For many, turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. But how that turkey is cooked can be a real debate. Should you roast, smoke, or fry your Thanksgiving bird? All methods can result in a delicious showstopper, so to help you decide let’s explore the pros and cons of each method.
Brining Your Bird
No matter how you end up cooking your turkey, it will benefit from a brine beforehand. Brining your bird will result in better flavor, texture, and added moisture.
You can choose from two methods of brining: wet and dry . In a wet brine, the whole turkey is submerged in a salt solution, which requires a large container and a lot of fridge space.
For a dry brine, a salt (and sometimes spice) mixture is rubbed over the surface of the bird and requires less fridge space.
While a wet brine is quicker than a dry brine, it can result in slightly less crispy skin. Learn all about brine.
Perhaps the most traditional way to cook a turkey, a roasted turkey usually takes about 30 minutes per pound of meat at an oven temperature of 325°F. You can collect the drippings to make homemade gravy and stuff the cavity with chopped vegetables and herbs to enhance the flavor. For deep, rich, and golden skin, rub a bit of butter under and on top of the skin before roasting.
Pros: The most straightforward way to cook a turkey, this method doesn’t require any special or expensive equipment other than an oven and a roasting pan. This method allows the natural flavor of the meat to really shine through, so make sure you buy the best bird you can afford. You can add flavor by brining your bird, stuffing the cavity with aromatics, or seasoning the skin.
Cons: Thanksgiving is often a huge meal that requires a lot of dishes to be cooked in the oven. Whether you have a single or a double oven, a large bird can take up most of the space (for many hours), leaving you scrambling to finish your other dishes and keep everything warm for the main event. If you don’t get the timing right and overcook your bird, the meat can get dry and stringy.
Smoked turkey results in a ton of flavor and doesn’t take up valuable oven space on the big day. You can use a variety of wood chips to enhance the flavor of the bird or brine, inject, or rub the bird with seasonings before cooking. The whole process will take 30 to 40 minutes per pound to cook all the way through.
Pros: A relatively hands-off process, once you prepare your smoker the bird practically cooks itself. The result is rich and smokey meat with deep, brown skin for a beautiful centerpiece at the table.
Cons: If you don’t already own a smoker or plan on smoking other types of meat throughout the year, this can be a large cost investment. Make sure to brine the bird before smoking; otherwise the meat can become dry and stringy. With this cooking method, you won’t get any drippings, so you’ll have to be creative when making gravy. And make sure to set aside enough time: Smoking can take up to 8 hours.
Deep-fried turkey , often cooked in peanut oil because of its high smoke point, results in a tender and golden centerpiece. This method has gained a lot of popularity over the years and is a great way to cook your bird outside. The whole bird, once properly thawed and brined, is slowly lowered into a large deep-fryer, then cooked until golden brown.
Pros: Because of the deep frying process, your bird will (almost) be guaranteed to be juicy with crisp, golden skin. Frying a turkey is often much quicker than roasting and smoking, usually about 3 minutes per pound, so you can prepare your main meal without spending all day cooking.
Cons: Not only will you need to buy a deep-fryer for the occasion, you can also expect to spend an additional $50 to $100 on oil alone. Deep frying can be dangerous if you don’t do it correctly and carefully. You can burn yourself, make quite a mess, or even start a fire.
Most fried turkeys are cooked at a constant temperature of 350°F. Start with an initial oil temperature of 400°F. When you fully submerge the turkey, the oil will quickly lose temperature and drop to 350°F.