For years, you’ve likely followed a formula that looks like this: buy, stuff and roast a turkey, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! It’s just that there are so many other delicious possibilities to explore and isn’t variety the spice of life? Let’s take a look at four popular methods, including the classic roasting technique.
This is probably the most classic cooking method but it will require many hours and a large portion of your oven. A 20-pound turkey, stuffed, can take almost seven hours, depending on your oven. If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to have chosen sides that work with the remaining cook area and the time you have.
The biggest challenge with roasting a turkey is keeping it juicy! One way to prevent this is to stuff butter underneath the bird’s skin – and not just any butter – make compound butter, using salt and pepper, olive oil, fresh parsley, and lemon juice! As for the cavity, this is where you may choose to stuff it (we’ll get to this soon). If you have decided to cook your stuffing separately, it’s still a good idea to fill the interior with two onion halves, salt and pepper and a whole lemon. As the turkey roasts, these ingredients will steam and impart a sweet flavour. Be sure to spread melted butter (easier) and olive oil all over the bird as well before roasting. Once it’s in the oven, it’s really just a waiting game, but you’ll want to baste it and rotate it every so often, to ensure even cooking. There’s no doubt about it, a roasted turkey makes a beautiful centrepiece. Just don’t forget to rest it before serving, it will be juicier and easier to carve.
A young, plump turkey is the most desirable for any cooking method
Our feathered friend can get a bad reputation because it is often dry as a result of overcooking, so you may want to sous vide your bird to lock in moisture and juice. While this method is still new to most home cooks, it’s a method that restaurants have been using for quite some time. Basically, you’ll need to create a jus for your bird, using its discarded neck, chicken breasts and stock. Then, you’ll submerge your vacuum sealed bird in a water bath, filling its cavity with the jus and fresh herbs like thyme, sage or rosemary. Count on an 8-pound turkey taking approximately six hours to cook. Next, you’ll move it to a pan, set all liquid aside, and roast that beautiful turkey in the oven until the skin is golden – about another hour and a half. Use the set aside liquid to make a savory gravy and you’ve reached the finish line! Not only will you be ready to enjoy what is likely the most succulent turkey you’ve ever tasted, but you’ll most likely have really wowed your friends and family with this innovative technique.
You’ll know your turkey is cooked if, when you poke a fork into the thighs, the juices run clear
Many turkey connoisseurs swear by smoked turkey but, be forewarned, the one thing you need lots of when it comes to this method, is time. It takes even longer to smoke a turkey than it does to roast one. Plan on it taking around thirty minutes for every pound of meat. If you have an electric smoker, great, but if not your gas or charcoal grill will work too (you may just have to babysit it a little more). The key to a great smoked turkey is indirect heat and a consistent temperature. Keeping the temperature at about 225°F for the duration of the cook is a good goal.
Oak, cherry and hickory wood are all great types of wood to use for smoking turkey and you can think about adding a dry rub on the skin for added color and caramelization. Either way, you’ll want to massage the bird with melted butter and olive oil before placing it in the smoker. While you can fill the interior loosely with apples, onions or herbs for added flavor, it is not recommended to stuff a turkey prior to smoking it. This is because the bird will typically be overcooked by the time the inside breading reaches a safe temperature. Not worth the risk!
We think it’s safe to say that this preparation method is trending! It’s a fast way to cook a turkey and results in tender meat and crispy skin. You may have spatchcocked a chicken before and it’s exactly the same method. You remove the backbone of the bird and lay it flat to cook and, because it’s flattened, the time it takes to cook is almost cut in half.
If you’re after maximum flavor, we think that spatchcocking your bird is a wonderful option
Once the bird has been spatchcocked, it’s important to season the turkey with salt and pepper and to massage melted butter onto the skin to help it brown and crisp. If you have the time, do this the night before and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight, as the skin’s exposure to air will only lead to increased crispiness during cooking. Once it’s time, you’re going to roast the bird. It is important to always cook a turkey based on temperature, no matter what the cooking time in a recipe reads. It’s fully cooked when a thermometer reads approximately 350°F, when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
If you’re after maximum flavor, we think that spatchcocking your bird is a wonderful option. The downside is that you won’t get that picture-perfect whole turkey, but with a little patience and finesse, you can definitely plate it in a way that is pleasing to the eye, and your tastebuds will thank you.
No matter how you choose to cook your turkey, do yourself (and the turkey) a favor and ditch your dusty electric carving knife for an 8-inch chefs knife instead. It was made for exactly this purpose.