So, you’re hosting this year’s Thanksgiving get together. Friends, family, your dog and your goldfish are all looking to you to make sure that the annual feast goes off without a hitch. As you’re frantically making sure you have enough seating, that you have matching silverware for everyone, and that you know where your gravy boat is, we’d like to remind you what the true start of the day is: the turkey.
That’s right; no matter how great your side dishes are, no matter how impeccable your drink selections are, people are really going to be focused on your bird. So how do you ensure that your turkey is juicy, delicious, and has that golden crispy skin that everyone loves? Here are three tips on getting your bird from its floppy white state to hot, moist, and amazing on the dinner table.
Fresh vs. Frozen
This is a debate that comes up every year when people start to talk turkey. Should you get a fresh turkey? Or should you stick with the 24-pound frozen bowling ball? After all, fresh ingredients taste better, so it’s natural to think that the fresh turkey is going to taste better than a frozen one, right?
Not so fast; you have to remember that for a fresh turkey to taste better, you want it to be as close to the condition it was in when it was alive. So, the question then becomes, are you getting your turkey from the supermarket, where the “fresh” turkeys have still been shipped from five states away over a few weeks? Or are you getting your turkey from Uncle Silas’ Turkey Farm which is ten minutes away from your house? If your turkey goes from squawking to plucked in your refrigerator in under a day, then yes, fresh is better. If you’re getting your “fresh” turkey from the supermarket, then no, stick with the frozen.
Frozen turkeys are flash frozen generally the same day that they are harvested. This means that despite their frozen state when they are thawed, they are very similar to how they were when they were alive. Their rock hard state also prevents them from suffering collision injuries and other mishaps, unlike their non-frozen cousins. So remember, unless you are picking your turkey directly from the field, stick with frozen for best results.
There are many debates about brining your turkey. For our money, we go with brining, because it makes for a juicier turkey overall. But wait, you say. What is brining? Don’t you just slide the turkey out of its wrapper and throw it in the roasting pan with some salt and pepper and wait for ten hours?
In a word? No.
If you want the juiciest turkey possible, a twelve-hour bath in brine will do your turkey a world of good. A brine is essentially salt and sugar in water with various spices. Overnight, your turkey absorbs this flavor and moisture and the muscle cells become full. That means when you roast your turkey, there’s more water, to begin with. So as moisture evaporates from the cooking, there’s still a lot of moisture left in there. Without brining, you’re left with drier meat, which as everyone knows, doesn’t make for the best dining or the best sandwiches the next day.
So brine your bird. Here’s our favorite brining recipe and steps, courtesy of Alton Brown from the Food Network.
Ways to Cook Your Turkey
When it comes to cooking your turkey, there are multiple methods that can help you make your bird taste amazing. Of course, you can go with the traditional roasting with tented foil in an oven for eight hundred years, but why? There are so many other amazing ways to get your turkey tasting great without worrying about lowering the temperature or futzing with foil. We’re going to cover two of the greats right here: Deep Frying and Spatchcocking.
Deep frying your turkey is a great way to get a great tasting bird with exceptionally crispy skin. People will be sneaking into the kitchen just to pull pieces of this crunchy and delicious stuff off your bird. After all, it’s been deep fried. However, there are some drawbacks to this method of cooking. First, it doesn’t produce drippings, so you can’t make gravy. Secondly, it can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. There’s an entire section on YouTube devoted to turkey deep fryer disasters.
So if you’re going to deep fry your turkey, make sure you follow the instructions on the fryer and make sure you follow some basic safety tips as well. The guys over at SeriousEats cover the ins and outs of deep frying pretty thoroughly. That being said, a deep fried bird is a truly quintessential American treat, and we firmly encourage everyone to partake of one at least once in their lives.
When you tell someone you want to spatchcock a turkey, they may give you a strange look and move seats. Don’t let that discourage you, however. A spatchcocked turkey gives you amazing results in about one-fourth the time of regular cooking. Essentially, you split your turkey down the back, removing the backbone and press it flat. Because you go from cooking a sphere to a flat rectangle, heat penetrates the turkey more evenly, allowing for quicker cooking. From personal experience, we cooked a 22-lb spatchcocked turkey in 84 minutes. Another benefit of spatchcocking is that it also makes sure that all of the skin of your turkey is exposed to the heat, giving you one hundred percent crispy turkey skin.
There is one significant drawback to spatchcocking your bird. When you smoosh it flat, you remove the ability to present it out on the table Norman Rockwell-style. Admittedly, that’s a small price to pay for a delicious turkey and even better leftovers, so that’s a personal choice you have to make. If you’d like to look into spatchcocking, here’s a brief guide on how to do that and dry brine your bird at the same time.