Smoked, Grilled or Fried? How to Cook the Best Turkey Ever
Here's everything you need to free up the oven for other things and still make Turkey Day magic.
Want to shake things up and start a new tradition of cooking your Thanksgiving turkey on the patio? Here are all the tools you need to make it happen.
3 BASIC WAYS TO COOK A TURKEY
Smoking a turkey takes about the same amount of time as using the oven and takes half the number of dishes, but it requires more of your attention. You'll definitely want to truss your bird, so having cotton butcher's twine handy is a must. Trussing the bird makes it easier to flip it around in the smoker to ensure an even cook.
Smoking your bird requires a slow, mellow fire. A bag of hardwood charcoal is going to be by your side for most of the day to keep your coals glowing. You'll want to have a charcoal chimney handy to help with starting a fresh batch of coals. A flexible neck lighter is also a good thing to have on hand. You won't want to struggle to light stuff if the weather turns sour.
Once you've got a good set of coals going, add some hardwood chunks to lend a unique smoke flavor to your turkey. There are many options for wood out there, so pick whichever works best for you. We're a big fan of hickory for a turkey.
Throughout the day, you'll want to keep an eye on your bird's temperature. A dual-probe, wireless, digital thermometer allows you to walk around the house, spend time with your family and keep an eye on your turkey's progress. You won't regret having one, because standing around a smoker for eight hours can be tough if it's cold outside.
Don't let your bird dry out while it's smoking. A hot, dry smoker will zap your bird's skin and make it crack. Get a good silicone brush to help keep your turkey basted.
A turkey is going to drip as it cooks. Do the inside of your smoker a favor by adding aluminum foil pans to catch the drippings.
Removing your turkey from the smoker is going to require a good set of oven mitts rated for high temperatures and a sturdy set of grill tools. Lift your bird by sticking the tongs into the cavity and supporting the underside with the spatula.
Your gas grill is ideal for cooking a turkey when you've got the right tools for the job. Since the breast of your bird is going to take the longest to cook, start with the side facing the burners. A roast rack is a great way to hold your bird off of the grill and upside-down for an hour or two as it starts to cook. After that span of time has passed, you can flip it over directly on the grate. Make sure that the grill grate is clean before you get started. Keep a good grill brush on hand to keep your cooking surface clean and free of char.
Gas grills don't add a lot of flavor, but a smoke box insert can help with that. Soak a handful of small wood chips in water, add them to the box and place it in the grill before you light it. In about 10 minutes, it should start to smoke.
Like a smoker, you'll want an aluminum pan under your bird to keep those drippings from landing on your burners. A grease fire on Thanksgiving is no way to spend the holiday.
Make sure to keep an eye on your thermometer. The breast will take longer to cook, so a dual-probe thermometer is critical. Have one probe in the thigh and one probe in the breast.
When it's time to remove the bird, make sure to have your oven mitts and grill tools handy so you can lift your bird off the grill safely and efficiently.
Frying a turkey is the quickest way to cook Thanksgiving dinner. An 18-pound turkey can be finished in an outdoor fryer in a little over an hour. Compare that to nearly seven hours in a smoker, and it's easy to see why so many people love it.
It's always a good idea to brine your turkey in advance of frying to prevent your bird from drying out (you can do it for grilling and smoking, too).
Frying a turkey comes with its own set of rules, and the first one is safety. Never fry a turkey without using a quality thermometer that's designed for the task. Your oil temperature should be the one thing you always keep an eye on to make sure it doesn't get too hot. And always make sure your bird is thawed entirely and patted dry before lowering it into the hot oil.
Next, you'll want to make sure you've got gloves that are rated to protect you from the hot oil as you lift the bird out. Use the lifting handle supplied with your fryer, and make sure you turn off the gas before you attempt to lift the bird out.
Once you lift the bird, you'll need an instant-read thermometer to make sure it's done all the way. Make sure to take a reading in the breast and the thigh. If it's not done, slowly lower it back into the oil, light your burner again and wait a few minutes and try again.
Always make sure to read your fryer's instructions carefully, and only fry a turkey outside, away from flammable materials and structures. Make sure you have a decent sized, ABC-rated fire extinguisher on hand and, of course, be safe. A fried turkey is an absolutely fantastic experience when it’s done right.