16 Creative Ways to Cook Your Turkey This Thanksgiving

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Woman holding platter with roasted turkey for Thanksgiving
Photo credit: Sean Locke Photography/shutterstock

TALKING TURKEY

If you're cooking a holiday meal for the same family and friends you always see, it might be time to change things up a bit. A whole, traditionally roasted turkey can look nice on the table, but cooking a whole bird can lead to dried-out white meat and take up the oven for the entire day. It's inconvenient and boring. These interesting turkey recipes can shake things up and might start a new tradition. (If you're really feeling adventurous, you may even want to consider some creative alternatives to turkey.)

Deep-frying a turkey
Photo credit: Fried Turkey - Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey! by Jazz Guy (CC BY-NC-ND)

DEEP-FRIED

Contrary to popular belief, a deep-fried whole turkey is not greasy. Deep-frying makes the skin extra crispy, cooks in much less time than roasting, and frees up the oven. You'll need a turkey fryer, and to do it outdoors, but it's worth it for the juicy meat.

Recipe: Chowhound
Knife carving a roasted turkey breast
Photo credit: Bochkarev Photography/shutterstock

TURKEY BREAST ONLY

If most of the family prefers white meat, leaving lots of dark meat leftovers, why not just skip the dark meat altogether? Roasting a whole, bone-in turkey breast is much faster and easier than a whole bird, and no one will have to fight over the white meat. The meat can be roasted over stuffing, too.

Recipe: Serious Eats
Braised turkey legs in a dish with roasted vegetables
Photo credit: Veronika Galkina/shutterstock

BRAISED TURKEY LEGS

On the flip side, a family that always fights over the dark meat can skip the breast and make braised turkey legs. A pan sauce made from the drippings plus leeks, garlic, carrots, and white wine is a sophisticated take on the meal.

Recipe: Food Republic
Turducken
Photo credit: Turducken by Phil Romans (CC BY-NC-ND)

TURDUCKEN

Turduckens are not some mythical creation — you can actually make one. It's time-consuming, since it involves stuffing a chicken into a duck and then into a turkey, along with some cornbread dressing, and roasting it until everything is cooked through. But it's bound to impress.

Recipe: The Cooking Channel
Spatchcocked turkey on a grill
Photo credit: Spatchcock turkey by Joy (CC BY)

SPATCHCOCKING

It may have a funny name, but spatchcocking just refers to butterflying a whole bird. Remove the backbone (or have a butcher do it), and flatten it before roasting. There are two huge advantages to doing it this way: The white meat and dark meat cook at about the same rate, so the white meat doesn't dry out; and it takes much less time in the oven. It's close enough to a whole roast turkey that even traditionalists in the family might not mind.

Recipe: Serious Eats
Stuffed and rolled turkey breast
Photo credit: Vitalina Rybakova/shutterstock

ROULADE

A roulade is just a rolled-up version of something, and in this case involves boneless turkey breast stuffed with figs, cranberries, brandy, herbs, and sausage, rolled up and tied in the shape of a log. It'll be the easiest turkey ever carved, and looks good on a plate.

Recipe: Food Network
Tandoori Turkey
Photo credit: Yana Tatevosian/istockphoto

TANDOORI-RUBBED

Give our holidays an Indian flair. Aromatic spices including ginger, cloves, cumin, and cardamom combine with yogurt to create a flavorful paste. The turkey is cooked in an oven bag so the yogurt doesn't burn, then removed for the last few minutes to brown.

Recipe: Epicurious
Turkey brining in a pot with aromatics
Photo credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock

BRINED

If your father-in-law will go crazy without a whole turkey to carve, give brining a try. Soak the turkey in salt water with aromatics before cooking it. The brine flavors the turkey meat and keeps it moist.

Recipe: The Kitchn
Sous Vide Thanksgiving Turkey
Photo credit: Sous Vide Thanksgiving Turkey by sousvideguy (CC BY)

SOUS-VIDE

Cooking something sous-vide just means putting it in a bag, squishing (or vacuuming) the air out, and plopping it in a temperature-controlled water bath. A small sous-vide appliance will be needed to regulate the water temperature and circulate it, and will come in handy for all kinds of meals afterward. A whole turkey can be cooked sous-vide in parts, leaving succulent, super tender meat while freeing up the oven for the day.

Recipe: Chef Steps
Turkey with bacon strips wrapped around the breast
Photo credit: Rebecca Fondren Photo/shutterstock

BACON-WRAPPED

For the family obsessed with bacon, cover the entire breast with thick-cut bacon slices. They flavor the meat and drippings, and keep the breast meat from drying out.

Recipe: Food & Wine
Turkey breast in a slow cooker
Photo credit: One netted turkey breast in the slow cooker for eight hours. Cooking it on low with organic chicken stock, fennel, fresh rosemary, oranges and fried red onions. I'll be up early in the morning to see how this turns out. #organic #paleo #kosher #cooking #f by Yosef Silver (CC BY-NC-ND)

SLOW-COOKED

For turkey that's moist and falling-apart tender, turn to the slow cooker — just buy a turkey that will fit into the slow cooker on hand; most hold around only about 6 quarts. Stick the turkey under the broiler for a couple minutes to crisp the skin.

Recipe: The Little Kitchen
Turkey being injected with flavor
Photo credit: Courtesy of amazon.com

INJECTED

All kinds of flavorings and seasonings can be injected into a turkey with a device that looks like a giant hypodermic needle. It'll season the turkey from inside, created pockets of flavor. Spicy Cajun seasonings are popular, as is beer and melted butter.

Recipe: The Spruce
Turkey rubbed in barbecue seasonings and cooked on grill
Photo credit: John E Heintz Jr/shutterstock

BBQ-RUBBED

Who says you can't barbecue turkey? A mix of brown sugar, paprika, garlic, chili powder, and other spices is rubbed all over a turkey breast before roasting. The turkey is served with a barbecue sauce made with cranberry sauce for a festive touch.

Recipe: Better Homes and Gardens
Smoked turkey
Photo credit: Northstars/shutterstock

SMOKED

To go all-out with a barbecue meal, smoke the turkey. The smoker may need tending through the night, but it'll be worth it for that bronzed bird. Plus it frees up every appliance in the kitchen.

Recipe: Butterball
Turkey on the grill
Photo credit: Grilled Turkey by Ernesto Andrade (CC BY-ND)

GRILLED

Grilling is a great way to give turkey a little smoky flavor if the home lacks an actual smoker. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with aromatics such as citrus and onions, then cook it indirectly on a covered grill.

Recipe: Bon Appetit
Turkey on top of a beer can on the grill
Photo credit: Charles Knowles/shutterstock

BEER CAN

Been can chicken is a popular grill recipe that cooks a whole bird sitting upright on an open can of beer. There's no reason the same thing can't be done with a turkey, assuming you can get large cans of beer. If you can't, look for a used 32-ounce juice or soup can and fill it with beer.

Recipe: Barbecue Bible

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