Turkey Takes Center Stage on Thanksgiving: Does Yours Need a Makeover?
Turkey is the undisputed star of the show on the biggest food holiday of the year. But is yours ready for a costume change?
In the more than 15 years I’ve worked with Steven Raichlen, he almost never cooks turkey the same way twice. Every year, he tries a new method. He revels in experimenting. In a recent telephone conversation, he admitted his pursuit of turkey perfection has led him to smoking, spit-roasting, indirect grilling, beer-canning, etc. And that’s before he brines, injects, rubs, or literally gets under the turkey’s skin with scary amounts of herbed or truffled butter. What he refuses to do, however, is spatchcock the bird before grilling. Its resemblance to roadkill is off-putting, he believes, and an affront to the late artist Norman Rockwell.
(Just as a reminder, frozen birds take several days to thaw—about one day for every four pounds. You might want to begin thawing it in the refrigerator this weekend. Place it in a large rimmed sheet pan on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator so raw turkey juice doesn’t drip on other foods.)
I’m a turkey iconoclast myself, but had to wait until my paternal grandmother passed as she saw any break with Thanksgiving tradition as mutiny, pure and simple. Ask me about the time I added walnuts, oranges, and Grand Marnier to the cranberry sauce.
Anyway, I’ve had wonderful results from the recipes below. (The only one I haven’t personally tried is the beer can bird. But that’s because smaller turkeys have been difficult to find the past few years. Otherwise, I’d be all over it.) Picking a favorite would be impossible.
There are a few tools that will make your grilling tasks easier. Among them are insulated food gloves, meat claws, and a reliable instant-read meat thermometer. And don’t forget to stock up on wood smoking chips or chunks and charcoal or wood. If you’re a gas griller, pick up an extra tank of propane.
Without further adieu, here are several ways to give your turkey a makeover. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Turkey Recipes for Thanksgiving
Inspired by the Latin and Caribbean cultures that thrive in Steven’s hometown of Miami, this is one flamboyant bird. Perfectly complemented by a garlic and citrus sauce, it develops beautiful color and flavor when cooked on the grill.
Steven’s culinary training is represented by this elegant bird. Herbed butter (which can be made ahead and softened before T-Day) and luxurious truffles (or sage leaves) are stuffed under the skin before the bird is smoke-roasted. The presentation and the flavors are stunning.
Like beer can chicken, only bigger! You’ll need an 8- to 10-pound bird, if you can find one. And a tall can of beer to support it. Make sure you have enough clearance under your grill lid to accommodate the turkey’s height before you start cooking.
This bird is another stunner. It can be spit-roasted, too, if you have a rotisserie unit that is sturdy enough to support a turkey.
Expecting a smaller group at your Thanksgiving table this year? Consider smoke-roasting a turkey breast or two. You’ll want enough leftovers to make sandwiches the next day.