How to Cook a Turkey
"Everybody has their own way to cook a turkey—there are family feuds about it," says Chris Cosentino of San Francisco's Incanto. Indeed, when we asked four chefs for their favorite method, we got four different answers. Some brine; others dry-brine (rubbing the bird with salt or spices). One deep-fries. Two cook the bird whole; two separate the legs from the breast.
The technique the chef picks allows the turkey to handle more or less heat while it cooks. One chef who favors brining also roasts at high heat, because the extra-moist meat isn't likely to dry out. Another chef cooks his dry-brined turkey gently, at just 275 degrees.
Choosing from among these various methods requires knowing your own priorities. Separating the legs from the breasts before roasting ensures you won't overcook the white meat, but it also means you won't have a whole bird to present at the table; deep frying is very fast but requires special equipment and a certain amount of fearlessness. You could debate the pros and cons endlessly, but Cosentino discourages that: "Just choose your way and do it."
Chef Tips on How to Cook a Turkey
"Deep-frying keeps the turkey very moist," says Marcus Samuelsson of New York City's Red Rooster. "It's also a huge time-saver—the bird cooks in about 45 minutes."
The F&W Test Kitchen loves Waring Pro's TF200 turkey fryer: With a built-in rotisserie and safety catches, it's much less likely to splash or spill hot oil—a big risk with other setups. Plus, it can sit on a countertop. $166; amazon.com
When Chris Cosentino splits his turkey, he keeps the legs connected to each other at the back bone. "You get more crispy skin and won't lose the oysters," he says, referring to the prized nuggets on the back.
"Brining introduces flavor that penetrates to the bone," says chef Ken Oringer of Clio in Boston. "And, because brining adds moisture, the turkey can handle high heat."
"The greatest poultry I've ever had was in France, where it's dry-brined to concentrate the flavor," says Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama.