Pretty Bird: A Thanksgiving Turkey Tale

By Peyton Ladt Sterns November 21, 2019 

The main event. The focal point. The big bird. You know what we’re talking about, folks. It’s Thanksgiving turkey season. Just like there was a wedding crashing season, this is officially the month of the turkey. Both the focal point of the meal and the chief source of holiday anxiety, we have a love-hate relationship with the Thanksgiving turkey. But fear not, Thanksgiving hosts and hostesses, this year is going to be different. Whether you’re looking to make the classic turkey a la Grandma’s Thanksgiving playbook, add a gourmet twist to your turkey repertoire, prep the turkey on the grill (yes, the grill), or go entirely sans-turkey, we’re breaking down the recipes and cooking methods that provide the most reward for the culinary risk. Get ready to head into the holiday week with peace of mind knowing that your Thanksgiving turkey, however you want to prep and serve it, will be the star of the show. 


Go Traditional

If a completely classic turkey experience is what you’re after, look no further than this foolproof recipe. There are no tricks, gimmicks, or new and novel flavors here; it’s pure traditional Thanksgiving goodness. Roasted on a bed of root vegetables and fresh herb sprigs (think thyme and rosemary) for gentle and familiar flavor, this turkey will be the one that harkens back to childhood Thanksgivings, and is also the most simple to execute on as a hostess. 


Go Gourmet 

Let’s say that this isn’t your first Thanksgiving rodeo, and you’re looking to up the ante. Kick things up a notch or two. We love this recipe because it provides a fresh new approach to your Thanksgiving bird in two ways: both how it’s cooked, and all of the juicy flavors involved. The rich glaze includes ingredients such as vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and orange zest for a wholly new and delicious flavor profile. For the prep and cooking, this recipe actually calls for breaking down the bird and roasting it in pieces instead of whole, which guarantees that no part is over or under-cooked, and maintains its juiciness until the very end. 


Go Meat-Lovers

If the turkey by itself is not enough meat for you, you’re going to want to get a load of this recipe. This pancetta-wrapped roasted turkey is ridiculously sumptuous and addictively delicious. The pancetta adds both a fattiness and a saltiness to the exterior of the turkey, which seeps into the meat during the roasting process. Also, bringing this bird to the table is the ultimate crowd-pleaser - you’ll be sure to get a few Instagram tags for this one.


Go Brined

To brine or not to brine: that is the question. In the quest for the most succulent, juicy turkey, chefs and home cooks alike absolutely swear by the brining method. What this means is that you soak the whole turkey in a salt-based liquid mixture for up to 24 hours before roasting it. This recipe uses apple cider, garlic, and whole peppercorns in the brining liquid for maximum flavor, and we love that we can leave our turkey to soak overnight and it’s ready to cook the next morning. 


Go Grilled

Yup, you heard us right: you can, in fact, cook that main course bird on your grill. Whether you own a grill of the charcoal or gas variety, you can utilize that oft-forgotten-in-winter outdoor cooking apparatus to free up oven space and give your turkey that delicious grilled flavor. The best part of this cooking method is that you can have your butcher spatchcock the turkey for you, and it cooks in an hour. That’s right, one hour. Now what will you do with all that extra time?! We suggest an earlier cocktail hour. 


Go Deep Fried

The deep fried turkey has long been a Thanksgiving urban legend, and often a culinary cautionary tale as well. Although this cooking method is a bit of a walk on the wild side, if done well (and safely), it can produce the most epically tasty, golden, and crunchy-skinned bird. We like that this recipe includes all of the cautionary notes and steps in detail so that you can feel like you’re deep frying your turkey with the utmost safety in mind. Side of fries optional. 


Go Gluten-free and Dairy-free

We know that the Thanksgiving meal can be a challenge for our gluten and dairy-free friends, and so we wanted to make sure to include a turkey option that checks those boxes without anyone most likely even noticing. This turkey recipe is one of our favorites regardless of dietary restrictions, and calls for cooking the turkey in sections so that each type of meat is done perfectly. Try making this gluten and dairy-free kale and bacon stuffing on the side, too. 


Go Vegan and Vegetarian

For those of us who don’t eat birds in any form, there are still some fantastic meat-free options out there that others at the table will be sure to enjoy as well. We love this whole roasted cauliflower with decadent shitake gravy because it has a rich, umami flavor profile, and when served whole on the table has the gravitas of a beautiful main course meat dish. Our other favorite alternative is this cranberry maple lentil loaf. It has all of the heartiness of a classic meatloaf, with holiday-right additions such as fresh cranberries and a maple glaze. Plus, the lentils, chia seeds, and oats will keep you full just like that turkey would. 

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Peyton Ladt Sterns

Chocolate chip cookies are my spirit animal.

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