The way to cook a turkey, like many culinary issues, is a matter of individual taste, and there is, in fact, no one best way to cook a turkey. That being said, there may be better ways to cook a turkey, and here are some hints to help you end up with the turkey of your dreams, no matter how you heat it. Use this article to make your basic choices, and then seek a specific recipe in a cookbook, at the FoodNetwork website, your state university extension service or from some other reliable source. There are unsafe methods for cooking turkey in wide circulation, so be careful!
Step 1: To cook a turkey to perfection using any method, the best bet is to start with a great quality turkey. Depending on personal criteria, this may mean different things. Just keep in mind that what comes out of your kitchen depends on what you start with, and in general, freshly killed birds will provide a better result than frozen.
Step 2: To make plans to cook a turkey, you need to decide on both the any precooking preparation as well as the cooking method you wish to use. Preparation can include:
• stuffing the turkey
• brining the turkey
• marinating the turkey
If you’re going to stuff your turkey, it will require substantially more cooking time than an unstuffed bird, so be prepared and use the appropriate roasting timetable. Insert stuffing into the bird at the last possible moment before roasting for food safety reasons. Properly inserting the thermometer is also key in judging doneness. Stuffing can be cooked alongside the bird as well.
Brine the turkey in a salt water solution overnight before cooking. Huge pots or buckets are both used. This may be difficult to fit in your refrigerator, but in areas that are cold enough, the turkey can be brined in the mudroom, on the porch, or even outside. The exact components of the brine solution vary: some use a very simple salt and water solution, while others offer more elaborate concoctions involving allspice or juniper berries, sugar, etc. You should rinse your brined bird and pat it dry before cooking. Nevertheless, gravy made from a brined turkey will be extra salty, so taste often and season carefully.
Turkey marinade can give a turkey delightful flavor. Ingredients include herbs and seasonings combined with such liquids as oil, apple cider, wine, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, sherry, and beer. Be sure to marinate the turkey in a non-reactive container, such as glass or glazed ceramic, and make sure it is properly cooled.
Step 3: To decide how to cook a turkey, consider the method you wish to use before you order or purchase your turkey, because some will work best with a smaller bird. Even though a roast turkey may be customary for occasions like Thanksgiving dinner, there are other ways to make a turkey dinner. Possibilities include:
• traditional oven-roasted turkey
• deep fried turkey
• grilled turkey
• smoked turkey
• rotisseried turkey
One method of oven roasting involved slipping the turkey part-way through cooking or alternatively covering the breast with cheesecloth during the first 2/3 of cooking and removing it to crisp the skin. Recommendations for moistening the cheesecloth include: chicken stock, melted butter, wine, and combinations thereof. In either case, basting the bird will yield best results. Unstuffed birds can be seasoned by placing onions, herbs, and other ingredients in the cavity.
Deep-frying a turkey is much faster than roasting. To cook a turkey in this style, set up a propane heated burner and appropriate sized pot outside and at a distance from anything flammable. Choose a cooking oil with a high smoking point, and use a thermometer to make sure that the oil temperature is hot enough.
Grilling can be used as the exclusive cooking method, or combined with roasting and/or smoking. A kettle-style grill with a hood is best suited for this method. Aluminum foil can be used to cover the wingtips so that they don’t burn.
Smoking a turkey takes at least twice as long as oven roasting, as well as requiring a specialized piece of equipment, so be sure to plan ahead. Smoking can be done simply over charcoal, or with the addition of hickory, mesquite, or other chips for additional flavor.
You might also consider using an oven bag or braising the turkey.