5 Alternative Ways to Cook a Turkey

From spatchcock to southern deep-fry. Five innovative ways to cook a turkey.

If you’re anything like me, you’re a control freak, which means Thanksgiving is a constant struggle to maintain control. There’s the fire, which needs frequent stoking; the potatoes, which need mashing; the football, which needs to be louder than the music; and, of course, the turkey, which requires the most attention.

But perhaps this year you want to try something different than the same old baked turkey with stuffing. You’ve heard so much about deep-fried turkey; why not give that a shot? Or what about grilling the bird? Or smoking it? Whatever you decide, just make sure you leave room for pie. And football. And booze. And leftovers. And a nap.

God bless America. Here are five alternative methods for cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving.

Deep-Fried

Deep-fried turkey is a Southern tradition, and many foodies cling to it as the most delicious (and unhealthy) way to prepare a turkey. Aside from the oily, greasy, artery-clogging goodness, it is also a much faster cooking medium for this situation.

You’ll want to use an outdoor cooker of some sort, perhaps a propane burner. (Seriously, don't fry a turkey indoors.) A 5- to 10-gallon stockpot with a basket insert should do the trick for most birds.

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As always, it’s a good idea to brine the turkey beforehand. Alton Brown of the Food Network recommends soaking it in a brine of hot water, kosher salt, and brown sugar for 8 to 16 hours. As for the deep fry, most recipes call for peanut oil, but vegetable oil will also work. Just don’t burn yourself.

When you're ready to actually fry that sucker, you’ll be pleased to know that the actual cooking time is less than an hour; this means you’ll be able to devote more time to football, boozing, and watching this video of Bruce Willis cooking a turkey in his trademark Fry Hard With a Vengeance pot.

Best Deep Fried Turkey Recipe: Alton Brown (Food Network)

Grilled

One of the best parts about grilling a bird is the extra space it frees up in the kitchen for baking casseroles, mashed potatoes, and other Thanksgiving wonders. But that’s not all; some experts maintain that the crisp smokiness of grilled turkey beats the oven any day of the week.

Preparing the turkey for a grill is pretty similar to prepping it for the oven. You’ll need to cook the bird for about the same amount of time, since grills get about as hot as ovens (Reluctant Gourmet claims a 12-pound turkey will take about two and a half hours on a gas grill). You'll still want to brine or baste your turkey, too.

Grilling does pose a few added challenges, though. They're less precise than ovens, so be sure to keep an eye on both the grill thermometer (if you have one) and the meat thermometer (absolutely necessary). Meat tends to dry out faster on grills, too, and it'll be tougher to capture turkey drippings for your gravy. Some grills feature a holder at the front of the unit for this very purpose. Otherwise, get creative and fashion some sort of tinfoil mechanism, because you’re going to want that gravy.

Best Grilled Turkey Recipe: Reluctant Gourmet

Smoked

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. (Some cooks still like to brine the turkey beforehand with unusual ingredients, such as wine, bourbon, or apple cider.) Different types of wood impart different profiles of smoky flavors that end up in the finished product.

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Unless you fancy building your own smoker, you’ll need to purchase one (water smokers are most popular for turkeys), although there are also methods of using a grill to indirectly smoke your bird.

Finally, Fabulous Foods doesn’t recommend smoking a turkey that weighs more than 12 pounds. Smoking occurs at a lower temperature, and is therefore not as thorough a method of cooking (and sanitizing) larger hunks of meat.

Best Smoked Turkey Recipe: Joshua Bousel (Serious Eats)

Braised

Braising a turkey doesn't mesh well with Thanksgiving tradition, which states that the bird must be a stuffed, golden centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. But some cooks argue that hacking apart the main dish and braising it does the most to ensure that the meat’s moisture is retained—a condition that so many recipes fail to accomplish, given the natural dryness of turkey meat.

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, as it is the most sure-fire way to both fully cook it and keep it juicy while maintaining its essential, characteristic flavors.

That said, it's still possible to dry out a turkey while you're braising it, so you may want to consider brining it beforehand either way.

Best Braised Turkey Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen

Spatchcocked

We saved the best—and perhaps most unusual—for last. As mentioned, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to cooking turkey; uneven cooking temperatures and overly dry meat are the biggest. Spatchcocking solves both of these problems—as long as you do it correctly.

Quite the gruesome avenue, spatchcocking involves butterflying the bird, which means removing the spine and splaying the bird flat—quite literally like a butterfly—over your cooking surface. This ensures an even cook, but some experts go even further and propose flattening the bird with a brick during the roast.

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J. Kenji Lopez runs through all the advantages of this particular cooking method for Serious Eats. It solves a lot of problems, and it’s also kind of cool; you’ll definitely impress some family members with this method. Just don’t screw up, and remember to enjoy the holiday.

Best Spatchcocked Turkey Recipe: Serious Eats

Photo: ukanda, Flickr [CC-BY-3.0]

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