It's time to tackle that turkey tradition by planning and prepping our holiday meal, and often the turkey can be the most intimidating. People are looking for new ways to ensure the turkeys they serve to family and friends are not dry and bland.
Meal Kits Canada dug deep into Google Trends data and found that over the past 30 days, searches for “How to cook a turkey” have increased by 233% worldwide. And the results are looking a little less traditional. A lot of home cooks may be trying newer methods of preparing their plump poultry this Thanksgiving.
Spoiler alert: despite new advances in cooking technology and unique kitchen gadgets available to consumers, home cooks still prefer to go the traditional route when cooking a turkey. Regardless, here are some of the top options.
Most Popular Ways To Prepare Turkey
According to Epicurious, brining gives you the juiciest possible bird. Soaking the turkey in this saltwater solution forces the bird to absorb moisture, so much that it weighs more after brining.
Adding citrus fruits, spices, and herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme to your brining solution can also help boost flavor with minimum effort. You can get creative with your flavor add-ins and adapt them to suit your tastes.
Spatchcocking the turkey is a method that originated with Mark Bittman, New York Times food writer, in 2002. It has long been used for chicken but has grown in popularity for turnkey preparation. It drastically reduces a turkey's cooking time by creating more surface area – the meat cooks quickly. How quickly? Imagine cooking your turkey in half the time!
It can be a little intimidating because it requires removing the backbone and then pressing down and flattening the bird, so it resembles a butterfly. But the bird cooks more evenly and becomes crispier, because you're exposing all of the skin to the oven's heat. So you get a juicier turkey in less time, and get more time to watch football on the couch.
Prefer your turkey sweet, smokey, and tender? Smoked turkey is for you. It does require more time to ensure the meat is cooked and has reached a safe internal temperature, though.
This ‘set it and forget it method' is very popular because you simply leave the bird alone for a few hours to do its thing. Using aromatic wood, spice rubs, and basting can add flavor to the smoked turkey while it cooks.
Dry brining, also called pre-salting, is an easier alternative to its wet counterpart because it does not require soaking in water. The salt and spices are rubbed directly onto the bird under the skin, then left to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours. The salt pulls the moisture out of the turkey and creates its own brine without adding any liquid.
Jenn Segal from Once Upon a Chef says, “When it comes to turkey, dry-brining is much easier than wet brining and basically accomplishes the same thing. The salt in the brine not only deeply seasons the meat but also ensures the turkey bakes up tender and juicy with golden, crispy skin.” You can find Jenn's delicious recipe for Herb and Brown Sugar Dry-Brined Turkey at Once Upon a Chef.
5. Oven Roasted
Roasting has become less popular lately since it is time-consuming and often results in dry meat. But you can still get a delicious turkey with this method. Oven-roasted turkeys require more prep and basting time. Because there is no moisture, and the heat is consistent, some parts of the bird can cook quicker than others resulting in dry meat if not basted properly throughout the cooking time.
Cynthia from What A Girl Eats says, “Roasting the turkey is the easiest part of the meal. Make sure it's thoroughly defrosted. Instead of stuffing your bird with dressing, try filling the cavity with lemon wedges and fresh herbs. It will cook faster, and the flavor is amazing.”
6. Deep Fried
Fried turkey is a showstopper and became popular in the 1970s, especially in the South, but it is not for the faint of heart. Deep frying results in a golden bird with crispy skin and juicy meat. Alton Brown of the Food Network recommends soaking it in a mixture of kosher salt and brown sugar for 8 to 16 hours before frying. Compared to other methods, this is one of the quickest ways to cook a turkey.
Some people shy away from frying a turkey because it requires gallons of oil to be heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with propane tanks. In America, fire departments respond to at least 1,000 fires caused by deep fat fryers. To ensure a turkey is cooked safely, thaw and dry out the bird thoroughly, if not brining, and be careful!
7. Air Fried
Are you hosting a small Friendsgiving this year? The air fryer may be your answer. Air fryers have become popular since they give you that crispy fried taste without all the oil and in half the time.
According to the NPD Group, air fryer sales have increased by 76% in the last two years. You can easily cook a smaller turkey in an air fryer, but you will have to cut it into pieces to fit it into a conventional air fryer. Covering the turkey in a bold spice rub will add some delicious flavor.
Try grilling or barbecuing a turkey if you want to really change up the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It provides juicy meat, crispy skin, and a smoky flavor.
According to CNBC, more than $1.8 billion worth of grills, smokers, and stoves were sold between March and May in the United States. Traeger grills reported revenue of $235.6 million in the first three months of 2021, up 107% year over year. Barbecuing and grilling skyrocketed during the pandemic while everyone stayed home, and many people see grilling as a new hobby to invest in.
Andrew Karpiak from Kamloops Living comments, “using my Traeger to cook a turkey not only frees up coveted oven space but also resulted in the best-tasting turkey I have ever had.”
In addition to freeing up space in the oven for other dishes, grilling or barbecuing is a healthy way to cook poultry and requires less fat than other traditional methods. You can stuff the turkey with onions, lemons, oranges, and herbs to bring on that fall flavor. Be sure to use a digital thermometer to ensure your bird cooks to the perfect temperature.
Even though home cooks have many new ways to cook turkey, they still take the traditional route of wet-brining their birds. Whatever method you choose to prepare and cook your turkey this year, don't take on more than you can handle. Keep it simple and focus on spending time with loved ones.