8 alternative ways to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

Smoked, fried, bacon-wrapped ... and more suggestions
Bacon-wrapped turkey and smoked turkey (inset).
Bacon-wrapped turkey and smoked turkey (inset).

Thanksgiving is upon us, as is the task of cooking the quintessential Thanksgiving turkey. 

Over the years, chefs and Thanksgiving-day-only-chefs alike have come up with some odd and at times dangerous ways to make their turkeys tasty. The deep-frying method has led to more than a few kitchen/porch fires in the Capital Region alone. 

However, if you still want to do things a little differently for Thanksgiving, there are safer (and tastier) methods. The Gazette talked to some local chefs (turned turkey experts) about some alternatives to the classic roasted turkey. Here are a few of those ideas for those who are tired of their typical turkey:

Southern-Style Fried Turkey: Deep frying turkey is tough, laborious and comes with a few risks. But southern-style fried turkey is a great alternative with just as much (if not more) flavor, said Mark Delos, the chief operating officer at Mazzone Hospitality. “Have your butcher help,” Delos said. A local butcher can take the typical turkey and break it down (separating the legs and the breast) so that you can cook it in smaller pieces, the same way you would cook crispy fried chicken. It’s got the crispy and salty taste of deep-fried turkey without the hassle

Craft beer and Fruit Brine: This one is a family matter for Robert Payne, an instructor at Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts program and co-owner of The Bear’s Steakhouse in Duanesburg. “My son Bobby enjoys cooking and experimenting with different flavor profiles of beer so we sample and create at the same time,” Payne said. He recommends mixing a dark craft beer with a fall fruit (apples, cranberries, etc.) brine. “Craft beer is big now,” Payne said. He prefers smoked turkey but said people can also roast it in the oven or grill it. 

Alternatively Spiced: “People are starting to bring other cultures into their regular Thanksgiving [meal],” said Thomas Alicandro, a chef, and instructor at SCCC. Instead of the usual thyme, rosemary, and salt seasonings, he recommends trying a Cajun version or even a soy sauce-glazed version. “It’s very eye-catching,” Alicandro said. Pair the soy sauce with a sweetener like honey and other desired seasonings and glaze the turkey as you see fit.

Smoked: It seems like everyone has a smoker or has a taste for smoked-style food. This low and slow method takes some time and attention (around 30 minutes of per pound), but the time pays off in flavor. Chef Michael Stamets, an instructor at SCCC, recommends bringing in the tastes of the fall season into the mix. When creating the stuffing or the rub for the turkey, add in apples, cranberries. If you debone the turkey, you can marinate the turkey breasts in apple cider to add a bit more flavor. If you plan to smoke the entire turkey, you can use apple cider in the brine. This method is also a good way to free up space in the oven, said Chef David Yanisko at Culinary Arts Program at SUNY Cobleskill. 

Butterflied or Spatchcocked: This method doubles the surface area and it tends to cook a bit faster. Remove the neck and the giblets from the neck cavity. Cut the turkey in half (breast-side down). Apply any dry rub, brine, etc. and let sit. Then cook the turkey in the oven or on the grill, directly on the rack with a pan (preferably filled with vegetables) beneath. According to Yanisko, people often use the spatchcocking method because it makes for an evenly cooked turkey

Sous Vide: By far the most complicated on the list and a method which is not for the inexperienced chef, said Yanisko. The French term simply means “under vacuum,” and the vacuum-sealed food is immersed in a water bath and cooked at a very precise temperature. When cooking a large turkey, Yanisko recommends cooking the legs separately. “It’s a modernist technique,” Yanisko said. The methodology is precise and requires the right equipment (mainly a sous vide set-up). 

Olde Bryan Inn: The Olde Bryan Inn is famous for their turkey dishes, which customers order year round. “We go through massive amounts of turkey,” said Shayne Tanner, chef and kitchen manager at the Inn. They take the breast off and brine it with a citrus brine (usually with kosher salt, lemons, oranges, rosemary and thyme) which they let sit for 24 hours. Then they roast the rest of the bird in the oven, using the drippings in their gravy recipe. That way there’s still the flavor of the dark meat, just in the gravy, said Tanner. 

Bacon Wrapped Turkey: It’s a meat-lovers dream. There are a few different versions of the recipe, some with the entire turkey and some with just the turkey breast. But either way, the idea is simple: pile on the bacon. If you’re cooking the entire turkey, after deboning it, arrange the bacon in a lattice pattern around the bird. If you’re cooking the turkey breast, you can wrap it around in a simple single layer. 

Categories: Food, Life and Arts


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