Thanksgiving is a time filled with tradition, family, and food, and nothing symbolizes this holiday quite as well as a steaming roast turkey. However, roasting a turkey in the same way with the same recipe year after year can be downright dull.
While classic turkey recipes have a traditional charm, if you’ve been thinking of making new memories with fresh Thanksgiving dishes, try these three creative roast turkey recipes this holiday season.
Before You Start
Whether you’re cooking wild game you’ve hunted yourself or a turkey you’ve sourced from a local farm, you need the right equipment to make a fantastic-tasting meal. Some items that will make your life easier in the kitchen are:
- Meat Thermometer – You need your bird to cook until the interior temperature sits on or above 180˚F in the thickest part of the thigh. Having a meat thermometer to use specifically for this purpose saves you the guesswork.
- Newly Sharpened Blades – There’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. No one wants a trip to the emergency room to celebrate Thanksgiving. Make sure all your kitchen knives are sharp, clean, and ready for service.
- Baster or Brush – One of the cardinal rules of roasting any meat is to avoid drying it out, which means a lot of basting. A turkey needs basting every 45 minutes. Ensure you have the right tools—namely, a baster or brush—to keep the turkey meat well-moistened as it roasts.
To create an unforgettable turkey feast and present your loved ones with something they’ve never tried before, it helps to know the basics.
Test out a basic bird recipe at a dinner party or for a Sunday dinner to acquaint yourself with the specifics of roasting a bird before you expand onto something new. Some other tips and tricks for roasting a prime bird are:
- Adequate Defrost Time – Allow one day of defrosting per 5 lbs. of turkey. If you have a 20-lb. bird, you should defrost it in the fridge for four days.
- Don’t Cook Stuffing in the Bird – If you cook the stuffing in the bird, you’ll break one of the cardinal rules of turkey roasting and dry out the turkey. Cook it as a side in a casserole dish instead.
- Brine After Thawing – Brine is a salt-sugar solution that can be flavored with herbs and spices. The brine helps to season the meat from the inside-out and ensures juicy, tender meat. Add 2 cups of Kosher salt to 8 quarts of water, and bring to the boil. Add your aromatics, which could include bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, and a citrus peel, and then leave to cool completely. Ensure the bird is fully immersed in the cooled brine and leave it for 1-2 days.
Best Roast Turkey Recipes
1. Brined, Honey-Basted Turkey
Grilling a whole wild turkey is a delicious alternative to roasting, with the smoke bringing out the wild game flavor. The secrets to the dish’s success are the salty honey brine used before cooking and the smoking technique used to roast it to a lovely golden brown.
The first step is to ensure you have a receptacle large enough for brining the turkey, especially if you’ve bagged a big tom with your expert turkey calling tips. A cooler with a lid works well.
Combine a gallon of hot water with a pound of salt and stir to dissolve. Add 1 pound of honey and 2 quarts of vegetable broth to the mixture, and then a bag of ice before putting in the turkey breast-side up and leaving it overnight to brine with the lid closed.
To smoke your turkey after you’ve brined it, you will need to construct an impromptu smoker with some cedar chips and tinfoil. This technique works best if you use the most heavy-duty aluminum foil you can find.
Place cedar chips in a pile in the center of a piece of foil and pinch the sides of the foil up, leaving a hole for the smoke to escape at the top. Place the packet on top of the flames on your grill or the charcoal and situate the bird right over it. Cook on the grill at 450˚F for 2-2½ hours for a 14-16 lb. bird. Measure the internal temperature of the thickest piece of meat, for an internal temp of 160˚F to 180˚F.
2. Herbs Galore
When you want the classic version of a roast turkey, but with the volume turned up, add choice herbs to make the bird shine. The most common roasting herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage add an umami depth to the bird, while herbs like marjoram, basil, and parsley bring freshness.
For an herb-roasted turkey, combine all the herbs with soft butter and then loosen the turkey’s skin as much as possible, using your hand or the handle of a wooden spoon. You don’t want to take the skin off the bird completely, but you should be able to get your hand underneath it.
Take the herb butter and spread it liberally under the skin, directly on the turkey breast meat. Once you’ve completely covered the inner layer of the turkey, close the openings you made with toothpicks and pour scalding water all over the bird. This will shrink the skin against the body, sealing in the butter and spices like shrinkwrap.
As the bird cooks, the sealed pockets of oil and herbs will bubble and marinate in the meat, creating a mouthwatering meal. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes to inject extra flavor and keep the bird moist.
3. Apricot-Glazed Turkey with Shallot Gravy
Turkey leftovers are some of the best aspects of the large Thanksgiving meal. Many people prefer the next-day turkey-and-cranberry-sauce sandwich more than the main event. If you present this delectable apricot-glazed turkey to your guests, there won’t be enough for turkey sandwiches the next day.
The apricot glaze consists of 1 cup of apricot nectar and 1 cup of apricot jam, and 2 tablespoons each of ginger and honey. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook, lowering the heat to thicken the sauce after you’ve brought it to a boil. Once the glaze is thick enough, set it aside to cool.
For the onion and shallot gravy, chop 6 large shallots with about 2 lbs. of yellow onion and butter, cooking over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent. You can set this aside when it is fully cooked, as you will use the turkey drippings to complete the gravy.
Prepare your turkey by placing pats of herb-butter under the skin. Cook the bird until it is almost done, with about an hour left of cooking time, and then reheat your glaze, brushing it all over the turkey when it’s warmed.
For shallot gravy, which complements the apricot flavor beautifully, reserve some turkey drippings from the roasting pan, skimming off the fat and discarding. Blend the onion mixture and the turkey drippings in a blender or Cuisinart and bring to a boil on your stovetop, decreasing the heat and simmering until the gravy turns a darker brown.
The Final Word
You wouldn’t head out on a hunt without the proper gear, so make sure you’ve got all the right kitchen tools and have refreshed your turkey roasting skills before you tackle the bird this Thanksgiving. To make it a Thanksgiving everyone will remember, put a contemporary twist on a classic roast bird.
Before you head out on your next turkey hunt, make sure you’re bringing the right equipment to stay safe, warm, and dry. Mossy Oak is an expert outfitter, designed by hunters for hunters and field-tested.