This holiday season is shaping up to be a much different than years past. Due to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, there might be smaller crowds to feed this thanksgiving. What do you do if you are in charge of the turkey this year, and you have never cooked a turkey before?
Well you’re in luck, we’ve got you covered! We're going to explain how to cook a turkey, what the best method is and how to serve it to your guests. We've tested several methods and will reveal the winning cooking method below. Psst.. it's foolproof if it's the first time you're cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving.
Whether it’s your first-time cooking turkey at home or you’re the turkey-cooking master, these tips will give you the edge on getting the most flavorful and delicious turkey and finding the most hassle-free method for you.
Generally, thawing a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator will take about 3 days for a 15-pound bird.
Another way to thaw a turkey is to submerge it in ice water in a cooler, sink or other vessel. A 15-pound turkey will take about eight hours to thaw this way.
No matter your method of cooking, preparing your turkey for cooking is the first step. Your turkey will cook more evenly if it is thoroughly thawed. Remove your turkey from the refrigerator or ice bath around an hour before you plan to cook it, if it is too cold your turkey might cook less evenly.
Unwrap, remove the giblets and thoroughly dry your turkey. Brine or season your turkey depending on your preference or cooking method.
Brine vs. No Brine
Brining is a hot topic in cooking, and many have different opinions on whether you should brine or not brine your holiday turkey. Advocates say brining, or soaking your poultry in bath of salty water for many hours, helps to tenderize your turkey and keep it moist while it cooks. Opponents say brining is a pain with little return requiring many hours of refrigeration while the turkey is submerged in its salty bath.
If you want to get the benefits of brining with less hassle, we suggest looking into dry brining. Dry brining is essentially like it sounds, rubbing your turkey with a salt mixture and allowing it to rest for a number of hours. This avoids the hassle of a wet brine and still lets you get the advantages of a moist turkey.
Lastly, if you're using a drum smoker for your Thanksgiving turkey there's simply no need to brine as the juices will remain in the meat. We've tested the different methods several times and the winner was a clear no brine in drum smoker.
No matter your preference, different cooking methods matter most when deciding the best way to cook your turkey. What method you use to cook your turkey will determine whether you have a moist and juicy turkey, or a dry and tasteless bird.
What method to use
Oven baked turkey (or oven roasted turkey) is known to be unforgiving and can often come out dry and not evenly cooked. Because of this, there are many tips and tricks to keeping a turkey moist in the oven.
Brines, dry brines, basting, special roasting opens, cooking upside down, drowning it in butter – it all seems like a bit of a hassle.
Nevertheless, the traditional way of cooking turkey, an Oven Roasted turkey, without further ado.
Oven Roast Turkey
What you’ll need
- 1 (14-to-16 pound) thawed whole turkey (not kosher or pre-salted)
- Such as thyme, sage, and rosemary, or a blend
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons salt
Defrost turkey according to package instructions. Generally, 24 hours for every 5 points of turkey when thawing in the refrigerator. Remove any giblets from the cavity.
When thawed, dry turkey with paper towels and place on a roasting pan.
Be sure to tuck the wings underneath the turkey so that no parts burn or cook faster.
Roast at 325 degrees F for about 13-15 minutes per pound, or until internal temperature (inserted on middle of thigh and breast) reaches about 165 degrees.
We bet you have heard about deep frying turkey, which has become popular in recent years. Deep frying a turkey requires specialized equipment, lots of frying oil and a tank of propane – not to mention a safe place to fry your turkey outdoors.
Yet, frying turkey does have its advantages. The high heat of a deep fryer locks in moisture, keeping the turkey leaving you with a moist, but greasy, holiday turkey.
- 1 (13 to 14-pound) turkey, with giblets removed
- About 4 to 4 1/2 gallons peanut oil
- 28 to 30 quart pot and propane burner equipment (turkey frying kits available at most supermarkets)
- Defrost turkey according to package instructions. Generally, 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey when thawing in the refrigerator. Remove any giblets from the cavity.
Tip: If you would like to dry brine your turkey while it thaws, rub the outside and cavity with a mixture of 3 tablespoons of kosher salt, herbs, and black pepper. This will help keep the turkey moist, but this step can be omitted.
- When thawed, dry turkey with paper towels and allow to set at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Note: It is vitally important that your turkey is thawed and very dry, or you risk creating a dangerous situation when placing your turkey in the fryer. Excess moisture can cause the fryer to flare up, causing a fire hazard and injury.
- Pour and the oil into the pot and set over high heat on an outside propane burner. Bring the temperature of the oil to 250 degrees F.
- Once the temperature has reached 250 degrees F, slowly lower your turkey into the oil and bring the temperature to 350 degrees F. Once the oil has reached 350 degrees F, lower the heat in order to maintain 350 degrees F.
- After 35 minutes, use a probe thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. Once the breast reaches 151 degrees F, gently and carefully remove from the oil and allow to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to carving.
- The turkey will reach an internal temperature of 161 degrees F due to carry over cooking.
Winner: Hook 'N Hang Drum Cooker
Hanging the turkey in a drum cooker is an easier method of cooking turkey and often more flavorful. Not only do you get the flavor of the seasoning used on your turkey, you can add an extra level of flavor by using your favorite wood to give your turkey a smoky flavor. Unlike other methods, you can cook two smaller birds at the same time in a drum cooker when you use the hanging method (see Turkey Hangers).
Of course, the Pit Barrel® is the perfect cooker to prepare your turkey. One of the easiest ways to cook turkey for first timers, the drum smoker is hassle-free and lets you set-it-and-forget-it. Unlike the oven, it cooks evenly for a juicy turkey with more flavor than what is ever possible in the oven. The Pit Barrel® achieves a crispy skin and perfect color without all of the oil and grease of a deep fryer. And best of all? No need to baste, monitor or babysit your turkey!
Drum Cooker Turkey
- 2 10-15 lb Turkeys OR 1 16-30 lb turkey, fully thawed
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup All-Purpose Pit Rub
- Turkey Hanger(s) sold separately
- Pit Grips recommended for use with Turkey Hangers
- Light your Pit Barrel® according to the instructions
- Remove the turkey from the package, remove the neck and giblet bag from inside the turkey, and remove any plastic or wire ties holding the legs in place
- Coat all sides of the turkey with a light coating of olive oil, followed by a liberal dusting of the All-Purpose Pit Rub. Tip: Make sure that you season the areas under the wings, and inside the cavity.
- Slide the turkey hanger rod through the cavity from the neck end. Turn the bird upright so that the breast end is sitting on the double-hook portion of the hanger and insert the T-bar through the eye on the end of the hanger rod. Stuffing Tip: If stuffing your bird, cut a slit in the flap of skin over the neck, insert the hanger rod through the slit, and fold it over to seal the opening on the underside of the bird.
- Hang the turkey(s) in the center of the Pit Barrel® so that the T-bar straddles the center of the rods, and secure the lid. Note: depending on the size of the turkey, you may have to lower the turkey(s) into the cooker before inserting the second rod.
- Cook approximately 3.5-7 hours, depending on size of the bird. To better understand poultry, cook times and safe temperatures, refer to the Meat Temperature Guide from our friends at AmazingRibs.com.
- Tip: It’s fun and useful to look in on the turkey every couple hours to monitor the progress and take the temperature. Also, to get an extra crisp on the skin, crack the lid 1/4″ for the last 30 mins of the cook.
- Remove the smoked turkey from the Pit Barrel® to a large platter or sheet pan. Remove the hanger and let rest 15-20 minutes, bringing the final temperature to 165° (shown using the ThermoWorks Thermapen®).
- Carve and Serve.
Another way to impress your family is by smoking your Thanksgiving turkey. Despite it being feasible in some, it is nearly impossible to cook a large bird in your barbecue grill. However, a decent size smoker can give your Turkey a smokey cook that will leave your guests feeling satisfied.
- 1 10-15 lb turkey, fully thawed
- 1 serving brine of your choice
- 1/2 BBQ seasoning of your choice (we recommend this All-Purpose Pit Rub)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- Preheat smoker to 225-250 degrees F
Coat a large disposable aluminum pan with oil or cooking spray. Place the turkey in the pan and tuck the wings under the body.
- Cover whole turkey in BBQ rub
- Place turkey in smoker and cook for 6-9 hours or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F
- Baste every 45-60 min with chicken broth to keep moist
- If the turkey is getting too dark, cover with foil
The best part of achieving a moist and flavorful holiday turkey is serving it. Remember to let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle in the meat. Slice your turkey to your preference and serve with your favorite holiday sides. Browse our other recipes for easy and delicious ideas here.
Conclusion & Best-in-Test Winner
We maybe biased but our friends and family have continuously voted Pit Barrel Holiday Turkey the best-in-test winner because of three simple reasons:
- Juiciness. Yes, your turkey will basically be dripping with juices after being fully cooked on the Pit Barrel®. We have all become way too accepting of a dry Holiday Turkey but after you try this method you'll never go back. Guaranteed.
- Easiness. There's never been an easier way to cook turkey than to hang it in a drum cooker. No need to monitor, babysit or turn. You'll be able to entertain your guest and remove the fear of a dry turkey. The 360 All-Round Heat Dynamics is taking care of all the cooking as long as you light the drum cooker according to the instructions.
- Flavor. The last factor that contributed to the winning title of best Holiday Turkey is the signature flavor of the Pit Barrel®. The All-Purpose Pit Rub help enhance the natural flavor of the turkey as well as complimenting the light smokey flavor of the drum cooker.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or need help with cooking your turkey in a drum smoker, please don't hesitate to contact our customer care team.