As I find myself hosting Thanksgiving more regularly, I’ve discovered that I don’t enjoy the stress of getting everything on the table at the same time AND at the right serving temperature. It’s stressful! There’s a lot more to it than it looks like in holiday TV shows and in my memory’s nostalgia-blurred playback!
BUT I have found that if I can cook the turkey anywhere else EXCEPT the oven, it makes Thanksgiving meal time way easier. First, freeing up the oven for all the other sides and dishes is huge. HUGE! Second, the oven-less cooking options are either quicker or allow for more flexibility at serving time. Combining these two elements takes away much of the typical Thanksgiving meal stress. So consider these alternative options for your turkey.
- cook the turkey ahead of time. Cook it the day before, slice, store and just reheat the next day. Your house will still smell like turkey! And the next day the bird will just need to be heated a short while rather than roasted all day. This also allows for some “oops” room if you’re not sure how long the bird needs to cook.
- crockpot it! I have a large crockpot and could fit a 13 pound bird in it. This does NOT yield a browned, crispy skinned turkey, though you can achieve that by browning the outside briefly before placing it in the cooker OR finish it off in the oven and brown it there. It DOES yield a very juicy bird. So if you dislike turkey due to its dryness, this might be for you. I used this method once because we were expecting family to arrive after two days of driving and were going to eat upon their arrival. Since road trips can have bumps and delays, having the bird waiting in the crockpot was the perfect option for us. We could be flexible about arrival time and most other items could be kept warm in the oven (plenty of room) or quickly reheated upon our guests’ arrival.
- grill it! I am no grill master. But if you know one, he or she might enjoy taking charge of the turkey this year. A 10-16 pound bird will take 2-3 hours. This isn’t that much less than an unstuffed turkey in the oven, but it does keep your oven available for other items and offers a different flavor.
- fry it! So much oil, but so much flavor. I’m serious, it’s delicious. It takes less than hour for the same size bird as above, though there is some prep and safety research everyone should do beforehand. You need to prep the bird, prep the fryer, prep the oil, have the right open space and more. And since I have a designated turkey fry master in my home AND the results have been fantastic, I highly favor this method!
- pressure cook it! With today’s electric pressure cookers, this option has become attainable for many families. In a 6 quart cooker, you can fit only a 5-6 pound bird and the 8 quart one can fit an 11 pound bird. So you’ll have to be very careful when choosing. Brown the bird as much as you reasonably can, if you want it browned at all, either before cooking or after. This method will take 20-45 minutes, plus time to build pressure. It will be very juicy and tender!
- piece it out! Cooking the parts of a turkey takes less time than cooking the whole bird. You can roast them, ahead of time or day-of, crockpot them, grill them or pressure cook them. This can be just a sizeable breast purchased on its own, if you’re only having a small meal. OR you can cut your whole turkey into parts before cooking. OR you can purchase all the various parts for serving to a larger crowd.
- spatchcock it! For juicy meat and perfectly browned skin in about an hour and a half, consider this method of “butterflying” the bird. You remove the backbone, flatten the bird and then cook it skin side up. Because it’s flat you might be able to fit other items in the oven with it. Here’s Her Majesty Martha Stewart’s spotchcock instructions.
- go turkey-less? Sacrilege! An alternative idea is to make a cornish hen for each person at the table. Presented nicely, each person gets their own “mini” turkey, keeping things festive, but easy to bake. And kids especially love having kid-sized foods. They’ll remember it for years to come!
I do readily admit that most of these do leave something to be desired if walking out to the table with a whole, beautifully browned bird is a top priority. But if flavorful and easier are priorities, then you’ve got some great choices here. Enjoy and thank YOU for your