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A Review of 5 Ways to Cook a Turkey
The Pros and Cons of 5 Popular Ways to Cook a Turkey
Every holiday brings the same cooking conundrum: shall I stick with the time tested way to roast a turkey, or attempt something new, perhaps better, than the classic preparation? Usually, it is hard to improve upon a classic; I suppose that's how traditions become traditions in the first place, but sometimes it's just fun to try something different.
The following is a brief review of some of the more mainstream ways to cook a turkey.
Do You Prefer a Traditional Turkey?
Method #1 Traditional
The traditional way to cook a turkey is to stuff and roast it in a 325 ̊F oven for approximately 20 minutes per pound, or until the breast meat reaches 170° F and the thigh is 180° F. Except for the frequent basting, this method is very straightforward and easy. Also a plus, roasting this way usually results in a visually appealing bird.
However, there are some drawbacks to this method. Often the breast meat dries out before the dark meat is thoroughly cooked. If your turkey is frozen, you have to remember to start thawing days in advance, and cooking time can be extensive.
There are a few simple ways to improve upon the classic. One way is to tent the turkey with foil. This keeps the turkey moist, speeds up cooking time, and eliminates the need for frequent basting. Some folks use a oven bag for the same purpose.
Another great idea is to cook the turkey frozen. This way you never have to handle a raw, dripping bacteria mass, you don't have to remember to thaw, and the white meat does not dry out by the time the dark meat is done. Obviously, this cooking technique takes longer, allow as much as 50% more cooking time. Don't forget to remove the giblet bag from the turkey, and do not stuff a frozen turkey. Stuffing will have to be cooked separately. (Try your crock pot for the stuffing; it comes out perfectly and doesn't take up oven space.)
Drum roll please....
Brine the Bird
Method #2 Brining
Brining is one sure-fire solution for dry turkey meat. Brining is hardly a new concept but is often forgotten or overlooked because it does require a bit of forethought. Soaking your bird in salt water for up to 24 hours will make it tender and juicy; add some herbs, apple cider, maple syrup, or spices, and your meat will be extra flavorful as well.
Drawbacks to this method include the obvious need to plan ahead, as well as the requirement of a pot large enough to submerge the turkey, and a space in the fridge for both turkey and pot (if you want to brine for more than a few hours.)
Grilling the Turkey
Method #3 Grill It
Grilling a turkey is a great way to save space in your oven for all the sides and trimmings. Another bonus: cooking a turkey on the grill cuts down on cleanup. You must use indirect, constant heat, and don't forget a drip pan beneath the turkey. Cook the bird directly on the top rack (lightly coat the rack with nonstick spray,) close the lid and open all vents. Cook for approximately 12 minutes per pound, or until the breast meat reaches 170° F and the dark meat 180° F.
Disadvantages to grilling a turkey include a non-traditional look and flavor to the turkey, and the possibility of weather complications. Also, you obviously need a fairly large grill, the mini-Weber just isn't going to cut it.
My Holiday Party Animals
Method #4 Make It In Advance
One way of reducing your holiday work load is to roast your turkey a day or two before. Make the gravy and carve the bird. Store the meat (refrigerated) in a large roasting pan covered in the gravy. On the big day, the turkey just requires reheating and the meat is moist and delicious because it is kept in the gravy.
What I don't like about this method is the presentation. Call me nostalgic, but I love the part where the golden-brown turkey is pulled from the oven looking picture perfect and smelling like...well, like the holidays of my memories.
Deep Frying a Turkey
Method #5 Deep Fry It
This method has become increasingly popular in the recent years due to the claim that the turkey turns out moist and delicious with a crisp skin and superior flavor.
I have never tried this method myself; I cannot imagine heating a huge vat of frying oil outdoors (safety standards require that you keep well away from buildings, people, and anything flammable,) risking burns, spills and grease fires, and trying to get this red-hot grease ball safely out of the pot. I am quite happy with the old fashioned way of doing things, thank you.
If you choose to try this method, please be very careful and take every possible precaution. Just in case it isn't already apparent, I personally do not recommend this method.
At A Glance
Simple preparation, nice presentation
White meat can get dry, time consuming
Moist, flavorful meat
Must plan ahead
Easy, doesn't take oven space
Can look and taste non-traditional
Convenient, moist delicious meat
No beautiful presentation
Moist meat, crisp skin
Messy and potentially dangerous