When it comes to cooking your holiday bird, you have 3 factors to consider: How easy is it, how delicious is it, and how likely are your kids to accidentally screw it all up? There are nearly as many methods to choose from as there are stories about drunk Uncle Jack passing out at the Thanksgiving table, so deciding what to go with can be vexing … if you don’t have this handy, entirely scientific, totally definitive ranking to break it all down for you.
11. Best For Your Family To Use Against You Later: Deep Fried
Frying a turkey is an insanely manly thing to do, although you’ll feel slightly less manly explaining to the fire department why there’s a fiery hole where the promise of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner once stood. That’s why, if you’re going this route, make sure you have a derrick.
10. Least Expected: Stewed
You read that right. Sure, it removes the whole “bringing a golden brown bird to the table” and the ceremonial carving stuff from the Thanksgiving equation, but it’s also dead simple and requires almost no work. That means more time for football watchi … er … reconnecting with your in-laws. On second thought, maybe this should have ranked lower …
9. Best Anatomy Lesson: The Turkducken
Stuffing birds with other birds is fascinating to kids, which makes the preparation on this one pretty entertaining for everyone. But it’s crazy time-consuming and requires hospital kitchen-level attention to detail to avoid giving your whole family salmonella. Still, with a slight tweak to the recipe (a cornish game hen instead of the duck and chicken), you can pull the old “the turkey was pregnant!” prank, which is flat-out hilarious and allows for a whole different kind of anatomy lesson.
8. Most Impressive (If You Can Pull It Off, Which You Can’t):Deboned, Stuffed, Roasted
The end result — a flavor bomb of pancetta, parmigiano, prunes, chestnuts and pork stuffed into a delicately roasted bird — will have your family thinking you’re Mario Batali (which makes sense, because it’s his recipe). Unfortunately, even if you have your butcher debone the thing, the AP-level prep has potential to get way, way away from you and quick.
7. Easiest: Bagged
Seriously, your dog couldn’t screw this up. Chop a bunch of veggies, throw them in a bag with the bird, set it, and forget it. Hell, get fancy and include a few fresh herbs if you want — but if your Thanksgiving dinner crowd is cool with this no-fuss cooking method, they probably won’t notice either way. Then again, there is no better way to spend Thanksgiving doing what everyonereally wants to do, which is watch every James Bond movie back-to-back-to-back.
6. Most Innovative, Least Thanksgiving-y: Sous-Vide
Sous-vide is French for “cooking under vacuum” and involves air-tight bags and precisely controlled water baths. From a taste standpoint, the end result is out of this world. From a price standpoint, you’re going to have to clutter your counter with this spendy gadget, which you may never use again. And from a tradition standpoint … dude, it’s French.
5. Coolest: Grilled
Pros: Grilled birds are delicious; grilling keeps you and the kids out in the yard rather than indoors watching TV all day; the grill is your domain and it’s good to be the king. Cons: It’s really, really hard to maintain the temperature on an outdoor grill consistently enough to not screw up at least some part of the turkey — and it’s almost certainly the part your spouse likes best.
4. Actually, This One Is Coolest:Beer Can Turkey
All of the above grilling pros and cons still apply, but the cons are somewhat mitigated by a few factors: First, grilling the bird with a beer can shoved unceremoniously up its turkey hole is entertaining for everyone. Second, compared to standard grilling, it’s way harder to dry out a beer can turkey. Third, there are 5 other beers in that 6-pack.
3. Best Way To Look Like You Know What You’re Doing: Butterflied
Butterflied turkeys don’t just cook way faster (under 2 hours instead of over 4), they also cook way more evenly and result in perfectly crisp skin. There are only 2 downsides: it’s a pain in the ass to prep and you don’t get to bring out a beautiful, intact bird on a platter. Then again, the proper term for this method is “spatchcocking,” which — if you have teenagers — guarantees that everyone at the table cracks up at least twice during dinner.
2. Most Delicious: Smoked
So long as you have a decent smoker and know how to use it, this might just be the meal with the greatest taste-to-effort ratio in the history of food — a well-smoked turkey is a thing of beauty. That said, if you’re trying to do it with anything but a decent smoker, the difficulty level goes way up and there are so many ways to go wrong. And 12 hours is a long time to wait to discover you ruined Thanksgiving.
1. The Best, Period: Traditionally Roasted
Surprise! Look, tradition is a good thing. Maybe you’ll catch some grief from your obnoxious foodie sibling about being uncreative, but here’s the reason why this ranks first among all methods: It’s easy to not screw up (just brine the bird overnight and you can’t really go wrong), and it involves all sorts of menial-but-key prep tasks that are perfect for little kids to help out with. Having kids with you in the kitchen is the secret to all kinds of success, from healthier eating habits to tighter families. And family is what this whole thing is all about.
Have a great Thanksgiving!