For most families in the US, it’s just not Thanksgiving without the turkey! This dish has been a tradition ever since Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday, and although it’s very simple in nature, there are many different ways you can cook it perfectly.
There are a few different ways to do it, mostly varying on how long it takes to finish. However, the final taste and texture will be different depending on how you do it, obviously.
Today, I’m walking you through the entire process from preparation to execution. There’ll be some tips along the way and by the end you’ll have a pretty good understanding of how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey – whichever way you decide to go for!
“It always seems impossible until it's done." – Nelson Mandela
Alright, let’s talk about what to do before you even take the turkey out of the freezer, because there are some important steps here.
How long does it take to thaw a turkey? In most cases you’ll need at least three days ahead of cooking. The recommended is to let your turkey thaw for 24 hours for every 5 pounds. So a 20-pound turkey would take 4 full days. Leave the turkey on top of a pan or cooking sheet to prevent any dripping during this time.
What about washing, brining and basting? Well, let’s unpack all of this. Washing is not necessary since any bacteria that could be on the turkey will be eliminated when in the oven. But if you still find it necessary, go for it.
Brining is basically letting the turkey sit on salted water to absorb the flavour and make it juicy after cooked. If you’ve bought a high-quality turkey, this step is not necessary – though you can still do it if you prefer. However, for wild turkeys it is recommended.
And finally, basting. Honestly, this one is more up to taste than the rest. Basting is the process of taking the juices from the roasting tin and dripping them on the meat over and over, with the promise of a much more flavorful turkey. However, this greatly increases the time of preparation, so if you choose not to do it, you’re probably not missing much – but a lot of families like to do it this way, so once again, it’s up to taste!
The most important tool
Regardless of what you decide on how to cook Thanksgiving turkey, one tool will carry you all the way through – a thermometer. Controlling the cooking solely on a timer can be misleading, especially if you like to baste your turkey often, which prolongs the time it should sit in the oven.
A thermometer removes all doubt. You can rely on it to know for sure when your turkey is ready!
The 4 best ways to cook a Thanksgiving turkey
Now we can get into the nitty gritty. The most common way to cook turkey is by using an oven – uncomplicated and practical. But some people need the oven to prepare the side dishes and prefer to cook the turkey another way, which is why we have so many options.
Here’s what you need to know about the most common ways to cook Thanksgiving turkey:
Smoked turkey will require a smoker and usually takes about the same amount of time as preparing one in the oven… BUT it requires a lot more attention. We’re talking 13-15 minutes per pound on average, and we’re looking for the point when the internal temperature is at 165 degrees.
You will need to watch your turkey all-day long for several hours while it’s cooking. This frees up the oven for other dishes, but you have to keep an eye on the turkey at all times! It might be rough, but smoked turkey really is something special in terms of flavour.
A grilled turkey is the equivalent of barbecuing a turkey – you will have it on a gas grill for 12 minutes per pound, which can lead to a few hours of grilling for a large turkey.
The thermometer will be your best friend here to determine when it’s actually ready. Once you reach the perfect spot, remove from the grill and let it rest for about 15 minutes before diving in – in fact, this is a good idea regardless of how you cook your turkey.
To fry a turkey you’ll need a deep frying pot and the appropriate amount of oil – and not to be alarming, but do keep a fire extinguisher nearby. This process is not different from frying any other thing, but due to the amount of oil you’ll be using it’s just common sense to be safe.
Deep frying a turkey is by far the fastest way to cook it. It’s only about 4 minutes per pound, meaning that a 20 pound turkey would take only 80 minutes to cook.
Probably the most popular way to cook a turkey – and one of the easiest. It takes about the same time as smoked turkey, around 13-15 minutes per pound, but it’s a lot less hassle to get it done because most of the work is done prior to putting the turkey in the oven.
Once it’s in, it’s mostly a hands-free process where you just wait it out, excluding the times where you baste the turkey if you want to. Just be aware that opening the oven to baste regularly will add more time for the turkey to be ready, so use a thermometer to be sure when it’s done!
Then, put on your Thanksgiving pants and dive right in – you’ve earned it!
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