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Eat and Drink

How to cook a Thanksgiving turkey

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year - so getting that centerpiece done right is important! Yes, we're talking about the turkey.

Many cooks hate the turkey because of its tendency to dry out. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Roast turkey

Classic. Tried and true. The roast turkey, perfect
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Gerry

Classic. Tried and true. The roast turkey, perfect for carving at the head of a table, with family all around. There's really no wrong way to do this, but Molly Stevens' recipe in Saveur seems just right.

She says to start with a humanely-raised bird no bigger than 15 pounds. "The garganuan, industrially-raised fowl sold by the truckload around the holidays are bland (at best) ... and impossible to cook evenly," she says.

Her tips: you need lots of gravy and don't be skimpy when it comes to pre salting. She says to salt and then refrigerate for one to two days. She also says to not stuff the turkey, to ensure even cooking. That's a controversial way to talk about stuffing, so we'll leave it at that.

Deep-fried turkey

Deep-fried turkey is about as American as it
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Joe

Deep-fried turkey is about as American as it gets, and it actually produces a very flavorful and moist turkey in the shortest amount of time.

Just ask BuzzFeed, which just published the story "Here's Why You Should Deep Fry Your Thanksgiving Turkey."

"A fried turkey tastes and looks better than a roast turkey," editor Christine Byrne wrote.

You need a lot of equipment to deep-fry a turkey, but you can do it outside, freeing up precious kitchen and oven space. And it's fast. At 3 minutes of fry time per pound of turkey, that's only 45 minutes for a 15 pound bird. (BuzzFeed also says you should still brine the bird.

Grilled

Grilling your turkey outside sounds pretty romantic and
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Ernesto Andrade

Grilling your turkey outside sounds pretty romantic and fun, doesn't it? There's also the added benefit of freeing up your oven for side dishes, pies, biscuits and the like.

A recipe from the Food Network gives step by step instructions on how to grill your bird on a charcoal grill or gas grill. Another from Martha Stewart explains how to use a chimney starter to start the process. Try this one and pretend you're living on the land (for a few hours, anyway.)

Trash can turkey

Put a turkey in a trashcan and set
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Nemo's great uncle

Put a turkey in a trashcan and set a fire around it. It's primitive and easy.

OK, it's not that easy... but this recipe from Men's Health explains the process, step by step. This is a fun one and will excite the younger members of your family.

Pro-tip: make a sauce to slather your turkey in after it's done cooking. BBQ, perhaps? The smoky flavor the turkey takes on during the cooking process would work well with it.

Spatchcocked turkey

Spatchcocking is the best way to cook a
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Kate Ter Haar

Spatchcocking is the best way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, declares Bon Appetit, and who is going to argue with them?

Reasons to spatchcock: Bird is juicier, skin is evenly browned and crispy and a 12-pound turkey is done in 90 minutes. Downside: No carving a giant bird at the table in front of your extended family. We choose flavor over pomp, every time, and so does Bon App.

You just have to remove the backbone of the bird. Your butcher might be able to do this for you, or just watch the Bon Appetit video.

Cook and serve your turkey in pieces

We know, you want to impress guests with
Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ

We know, you want to impress guests with a beautifully roasted bird, but wouldn't it be better to show off your amazing cooking skills?

Chef Josh Capon (owner of Lure Fishbar, Bowery Meat Company, El Toro Bianco and B&B Winepub), told us how he does his turkey: in pieces.

And for dramatic effect, he said, you can use a plastic bird and then serve a deboned, delicious turkey meal for the real meal.

Deboning a turkey is fairly simple, though if you need practice, he recommends deboning a few chickens beforehand. Use a sharp knife to follow the lines of the bird, not cutting through any bones and keeping the skin in place. For tricky areas like the breast, go toward the left to separate the meat.

-MELISSA KRAVITZ

Turducken

Deboned chicken, inside deboned duck, inside deboned turkey.
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Phil Romans

Deboned chicken, inside deboned duck, inside deboned turkey. TUR-DUCK-EN.

If the idea of this grosses you out, we suggest shying from this because it is three birds in one, complete with stuffing and sometimes rice to fill the cavities.

If the idea excites you, you can order turducken at Fairway for $14.99 per pound!

To brine or not to brine?

If you want your turkey to stay nice
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Darren Pierson

If you want your turkey to stay nice and moist, you should brine it (soak it in liquid) overnight. This way, moisture is locked in and a subtle flavor from whatever you add to the liquid will permeate the entire bird.

Martha Stewart has a recipe for a delicious brine, made with bay, coriander, juniper, peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic, onions, thyme and Riesling.

But not everyone is a fan of the brine. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats says a wet brine "robs your bird of flavor" despite retaining moisture. He offers an alternative: salting. The salt dissolves in the juices of the bird, which in turn becomes a richer, more concentrated brine, he says, which then breaks down muscle proteins.

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