What's Your Turkey Personality?
At the center of every Thanksgiving meal is one absolutely stunning roasted turkey. With its golden brown skin and earthy aromas, we wait all year to carve the spectacular bird. One of the most thrilling parts of Thanksgiving planning is deciding how to prepare the turkey—wet or dry brine? Sweet rub or spicy? Traditional roasting rack or a thrilling deep fryer? Maybe you stick to one method year after year, or perhaps you like to change it up to keep guests on their toes. Here, we're helping guide you through the most popular methods for cooking a turkey. Along the way, you may even learn what your favorite technique says about you.
"When you've been testing turkey recipes for 15 years, you come across some interesting techniques," says former executive food director Lucinda Scala Quinn. "I am not firm about any one way of cooking a turkey. I recommend different things for different times and different cooks."
Here, our food editors explain how to perfect each method of brining, basting, and cooking a turkey. Always been curious about spatchcocking or grilling a turkey? We have tips for both! We're also sharing Martha's favorite method of basting. Our founder soaks cheesecloth, which you can find at specialty grocery stores, in a combination of melted butter and white wine, then carefully drapes it across the top of the bird. She continues to baste the turkey with the mixture while it roasts to infuse the skin with rich flavor and create an even, golden brown color.
In addition to techniques, you'll also find new ways to develop flavor in your turkey. For the New Englander, there's nothing that tastes like home as much as this Maple-Glazed Turkey. It's sweet, syrupy glaze is a delicious, welcome surprise that breaks tradition (without veering too far off course).
Whether you know you're a tried-and-true traditionalist or are open to taking some risks, find out the best way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey this year.
For the Traditionalist: the Cheesecloth Method
This is Martha's classic method. Nearly one pound of melted butter and a bottle of dry white wine make up the luscious basting mixture for this turkey. Soaking a cheesecloth in the combination of butter and wine and draping it across the turkey's breast while it roasts ensures a perfectly bronzed bird.
For the Beginner: Brined Turkey
"If you are a less experienced cook, brining leaves room for some margin of error, keeping the bird moist if you're shy about cooking accuracy," recommends Lucinda Scala Quinn. "That's why the turkey recipe in my Mad Hungry book calls for brining." Before beginning, make sure to clear out lots of refrigerator space, or get your hands on a big cooler packed with plenty of ice.
For the Outdoorsy Type: Slow-Grilled Turkey
Free up oven space for sides by roasting the turkey over charcoal. Slow-cooking a turkey on a grill is easier than you might think. "This is how I actually do it on Thanksgiving," explains Lucinda. "It takes nothing more than salt and pepper and olive oil and a lot of TLC and patience."
Dry Brined Roasted Turkey
For the (Hungry) Scientist: the Salt Rub
"My favorite method is the overnight salt rub," declares editorial director of food Sarah Carey. "Some people call it 'dry brining,' but because the liquid isn't reabsorbed via osmosis, it's not technically brining at all. (Isn't science fun?) But the technique adds such great flavor—especially when you add herbs and citrus zest to the salt rub, like we did in this recipe—and results in a nice, crisp skin. This rub works as a last-minute thing too, so if you forget to rub the night before, don't worry, there is still time. Throw it on right before you roast, and it will still add lots of flavor. Who doesn't want that?"
For the Short Attention Span: Spatchcocking
For the Locavore: Heritage Turkey
Heritage turkeys are historic breeds unaltered by modern agriculture and are heralded by devotees for their superior taste and sustainability. Heritage birds have more dark meat, a proportionally smaller breast, and a more pronounced "turkey" flavor than the Broad Breasted White (your standard supermarket turkey). This roasted heritage bird gets a layer of butter between skin and meat before going into the oven, giving it crisp skin and moist breast meat.
For the Thrill-Seeker: Deep-Fried Turkey
It hardly gets more exciting than lowering a 15-pound turkey into a vat of boiling peanut oil. The results are flavorful and juicy meat with sensationally crispy skin.
For the Mediterranean Dreamer: Tuscan-Style Turkey
Inspired by Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini's famous porchetta (a stuffed pork loin and belly), a whole, boned turkey is rolled up with fresh rosemary and fennel pollen, and wrapped in prosciutto.
For the Hardy New Englander: Maple-Glazed Turkey
This turkey's crunchy, sweet crust is the result of boiling down maple syrup until it's almost crystallized and then brushing it on the bird during the last hour of cooking for a taste of the New England woods in every bite.
For the Explorer: Spice-Rubbed Turkey
Notes of smoky, earthy Aleppo pepper and fresh orange juice give this turkey the exotic allure of warm and far-off lands.
For the Purist: Roast Turkey
No brines or sauces are required to prepare this super-simple roasted Thanksgiving turkey. Bay leaves, carrots, and onions are stuffed into the cavity to perfume the meat while it cooks.