Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays of the year and if you’re anything like us, we imagine it’s one of yours, too. Who could ever complain about copious amounts of delicious food, football and a relaxing—emphasis on relaxing—day with family, friends and loved ones?
With Turkey Day just a few days out, at this point, we imagine most of you are falling into two categories:
Guys who know exactly what they’re doing with their birds. You have some kind of generations old family recipe that you got from your great grandmother that you’ve been using since you hosted your first awkward “Friendsgiving” that first year out of college.
And guys who are sitting in the kitchen, staring at the defrosting turkey on the counter, wondering what the hell they’re going to do.
The first group of guys probably aren’t even reading this article, which means we’re looking at you, Group 2, you beautiful collective of wayward procrastinators.
The good news is turkeys are a lot more diverse than most people think. For the millions of birds that get stuffed, fried, baked and smoked to oblivion every year, there are probably just as many deliciously awesome recipes out there on how to cook them. Seriously. It seems everyone who has ever cooked a turkey has a different way of cooking it and somehow, their way is always the best way.
We consider ourselves turkey connoisseurs; maestros of a masterful orchestra of beautiful brown birds, primed with a cacophony of all different spices, seasonings and herbs. And, as is our style here at hims, we wanted to take as much of the guess work out of the equation for you as possible. We sorted through all of our favorite turkey cooking recipes to give you our top five favorite—and yes, we even included a vegan option.
We tried to include many video links as possible, just to make this extra fool-proof.
We love Binging With Babish because aside from being a genius in the kitchen, host Andrew Rea is kind of an Everyman’s cook. He’s a filmmaker by trade who just so happens to be exceptionally talented in the kitchen, which means he delivers how-to recipes from a very relatable perspective—especially for all us weekend warriors out there.
He just released his excellent Charlie Brown Thanksgiving episode, where he covers how to make the best damn pumpkin pie you’ve ever tasted, as well as a pretty ingenious recipe for the perfect roasted turkey, à la A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It’s pretty straight forward stuff, but the magic is in Rea’s use of baking powder on the skin while seasoning to speed up the Maillard reaction—AKA “browning reaction”—when the bird is roasting. He also takes it out after it’s cooked inside to finish browning it with clarified butter. This bird comes out looking beautiful and crispy and if we have any complaints about it, it’s that he seasoned it like a steak—with nothing more than pepper and salt. Luckily, this recipe will also work with any other dry rub or bird seasoning method, so you can modify it to your personal tastes. We suggest garlic. Lots and lots of garlic.
Is Gordon Ramsay a bit of a dick? No. He’s a huge dick. But, the man is also an incredibly talented world-class chef with decades of experience behind his wrinkled, yelling face and his recipe for a Christmas turkey (Or Thanksgiving turkey, if you’re a red-blooded American) is easily one of the best we’ve ever seen.
For Ramsay’s recipe, the trick is all in the butter. He packs a soft butter mix of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon zest and fresh chopped parsley into the bird, between the skin and the breast and then leaves a generous coating of the butter mix on the outer skin of the breast, legs and wings. He also fills the bird with two halved onions, a lemon and some bay leaves to help it steam, keep in moisture and give it a zesty, spicy, sweet flavor. After that, he tosses it in the oven on a high temp to brown for just 10 minutes, covers the breast with thick cut bacon and then puts it in at a lower temp to roast for a couple hours, basting periodically in pan juices.
This bird comes out tasting good as it looks—we guarantee it.
We won’t even pretend we’re not personally biased toward deep fried turkey. We are. It’s delicious. In fact, we’d wager pretty heavily that a proper, well-cooked deep fried bird is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.
The best part? It’s insanely easy to pull off, and so long as you’re careful with your deep fryer, it’s relatively fool-proof. The video doesn’t go over Brown’s brine recipe, but even that couldn’t be simpler: One pound of dark brown sugar and one pound of salt, mixed into six quarts of hot water (hot water helps the sugar and salt dissolve thoroughly). From there, you toss in your bird, toss in a five-pound bag of ice and let it sit overnight (12-18 hours).
All you do after that is take the bird out of the brine, thoroughly pat it dry with a paper towel inside and out (Seriously, this step is important, because water plus grease equals a grease fire.), measure out the proper amount of oil and then let it fry.
Brown’s recipe calls for the use of an instant meat thermometer, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. Given our experience deep frying birds (This will be our fifth Thanksgiving doing one this way), the magic formula is: Lower the bird in at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, then fry for 3 minutes per pound, plus an additional 5 minutes at the end. A 15-pound bird will fry for about 50 minutes.
We’ll tell you right now, smoking a turkey is a project. A long, arduous and labor-intensive one, too. But it will yield one of the best turkeys—if not the best—that you’ve ever had. We’d have experimented with it more over the years if it wasn’t such a drawn out process. However, if you’re looking to really dig in and get your hands dirty this Thanksgiving, this is definitely the way to do it.
The video shows Matt from the Meat Church as he preps, butchers and smokes a bird, from start to finish. We like it because Matt goes through the entire process of prepping the bird—including a proper spatchcocking—to ensure that it cooks evenly throughout.
Far as brine and seasonings go (Yes, you have to brine, season and baste these birds), they recommend their own stuff. But there are a lot of options out there for you to choose from. We like this one, but also agree that adding some kind of apple or citrusy fruit like orange to the mix will give the bird a better overall taste. Far as dry seasonings go, you can use a basic poultry rub, or, if you don’t have one on-hand, you can make one like this one, which hits on all the basics—salt, brown sugar, cumin, mustard, coriander, etc.
When it comes to smoking, you can really season the bird any way you’d like. The process and wood pellets you use are really where the difference is made, especially with a meat as lean and sensitive as turkey. One or two wrong moves and you’re going to be gnawing down on turkey jerky. But when you get it right, there’s really nothing like it. Succulent, juicy, tender… It’s good as it gets.
If you’re a meat eater, you can stop reading right now. You can start sourcing smokers and fry cookers nearby and go about the rest of your life in peace.
But we figured one vegan recipe was in order for those cruelty-free folk among us, or for those welcoming cruelty-free guests into their home this Thanksgiving. We actually had the pleasure of tasting this “tofu turkey” at a Friendsgiving a couple years back and we were pleasantly surprised by how awful it wasn’t. How it wasn’t awful. How not bad it was. The A1 coursing through our veins prohibits us from saying it was good, but it definitely wasn’t the worst thing we’ve ever had. We’d take it over fermented shark any day (Sorry, Iceland).
Anyway, the recipe is super simple, but keep in mind that a food processor is integral to your success. You mix a bunch of veggies in the processor—mushrooms, celery, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, oats, etc.—to make the stuffing, then make the “turkey” using tofu, corn flour, veggie stock powder, thyme and garlic powder. You layer a parchment paper lined deep round bowl with the tofurkey shell, fill it with stuffing, then top it and put it in the oven for one hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
After an hour, you take it out, baste it with the sauce mentioned in the video description, then toss it back in for an extra half hour. Voila, Vegan Thanksgiving.