"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Most people abide by this saying when it comes to cooking the holiday turkey. Why stray from a family recipe you've perfected after years and years? As a result, we don't often see much variation with this dish. From brining to frozen-roasting to smoking, various turkey enthusiasts weigh in on their favorite ways to get adventurous in prepping and cooking your holiday bird.
One common worry -- or mistake -- is cooking turkey till it's dry. In the daily online food magazine The Kitchn, contributor Emma Christensen explains how brining is the solution if you're still developing your roasting skills. Because turkey is so lean, it often loses what little moisture it has during the slow-roasting process. A brine is a simple mixture of water and salt. Christensen, a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts, says: "Since the turkey absorbs salt along with the water, it also gets nicely seasoned from the inside out. Even better, the salt breaks down some of the turkey's muscle proteins, which helps with the overall moisture absorption and also prevents the meat from toughing up quite so much during cooking."
Submerge the turkey in a solution of 1 cup salt to 4 quarts water. Leave it in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours, and then roast as usual. Christensen recommends keeping a watchful eye and checking the internal temperature about one hour before the estimated end time. If the breast meat and thighs register above 165 degrees F, it's done. And only brine turkeys that have not been pretreated in some way -- that say "kosher," "enhanced" or "self-basting" on the label, for example -- since these already have added salt and would result in an over-salted bird.
Those who have perfected their roasting technique might hate the lengthy thawing process or messy cleanup. The Spruce is a popular online home, food and garden resource. In one article, author and journalist Linda Larsen endorses cooking a frozen turkey without thawing as a way to avoid all that mishap and still have a tender, perfectly browned turkey. She passes along an article written by Dr. Peter Snyder of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in which he details the cooking method.
To cook a 12- to 13-pound unthawed bird, set the oven temperature to 325 F about 5 1/2 hours before serving. Cover a baking pan with foil, and place a rack on the pan. Remove the plastic wrap from the turkey, and put the turkey on the rack. After two or 2 1/2 hours, begin to monitor the breast temperature with a thermometer. After 3 1/2 hours, remove the organ bag from the center and add any additional vegetables or stuffing. Resume cooking, and ensure the bird cooks evenly for the remaining time.
For those even more adventurous, woodworker Josh Vogel paired with Food & Wine magazine online to present his perfectly smoked holiday turkey. Although this recipe requires some special equipment, the tenderness of the slow-cooked turkey will not disappoint. Pair it with a medium-bodied, berry-rich California red wine.
3 gallons water
1 1/2 cups fine sea salt
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
12 thyme sprigs
5 dried bay leaves
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
One 10-pound turkey, neck and giblets reserved for another use
2 pounds cherry wood chips (or other fruitwood chips), soaked in water overnight
In a very large pot, combine water, maple syrup, sea salt, thyme, bay leaves and garlic to make a brine. Stir brine until salt is completely dissolved. Add turkey, breast side down. Top with a plate to keep it submerged, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Light a hardwood charcoal or wood fire in a smoker firebox. Heat smoker to 200 F. Scatter soaked wood chips around coals; they should smolder but not flare. Set a drip pan filled with water on the bottom of the smoke box.
Remove turkey from brine, and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Tuck the wing tips under, and tie legs together with string. Set the turkey over the drip pan. Smoke the turkey for about five hours, until a thermometer inserted in an inner thigh reads 165 F. Monitor coals throughout the smoking process, and add more coals and/or chips and water as needed to maintain temperature and smoke level. Transfer the turkey to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Putting a new spin on an old favorite can easily impress new friends and finicky family members, or at least vary your holiday celebration. Whether you want to set it and forget it in the oven, or grab some friends and hang out around the smoker, you can switch up your holiday turkey recipe for a delicious result.