How to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner: Roasting, frying and other cooking methods


So you bought a 20-pound bird, let it thaw out in your refrigerator, but now what? 

If this is your first year making Thanksgiving, chances are you've never cooked anything this large before — a box of pasta or a pound of ground beef is literally one-twentieth the size of this enormous raw beast! 

Even if you've made turkey before, the pressure is on to make this holiday turkey a good one, and not the boring old throw it in the oven and hope for the best method. From traditional roasting to more adventurous frying, cooking a turkey may be intimidating but it sure is exciting. Impress your guests with the most beautiful bird on any Thanksgiving table. 

Roast your turkey 

Half Baked Harvest

Pro: It looks super impressive

Con: It may not taste as good as some other methods, can dry it out

Roasting a turkey is undeniably the most traditional way to cook a whole turkey for the holiday. While cooking turkey parts may be an easy solution, we get it if you have fantasized about dramatically presenting a platter topped with a whole-roasted turkey in front of your (maybe skeptical) family and friends. You can do this! If you are roasting your whole turkey, use a cheesecloth on top of the skin to ensure that it's extra crispy. Try this herb and butter roasted turkey by food blogger Half Baked Harvest

Grill your turkey

Pro: Your turkey will turn out super flavorful

Con: if you live in a cold climate, grilling outdoors can be unpleasant

If you're in the mindset that everything grilled is delicious, grilling a turkey is undoubtably for you. There are multiple methods to grilling a turkey, from letting the turkey roast in the smoke inside a charcoal chimney to smoking your turkey to slow grilling the entire bird for juicy, tender meat. Grilling is pretty much as close as you'll get to replicating the original Thanksgiving poultry, which most likely cooked over an open fire. How historic of you! Brine and grill your turkey however you please, but just like with any other cooking method, you'll want the inner temperature to reach 165 degrees before it's safe to eat. 

Fry your turkey


Pro: Yum, it's fried!


Frying your turkey is easily one of the riskiest moves to make on Thanksgiving (grease spills, fire, exploded turkeys), which therefore makes it hugely entrancing and tempting to make. While fried turkey fails are all over the Internet, if you follow instructions, you can fry your turkey safely. 

To deep fry a turkey, you'll need a completely defrosted turkey, patted dry and seasoned to your liking as well as enough peanut oil (or similar oil with a high smoke point) to fill your special turkey deep frier, the instructions for which you should read as soon as your purchase it. When frying, checking the temperature of the oil is essential for safety and taste  — you'll want it at 400 degrees F and to fry your turkey for 3-4 minutes per pound. Here's a handy guide to frying that turkey, indoors and outside, without killing yourself. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case, but when you bite into that crisp, juicy and just greasy enough turkey leg, you'll know this was all worth it. 

Braise your turkey

Pro: Restaurant-quality turkey that's so easy to make and almost impossible to mess up

Con: No crisp skin or whole bird to show off

If you're worried about dry turkey, braising is the way to go. The longer you cook your meat in wine and stock, the more tender it becomes. Braising lets you infuse your turkey with flavors that compliment the rest of the Thanksgiving meal and all the coolest cooks are doing it. Try Mark Bittman's braised turkey recipe to keep it classic, David Chang's soy braised turkey for some Asian flare or Saveur's green mole braised turkey to bring some Mexican flavors to your Thanksgiving table. If your family is only into white meat or dark meat, this is also a great way to cook select pieces that please everyone. 

Freestyle it


Pro: You're the coolest Thanksgiving host in town

Con: If your guests like tradition, they may not be into your funky turkey preparation 

Dishes like turkey osso bucco use pieces of turkey rather than the entire bird, are much more socially acceptable than serving turkey burgers or smoked turkey deli meat, and they make for hearty main dishes that your guests will be happy to fill up on!