Gallery: Ask a Chef: Best Way to Make Turkey on Thanksgiving?

  • Think outside the poultry box

    "Because I normally cook for a smallish Thanksgiving crowd, I tend to try to think just a bit further outside the traditional poultry box, if only in service of practicality. Why not a capon? Or a duck? And then I like to mix it up, like butchering the duck ahead of time and treating its individual parts differently to create a more varied experience: sear and pan roast the breast, confit the legs, make a stock from the remainder for soup, etc. - all of which can be accomplished in not much more time than it might take to roast a large turkey. What may be lost in the drama of presenting a whole bird is made up for in a more sophisticated range of textures and flavors on the plate." Michael Laiskonis (creative director at the Institute of Culinary Education)

    Baste, baste, baste!

    "Of course I'm in charge of the turkey. The best tip I have is to baste, baste, baste. Every 15 minutes." —Tom Colicchio (Craft restaurants in NYC and Las Vegas)

    Herb-rubbed turkey

    Herb-rubbed turkey

    "If Thanksgiving is at my house, I'm definitely in charge of the turkey. Everyone has their favorite recipe, but I like to make an herb mix ahead of time, let the flavors develop, and rub the turkey with that. That really seals in the juices and flavor. And because it is Thanksgiving, the best tip I can give to Serious Eaters is to make another turkey to give away. That is really what this holiday is all about." Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster and Ginny's Supper Club in NYC )

    Brined Heritage bird

    "My best tip is to buy the best turkey you can (I pre-order a heritage breed) then brine it before roasting for flavorful, moist meat. It's especially good in a sandwich the next day." Anita Lo (Annisa in NYC )

    Use the neck and giblets for gravy

    "In the South, we don't stuff a bird. We dress a bird. In my house, I am in charge of the Thanksgiving meal, though my partner, Jesus, does lend a hand!

    My turkey tips: Be patient and really let this be a time of joy. Try to buy a fresh turkey. Fresh turkeys (as in, not frozen) will often come with the neck still attached. Use the neck and the giblets to make a delicious gravy." Art Smith (Table Fifty-Two in Chicago; Art and Soul in D.C.; Southern Art in Atlanta)

    Smoked or roasted

    "I am always in charge of the turkey. Either smoked or roasted in a roasting bag. I always brine the turkey in a one gallon of water to one cup of salt solution. If I am not smoking it, I love the clear roasting bag solely for the sheer amount of just perfect juices that gets captured in the bag which will allow you to make the best turkey gravy!" —Ford Fry (JCT Kitchen in Atlanta )

    Whiskey does the trick...

    "Though I sometimes get stuck on turkey duty, I always try to avoid it. Turkey is the least interesting part of the meal. But if I am in charge of the bird, I always brine it for 12 hours in a mix of salt, brown sugar, and some booze, usually spiced rum but whiskey also does the trick.

    If no one cares about presenting a whole bird I would always roast the breast (on the bone) and the legs separately, as they never cook at the same speed. If presentation is important, I will rub the inside of the bird with a whipped butter that has salt, pepper, and herbs de provence mixed in, and slide some of that same butter under the skin.

    Buy turkey necks or wings and make a turkey stock in advance so your sauce or gravy-making is easy and not a last-minute job. Another tip is to make sure that your bird is given plenty of time to rest so all of those yummy juices stay in the meat and not on your cutting board." —Brad Farmerie (Saxon + Parole, PUBLIC, Madam Geneva in NYC; The Thomas in Napa)

    Load the sweet butter under the skin

    "The last few years we've done a vegetarian Thanksgiving, so NO turkey. But, I say for sure brine your turkey overnight. I love to load a fair amount of sweet butter under the skin and I baste it the last hour quite a bit, sometimes with a maple syrup fresh lemon glaze! But, really since we've done vegetarian Thanksgivings, I make so many vegetarian side dishes not ONE person misses the turkey! It's interesting, I think often what people love are all the side dishes..." Susan Feniger (Street and Border Grill in Los Angeles)

    Brine it then grill it

    Editor's note: Step-by-step instructions on how to grill the turkey here!

    Brine it then grill it. [Editor's note: Step-by-step instructions on how to grill the turkey here!] Mesquite wood gives a traditional Mexican flavor, but for Thanksgiving I go easy on the wood chips, creating a light smokiness that complements my traditional dressing and mashed potatoes. Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Xoco, and more in Chicago)

    Two turkeys: one traditional, one boudin-stuffed and smoked

    "I am always in charge of turkey on Thanksgiving. I usually do two: one traditional, and one boned out and stuffed with boudin that I cook on an outdoor smoker which is always the better one. (I only do the traditional turkey so I can have the leftovers to make turkey noodle soup or turkey gumbo the next day.) My advice for readers would be to try some new methods for turkey like smoking, brining, and frying, All those methods work better than basic roasting." Donald Link (Cochon and Herbsaint in New Orleans)

    Baste the turkey with pan juices and balsamic vinegar

    "The turkey is always my responsibility. When I remove it from the oven, I mash all the vegetables in the juices then strain the sauce to make turkey gravy. If it's too loose, I reduce the sauce in a pan or skillet and whisk in a tablespoon or two of fine dry bread crumbs. Once it has boiled for 4-5 minutes, I strain it again and adjust the seasoning. You'll have delicious and natural-tasting gravy in no time.

    I also like to baste the turkey in the last 15 minutes of roasting with equal parts pan juices and balsamic vinegar. The turkey will end up with a delicious, sweet-tart skin, the color of mahogany. Once the turkey and gravy are ready, my son Joseph and son-in-law Corrado do the carving and serving." Lidia Bastianich

    Turkey legs stuffed with foie gras and chestnuts

    "I am and never have been a big fan of the Thanksgiving feast. So when I started at Vidalia in DC years ago, I said I would make it my way and do it big and bad. Separating the legs and breast allows for optimal moisture of both sections. Once separated, the turkey legs get stuffed with foie gras and chestnuts while the breast is brined and poached in milk with truffle essence and roasted. But my favorite part of the turkey is the tail brined with soghum, brown sugar, soy, five spice and then grilled on hardwood." —RJ Cooper (Rogue 24 in Washington D.C. )

    Roast the turkey in parts; confit the legs, thighs and wings in duck fat

    Editor's note: see how to here!

    "Am I in charge of turkey? ALWAYS! My turkey tips to Serious Eaters would be: don't be scared to break it down and roast it in parts [Editor's note: see how to here!] I like to butcher it into bone in breasts, leg/thigh, and wings. I brine it for two days in a 2% brine with mirepoix and fresh herbs. Pull it out two days before cooking. Let the breasts (still bone in) dry out in the fridge. I like to confit the legs/thighs, and wings in duck fat or schmaltz. Remove from the fat, and roast to heart and crisp the skin day of. I roast the breasts until 165 degrees in the middle, and let cool. The breasts are juicy, the legs and thighs are cooked and tender, and it's easier to carve." —Jamie Bissonnette (Coppa and Toro in Boston)

    Take the breast off the bird

    "I like taking the breast off the bird after brining and cooking the breast and legs together, then using the carcass and the wings for stock. This way you can avoid the overcooked breast and undercooked legs problem so common on most tables. When roasting, start high, like 475F, and then lower after 45 minutes to about 375F." Hugh Acheson (Empire State South in Atlanta)

    Save oven space and grill your turkey!

    Editor's note: Step-by-step instructions on how to grill the turkey here!

    "My mother says, 'Thanksgiving is the easiest meal of the year.' And, in a way she is right and she is wrong. The cooking couldn't be simpler but the expectations make it the most difficult meal of the year. All the anxiety is directed at the (truly) simplest task: the turkey. Don't let turkey trauma ruin your holiday. Repeat this mantra, with conviction and often: turkey is easy, grilled turkey is even easier! Forget the oven, preheat the grill! Save oven space for all your side dishes." [Editor's note: Step-by-step instructions on how to grill the turkey here!] —Elizabeth Karmel (Hill Country and Hill Country Chicken in NYC)

    Deep-fried turkey

    "The turkey is a group effort at our house. But last year for the first time we made a deep-fried turkey, and it was pretty damn good and way easier than I thought. You don't have to sit in front of the stove for hours, waiting for it to be done. It's way faster and just better." Ken Oringer (Clio, Uni, Toro, La Verdad and Coppa in Boston; Earth in Kennebunkport)

    Crank up the oven to 500 degrees...

    "My first experience with a Thanksgiving turkey was when I was three years old, cruising through the kitchen in my Denton shoes. We had a lower oven at home in Beloit, Wisconsin. My dad was up cleaning the bird and put the turkey in around 7 a.m. and went back to bed. I walked in the kitchen and cranked the temp up to 500 and left. My older brother walked in the kitchen 30 minutes later and smelled something burning and woke my parents to tell them the bird was done. They didn't believe him. My dad finally walked in and saw the turkey beautifully golden brown after just 45 minutes. Dad tented it and let it rest all afternoon—he thought it was ruined. BUT, to this day, it is still the best turkey we've ever had. Michael White (Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, Nicoletta in NYC)