The classic way to cook turkey is to thaw a frozen bird, stuff it, then roast it. This method, while certainly a nice presentation, can often result in a poor outcome. The breast is often overcooked by the time the dark meat is done, the dark meat can be soggy because of the physics of the turkey shape, and there can be concerns with food safety.
So here are some different ways to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey.
Make Ahead of Time
Mary Frances wrote me and said this is how she cooks her turkey. She roasts it a day ahead of time, then makes the gravy with the drippings. She then slices all of the meat, places it in a large pan, covers it with gravy, and refrigerates. The next day all she has to do is finish the other side dishes and heat up the turkey in the gravy. Moist meat, no hassle, and a lot less work for you! Sounds like a plan!
Brining the turkey has become almost commonplace. The brining process forces liquid and seasonings into the turkey meat, making each bit flavorful and tender. You have to plan ahead for this method since the turkey has to be kept cold while it's brining. A cooler will keep the bird at the correct temperature, but the refrigerator is the safest bet. You can keep the turkey on ice if you're brining under two hours.
Roast turkey parts
Deconstruct your turkey and roast the parts separately.
With this method, you can alter the proportions of dark to white meat so there's enough for everyone. This method also ensures that the white meat is as tender as the dark. A boneless turkey breast will cook for a shorter time period. And if you cook a bone-in, skin-on turkey breast, it will take about 2 hours to roast, about as long as the bone-in legs because of the different sizes and weights.
The thighs cook for the shortest time period, so add them 30 minutes after the breast and legs have started.
Cook your stuffing in the crockpot for the complete turkey experience if you choose this method.
The crockpot is a great place to cook turkey breast. You can add stuffing or vegetables to the slow cooker for another course, which makes everything easier on you. I like to cook boneless, skinless turkey breasts in the crockpot, but you can cook any turkey part (except a whole bird) as long as you test the final temperature with a meat thermometer.
I've been pushing this method for a few years now, and this is the way I cook my turkey. I love the fact that the breast meat is moist when the dark meat is done because of the turkey's physical structure, and that I don't have to fool around with thawing. This is also the safest method because you are scattering raw turkey juices all over as you struggle with the unwieldy bird.
Cooking the turkey on the grill is a wonderful way to free up your kitchen and give the bird fabulous flavor. Remember, you can grill in any weather - even in the snow! Just make sure that your grill keeps a constant temperature throughout the cooking process. Use a grill thermometer and occasionally add coals if you're using charcoal.
Deep frying results in a turkey with super crisp skin, moist meat, and a fabulous flavor. I've never attempted this, since I'm happy with my methods, but it's certainly a good way to cook a turkey. However, Underwriter Laboratories won't certify any turkey fryers because of problems with fire, even after the fryer manufacturers have made improvements.
So if you want to deep fry a turkey, be very careful. Only attempt this outside, away from buildings or flammable material, and keep several fire extinguishers on hand.
For smaller families, roasting a chicken is a wonderful idea for Thanksgiving. You get almost the same aromas and flavors, and you can stuff a chicken. I, however, prefer to roast it with lemon and garlic, and cook stuffing in the crockpot again.