that it takes minimal time to cook. Most recipes call for about an hour compared to four to six hours of roasting. Since this frees up your time and your oven, it's well worth considering. Just be careful. Turkey fryers have been known to catch fire relatively easily. Always use them outside and never leave the deep fryer unattended and never, never use a fry a frozen turkey.

Don't put that grill away yet. Cooking the turkey on the grill is a wonderful way to free up your kitchen and give the bird fabulous flavor. Remember, you can grill in any weather—even in the snow! Just make sure that your grill keeps a constant temperature throughout the cooking process. Use a grill thermometer and occasionally add coals if you're using charcoal. But don't think you can put this on the fire and forget it. Whoever oversees cooking the turkey must spend quite a bit of time with the charcoal. It's hard to keep the grill at a consistent temperature and a meat thermometer is an absolute necessity.

These are just a few of the many ways to cook that Thanksgiving bird. Tell us in the comments how you do yours. Whatever method you choose to use to cook your turkey this year, remember that the best part of the feast is the time we get to spend with loved ones!

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