I’m an eager young newlywed hosting my first Thanksgiving, anxious to impress my new husband and family with my culinary prowess. Eschewing my mother’s tradition of roasting a turkey at 325 degrees, I decide to free up my oven for a savory cranberry brie, and grill the turkey instead. I waddle outside into the damp November air, carrying 18 pounds of poultry in my arms, and fire up the grill. I envision the finished product, crisp and golden brown, a centerpiece on my leaf-motif tablecloth.
Within seconds, the bird is on fire. A neighbor extinguishes the blaze, and kindly informs me that the grill should have been set up for indirect heat.
Live and learn.
For most, the turkey is the focal point of the Thanksgiving spread—a star amongst the green bean casserole, yams, and mashed potatoes. With so many creative ways to prepare it, there is even room for a “kitchen-challenged” cook to shine.
A note before we dig in: you may have heard chefs raving about the taste of fresh turkey, declaring it more flavourful than the freezer-kept version. However, this is up for debate. While many prefer the gamier taste and texture of fresh fowl, the frozen turkey tends to be sweeter, more cost-efficient, and readily available. If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, do so no more than two days before it is to be prepared to avoid food-borne pathogens.
Once you’ve decided frozen or fresh, it’s time to choose how you want to prepare the bird:
For those who prefer to roast the bird, butter—and lots of it—seems to be the first step in ensuring a moist feast. Fresh herbs, such as rosemary and sage, along with salt and pepper are popular options for seasoning. Many cooks like to stuff the turkey cavity with onions, carrots, celery, and halved oranges. For those who feel intimidated in the kitchen and are looking for an easy cleanup, oven bags are ideal for keeping the mess contained—and the bird juicy. No basting required!
If you’re feeling brave and craving that extra crispy skin, try giving deep-frying a whirl—but not without taking serious precautions. A quick search on YouTube will yield a plethora of Turkey Day disasters. Although it makes for a flavorful bird, many novices use too much oil, which can result in fires and injury. It’s imperative to have the fryer on a flat surface away from the house, and to keep children away from the fryer.
A safer way to impart flavor and moisture to a turkey is the brining method. A brine is a salt and water bath, which can be infused with other ingredients such as honey, brown sugar, apple cider, allspice, or even maple syrup. Your turkey will absorb the flavors from the inside out, and the salt prevents the bird from becoming too tough. The turkey will have to sit in the brine overnight, so if using a frozen bird, be sure to defrost ahead of time. Check out Alton Brown’s foolproof brining method.
If you want to throw tradition to the wind—and cut cooking time in half—you may want to spatchcock a turkey this year. It may not look like the plump, succulent image you’re used to, but this is not your grandmother’s turkey. In this method, the bird is butterflied by removing the backbone and sternum so that the bird lays flat. It’s not for the squeamish—you’re going to have to press hard on the bird to tamp it down—but if crisp skin, moist poultry, and shortened oven time all sound alluring, then this method will be a game-changer for your holiday. Once the bird is flattened, place it on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and cover with desired spices. Roast at 450 degrees. An 18 pound bird usually takes about an hour, leaving more room for watching football (since carving it up is a cinch, too!).
5. Go Bird-free.
For the vegetarian set who want to enjoy the Thanksgiving feast sans meat, a Tofurky is the perfect solution. Made from a blend of wheat and organic protein, the Tofurky is pre-stuffed, packed with flavor, and even comes with its own “wishbone.” It is made to mimic the texture of real turkey, and slices easily.
Whichever way you decide to truss up your bird this holiday, don’t forget to be thankful for friends, family, freedom, and of course, moist turkey!
Author: Claudia Caramiello
Image: Ewan traveler/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman