We’re just a few short days away from our favorite food holiday of the year, which means our turkey consumption is about to go through the roof. That sweet, sweet bird that God gave wings so we could eat delicious drumsticks. The issue, of course, is that while we can all agree that turkeys are the best holiday food, entire families have been destroyed arguing about how they should be prepared, cooked, and carved.
It’s all up to personal preference, but as usual, we’re here to hit you with some options. At least now you can cite some sources when everyone starts yelling at you about what parts you’re cutting off.
To Brine or Not to Brine?
First and foremost, you should always brine your turkey before cooking it. If you don’t know what brining is, it’s essentially a series of methods that involve preparing your meat prior to cooking in order to ensure a juicy, delicious meal. It’s not some kind of crazy magic or voodoo, and it definitely makes a huge difference.
Turkey brining is usually done one of two ways: Wet brining and dry brining. This incredible tutorial by Serious Eats Chief Culinary Consultant J. Kenji Lopez-Alt covers every base you could ever think of. He’s a clear advocate for dry brining, but he presents a lot of information so people can decide for themselves.
Picking the Right Seasoning
Seasoning your bird is no different than seasoning literally every other piece of meat you’ve ever cooked and eaten. There are a million and one ways to do it, and the method you choose should really depend on the method by which you’re trying to cook it.
Most of the classic seasoning methods you’ll find will include things like sage, thyme, a little bit of paprika, sage, etc., followed by some onions, celery, carrots and a little lemon for aromatics. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that, but it is a little ordinary.
The Food Network posted an article with something like 65 different recipes 65 different recipes that all sound delicious, but one of our favorites from the list is Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey, which calls for interesting additions to the classic variety like candied ginger, allspice berries, and even a cinnamon stick. It’s an interesting combination, but it sounds truly fantastic, and it has over 5,420 5-star reviews.
Our go-to classic, however, is a kind-of Puerto Rican inspired way of seasoning that involves a lot of garlic, Adobo, cilantro, fresh lime juice, and a tiny bit of oregano. The cilantro and limejuice are optional, but the garlic cloves and Adobo is non-negotiable.
How to Cook
You’ll know how you want to cook your bird way before you decide how to season it, and you have a variety of different methods to choose from. This piece from The Daily Meal notes 25 different ways to cook a turkey, and for the most part, they’re all solid. At their core, however, they’re a culmination of three different cooking methods: Roast, fry, and smoke.
Roasting is far and away the most classic way to cook a Thanksgiving bird, and it’s a method families across America have utilized for decades. Why? Well, because it works, and when done right and with particular care, yields a succulent, juicy, delicious bird that you’ll dream of into the New Year. This nine-minute tutorial from Gordon Ramsay is an excellent method that utilizes bacon and a metric shit tonne of butter to get the job done and keep those breasts moist.
Deep-frying is perceived as the new and improved way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but before we even start, we should mention that it’s also markedly more dangerous than conventional cooking. If you’re going to attempt it, take all the proper precautions, and try not to be an idiot. That said, a deep-fried bird is unbelievable. Seriously, the first time we ever had it, we vowed we’d never cook a turkey any other way, and we’ve stuck by that sentiment for a few years now. The skin is crispy and delicious, while the meat stays juicy and succulent the whole way through. This video from Food Network’s Alton Brown is excellent.
Smoking your Thanksgiving turkey is another life-changing method that not many people can take advantage of only because they don’t have the proper hardware to get the job done. If you do have access to a smoker, this will be the juiciest, most tender, most flavorful turkey you’ve ever had. The biggest potential disadvantage is that it takes a lot of prep time, a lot of cook time, a lot of attention, and a lot of patience. If you have all those things, you’re good to go. Bobby Flay did an excellent piece for the Food Network that doesn’t just list his exact recipe, but also has an excellent tutorial video to show you how it’s done.
How to Carve
Once you have all that sorted out and your bird is on the chopping board, it’s time for the second-best part: Carving. The most forgettable thing about carving is to always let your bird rest for some amount of time before digging into it. The rest period allows the bird to finish cooking, allows the juices and seasonings to reabsorb, and even allows the meat to tenderize more to make carving easier.
As far as the actual process goes, it’s always funny to us how we place so much emphasis on the seasoning and cooking part of the experience, but always underestimate just how crucial a proper carve is in the thanksgiving process. A poorly carved bird almost makes the painstaking amount of prep and cook time not worth it.
This guide from the folks at Food Network is great because it comes with step-by-step instructions, high quality photos, and everything you need to get the job done perfectly. It even gives a basic explainer on how to purchase, season, thaw, and roast your bird, too.
Even the New York Times is in on the Thanksgiving carving action. A couple years back, they enlisted the help of Master Butcher Ray Venezia to give a video demonstration of how to properly carve a turkey. The video goes through every single step of the process, with Venezia noting several excellent tips and tricks along the way. He even talks about the proper way to plate the carved meat for your guests. It’s genius.