Turkey in the oven

Turkey in the oven (Photo by noraismail on Shutterstock)

The Turkey is the centerpiece for many American Thanksgiving tables. For the experienced home cook, preparing the bird is second nature. For everyone else, it can be a daunting task. There are many different methods that result in a succulent Thanksgiving turkey for your holiday meal. Our list of the top seven best ways to cook a turkey aims to help home chefs prepare for the big holiday event with ease.

With rising costs of food and general inflation, it is more important than ever to get the turkey right on the first try, especially if you’re shopping on a budget. A new poll examined the impact of inflation on the dishes that traditionally fill America’s Thanksgiving feasts — finding that turkey, mac & cheese, and sweet potato casserole have seen their prices skyrocket the most over the last 20 years. Overall, the survey, commissioned by CouponFollow, found that the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is now 64 percent higher than it was in 2002. On average, Americans are spending $251 on their Thanksgiving feast this year.

With the cost of food, it’s no surprise that many families are planning to cut back when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. Another poll of 1,000 Americans reveals that since many are struggling with higher prices at the grocery store, 52 percent are asking guests to bring a dish to Thanksgiving dinner. Three in four are asking guests to bring their own alcohol, while just under half (46%) are asking people to provide the dessert.

Whether you have help or decide to cook the Turkey yourself, we have you covered! Cooking is a flexible endeavor, and there are many ways to get the bird cooked and on the table. The key to culinary success on Thanksgiving may be down to research and making sure that the cooking method is a good match for your needs and skill level. Our sources helped us discover the seven best ways to cook turkey. Let us know your favorite methods in the comments below!

The List: Best Ways to Cook Turkey, Per Culinary Experts

1. Roasting

Roasting whole is the most typical cooking method, but cooking a turkey in pieces can save time and make the process a bit easier. Mashed raves, “I roast a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. It’s the one time a year that I make turkey and I personally think that roasting it is the best. If you have a large brood hunkered down around your table each year in November, then it’s hard to beat the classic roast bird.”

Roast turkey
Roast turkey (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

Consumer Reports praises, “A crispy, golden-brown exterior may be your goal, but it’s the interior temperature that really matters. Too low and you risk food poisoning; too high and your bird may look a lot better than it tastes. Wiggling a drumstick or checking to see if the juices run clear aren’t reliable ways of telling whether a turkey is done: Use a meat thermometer.”

“There are two major benefits to cutting up your turkey and roasting its parts separately. First, you can have Thanksgiving dinner on the table in half the time, thanks to the smaller pieces. Second, it allows the meat to cook more evenly. As an added bonus, as pointed out by Saveur, this method will free up tons of oven space for the all-important sides,” exclaims goodtaste with Tanji.

2. Braising

Braising is a wet cooking method that involves simmering the bird in a flavorful broth or other cooking liquid. This method sacrifices a crisp exterior for tender, fall-apart meat. Reviewed says, “This method is popular with foodies, and it really gets to the heart of why so many of them take issue with Thanksgiving: They just don’t like turkey, mostly because it’s too dry. I happen to like it in all forms, but if you side with the skeptics you might want to try braising your bird.”

Cheers at Thanksgiving with red wine
Cheers at Thanksgiving with red wine (Photo by Atsushi Hirao on Shutterstock)

Greatist describes, “Braising is a cooking method that browns meat in the pan and then lets it simmer in liquid. In this recipe… the turkey legs turn out tender and juicy after soaking in a mixture of apple cider and turkey stock. Extra moisture in this meat prevents drying out in the fridge, so it makes for top-notch leftovers.”

Mental Floss suggests a combination of roasting and braising to get the best of both cooking methods. “To braise a turkey, you first cook it in the oven, let it rest, then slice it and remove the legs and wings, and cook the meat in broth. It won’t look like a traditional Thanksgiving turkey for the presentation, but it will taste delicious.”

3. Wet Brining

Wet brining is the process of soaking a turkey in a solution of salt, sugar, water, and aromatics. This flavoring method is great for getting seasoning deep into the meat of the bird. Oprah.com comments, “Let’s talk turkey: The only minor con here is salt—frozen turkeys are often higher in sodium to start with because they’re injected with saline to keep them juicy… and the meat will also absorb some more salt from the brine itself (it’s hard to say, for sure, how much).”

Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner (© mizina – stock.adobe.com)

The Daily Meal adds, “OK, so brining might not be its own cooking method entirely but is something more people should be doing and a trick that those in the know swear by! When done correctly, brining can produce a turkey that is juicy, well-seasoned and totally delicious.”

“Brine your turkey for the best juicy bird. Brines are a great flavor infuser for lean proteins like poultry and pork, tenderizing the meat while keeping it firm, juicy, and well-seasoned. In recent years, brining has become more popular and can be done with either a wet or dry brine. A wet brine involves immersing the turkey in a salt-water solution for 12 – 24 hours,” details foodie crush.

4. Spatchcocking

Spatchcocking is a cooking method where the backbone and breastbone are removed. This allows the turkey to be cooked flat, which can significantly reduce cook time. Food & Wine explains, “Salt and pepper are all you need when the meat is juicy and tender. Because it’s spatchcocked (the backbone is removed and the bird is flattened before cooking), the skin is supremely crisp, and it roasts in nearly half the time as traditional versions.”

Spatchcocked turkey
Spatchcocked turkey (Photo by Brent Hofacker on Shutterstock)

“To spatchcock a turkey, you must cut out the backbone and lay it flat, producing a more even cooking surface (and often less dry meat). You’ll also find the turkey has more crispy skin and will cook faster than a turkey in its traditional form,” offers goodtaste.

Reviewed states, “As mentioned, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to cooking turkey. Uneven cooking temperatures and overly dry meat are the biggest among them. Spatchcocking solves both of these problems, as long as you do it correctly.”

5. Dry Brine

Dry Brine involves liberal seasoning of the turkey. These magical spice blends can include salt, sugar, and other flavors to produce a palate pleasing turkey. The Daily Meal compliments this easy method, “Did you know that not all brines are wet? Many people hear the word brine and immediately picture a giant vessel of liquid, but dry brines are also a great way to flavor your turkey and ensure it stays wonderfully juicy.”

Thanksgiving turkey dinner
Thanksgiving dinner (© evgenyb – stock.adobe.com)

“Brines are a great flavor infuser for lean proteins like poultry and pork, tenderizing the meat while keeping it firm, juicy, and well-seasoned. In recent years, brining has become more popular and can be done with either a wet or dry brine… Dry-brining is where salt is rubbed over the turkey skin for 24 – 48 hours before cooking,” assures foodiecrush.

Food & Wine articulates, “A dry brine is not only an easier technique, but it also results in crispier skin and more flavorful meat than a classic wet brine. Those final six to 12 hours of drying will ensure crackling, crispy skin.”

6. Smoker

Pit masters will attest that smoking the bird is best. This method requires a smoker large enough for a turkey and some planning but will result in a juicy and flavorful turkey. “Expert pitmaster Barrett Black of The Original Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart showed us how to pick the perfect bird, trim excess fat, season it just right for a dry brine, do some extra prep for the smoker, and then send it for a low and slow smoking. This method is not only ultra-low maintenance, but it frees up much-needed oven space, allows you to maintain moisture in your bird, and invites all kinds of flavor experimentation,” claims goodtaste.

Meat smoker
Meat smoker (Photo by Pelle Zoltan on Shutterstock)

Reviewed relates, “Smokers allow you to be creative with some of the unique tastes that wood chips add, and you don’t even need to season the bird beforehand, although we highly recommend it. Some cooks like to brine the turkey beforehand with unusual ingredients, such as wine, bourbon, or apple cider. And different types of wood will impart different flavors to the bird.”

Food & Wine reviews, “Smoking a turkey yields juicy and tender meat. The keys to success are seasoning the bird with a dead-simple saltwater brine, then controlling the temperature of the smoker for even cooking. The added bonus of smoking the Thanksgiving turkey? It frees up the oven for sides and pies.”

7. Grill

Busting out the BBQ grill on Thanksgiving Day can be therapeutic. Rather than cooking in the center of a bustling household, enjoy the great outdoors while cooking away from the holiday din. “Fun fact: You can use a grill more or less like an oven… Take your turkey outside and roast it in a closed grill for a couple of hours…You’ll get the crispy exterior you know and love without making a mess indoors,” according to Greatist.

Thanksgiving turkey
Thanksgiving turkey (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

Reviewed asserts, “One of the best parts about grilling a bird is the extra space it frees up in the kitchen for baking casseroles, whipping up mashed potatoes, and chopping veggies… Kitchen capacity aside, some experts maintain that the crisp smokiness of grilled turkey beats the oven any day of the week.”

Mashed evaluates, “In much of the country, grilling might not be the most obvious way to go about cooking a turkey near the end of November, but it can be a great alternative to roasting your bird and, unlike smoking, you likely won’t need a special piece of equipment in order to do so.”

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