More Than One Way to Cook a Turkey
In the United States, turkey as a holiday dinner meat is associated most strongly with Thanksgiving. However, Christmas runs a close second. In my family tradition, glazed ham with fresh cloves has forever been our dinner choice, turkey the special treat for Thanksgiving. Whether choosing turkey for either or both important feasting holidays, the bird IS the centerpiece; the magical focus for the whole meal so it has to be cooked to perfection.
My mother was a phenomenal cook and our turkey was always perfect. She cooked it the same way, year after year: In the oven using a Reynolds baking-bag, stuffed with dressing or savory vegetables, and lightly seasoned with sage, salt, and pepper. Without exception, the turkey was always moist and delicious. It never entered my mind, or my mom’s, to consider cooking it differently.
As an adult cooking my own turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, I followed the same recipes and procedures familiar to me. Even after all these many years, I still make the same stuffing recipe and prepare my gravy with the giblets. Most of the time I do bake the turkey as she did, those Reynolds baking bags simply the best.
However, every once in a while we’ve experimented, mixed it up, and gone a different route. We bought a deep fryer when they first gained popularity, the scary ones that require propane and a big backyard for safety’s sake! Now we have one of the compact deep fryers that sit on the kitchen counter. Either method yields a truly delicious turkey and in record time. Maybe twice, my husband has used his BBQ, smoking the bird slowly all day. He is a wizard at concocting marinades and brining, trying different flavors used to enhance the taste of the meat.
The above methods are the most common, but there are many other ways that are a bit more unique.
Beer Can Turkey
You literally stick the entire open can of beer inside the bird.
Why this works so well is that first of all you are adding a source of moisture to the turkey that keeps it from drying out. Second, you are adding beer.
Now, more than the fact that beer is good, the yeast and malt in beer react with the turkey, particularly the skin, making it thin and crispy while the meat remains juicy.
One recipe is here: Food Network Beer-Can Turkey
Soaking a turkey overnight in a solution of salt and water ensures moist results. When you add aromatics to the brine, the resulting roast is also infused with a subtle character all its own.
Salt causes the meat tissues to absorb water and flavorings. It also breaks down the proteins, resulting in a tender-seeming turkey. This means that despite the moisture loss during roasting and the long cooking time, you end up with a juicy bird. Additionally, if cooking the brined bird using a deep fryer or hot smoker (see next section), the juices are seared inside, resulting in super moist meat.
The trick with brining is to find a container large enough to completely immerse the bird, and to plan way ahead because the best brining results are after 10-12 hours at the very least. Longer brining the better! Recipes galore are on the web with everything imaginable added to the salt water.
BBQ and Smoked Turkey
Whether you brine or not, you still have to cook the turkey! Outdoor barbecuing is a very easy and efficient way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey. No mess in your oven or the kitchen, for one thing, and the smoky taste is awesome!
Any type of cooker will do: pellet smoker, charcoal, gas, or whatever. Options vary in how you cook too: rotisserie, directly on the grill, in a pan on the grill, etc. There are some special considerations, however.
For one, since the cooking takes place outside, weather can be a problem. Winds that snuff out the flame or the cold that can affect the heat inside the cooker. A big warning is that the prep is very important. Smoked turkey will dry out faster due to the lengthy cook times and the heated air in constant circulation. Brining helps with this.
It is vital to do your research, but the end result is worth it! The best place for info on BBQ’ing birds that I found was at AmazingRibs.com. THIS PAGE HERE tells you everything you need to know and more.
A portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken, the turducken consists of a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is stuffed inside a deboned turkey. A meatlover’s dream! Each slice contains portions of chicken, duck, and turkey with stuffing in between the layers.
This one is so bizarre that I had to look up the origins–
In 1984, Junior and Sammy Hebert invented turducken at their butcher shop in Maurice, Louisiana, five miles south of Lafayette. A farmer came in with a freshly killed turkey, duck, and chicken. He wanted them stuffed, and the Heberts obliged, smearing pork stuffing all over the duck before shoehorning it into the turkey, then working the floppy boneless chicken into that. They filled it with cornbread dressing and sewed it up.
They called it a “turducken” and for the most part considered it a joke and local amusement. Until, that is, famed NFL sportscaster John Madden discovered turducken, and began giving one away to the winning team at the Thanksgiving Bowl in the late 1980s. Around that same time, haute-Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme began making it for his New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul, and included a six-page recipe for it in his Prudhomme Family Cookbook. His flamboyant version has three different stuffings (including oyster) and a gravy that contains eggplant, sweet potato, and Grand Marnier.
The turducken became a delicacy, of sorts, and the rest is history.
If you are ready to tackle making a turducken, here is a YouTube video by award-winning butcher Armande Ferrante on how to do it:
Recipes for glazes, spices, rubs, marinades, injections, and more are plentiful. Perhaps too much so! How can one decide? Maybe cook turkey more than once a year, perhaps.
Hi Sharon! Lovely post.
I’ve cooked many a turkey in my 45 years of marriage.
Although I’ve used the beer can method on chickens, a turkey is too tall to get in the BBQ or oven sitting up, plus it’s hard to ensure it won’t fall over & spill the hot liquid all over. I cannot not stress enough that you need to OPEN the beer can before insertion. Any liquid works -can be coke or water, etc.
I often brine my chickens or turkeys but I rarely brine form more than an hour. Maybe I don’t get the full benefit of brining but it distributes the salt and is less of a strain on my fridge space (though I know people who use a cooler and ice packs around the bag or whatever the turkey is in.
I’ve roasted turkeys both in the oven and in a pan (plus rack, plus a little water at bottom of pan) on the BBQ. That way, you can make gravy even with a barbecued bird. Without a constant small amount of water under the rack, the pan on barbecue to catch the drippings will burn them. I use a disposable pan on the barbecue, then I transport it outside and back in with a cookie sheet under the disposable pan – otherwise you’ll lose the turkey when the disposable pan collapses under the weight of the turkey.
Also I have tried covering the breast with bacon, which is good in what it does for the bird but it makes the bacon flavourless.
Back in the days when the supermarkets had actual butchers working there, I’d often buy a very large bird, then get the butcher to cut it in half. I’d roast half and freeze the other half for later. Especially on the barbecue, this was perfect; the larger bird has more meat and is better value for the money. The half bird didn’t need turning and was particularly delicious.
Another thing about roasting a turkey on the barbecue is that it takes less time to cook than in the oven. You do need to be careful about temperature regulation, as you want the inside cooked thoroughly but the outside still tender and juicy.
I’d say the barbecue is my favourite way to roast a turkey. And on holiday get-togethers, it means there’s more room in the kitchen and oven for other things. When doing a turkey when it’s not a holiday – especially on a hot day in summer – I appreciate not heating up the house with the oven. We have turkey at least once a season; here in Canada, our thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, so we’re more than ready for another turkey by Christmas and another for Easter.
I forgot to say that if you use the beer can and put a pan underneath to catch the drippings, add a little water to keep them from burning. But be really careful cooking a beer-can bird in the oven, whether on a pan or not, as the can & bird could fall over while putting it in or taking it out, and what a mess that would be – and a danger if the liquid is hot and spilling all over. However the bird cooked this way is worth the trouble..
And if you barbecue, be sure your bird will fit on it with the lid closed. I’ve sometimes over-estimated what would fit. Of course if the bird is nudging the inside of the lid, I am particularly glad of the aluminum foil tent I’ve put over the breast.
My husband is a master BBQer and has a huge pellet-style smoker. We’ve cooked the turkey on that several times. Can be tricky, as you said, and always worries me due to the erratic nature of heat control and so on. But the meat sure tastes phenomenal.
There are so many ways to cook a turkey, something I never dreamed of until way into my adult years. Mom always baked it, and she was a fabulous cook so the bird was wonderful. I never considered doing anything else. Then the deep frying craze came along. So we have experimented. I have to say my favorite is deep frying, especially with the new inside fryers. That is what we did this year. Yummy!
Never thought of using bacon. Might try that someday. Thanks for the tip!