It’s well known within food publishing that Thanksgiving photo shoots and recipe testing starts early (and we mean early), and happen numerous times before the actual holiday even rolls around. This has made our Test Kitchen team experts in the field of all things Thanksgiving—particularly our Senior Food Stylist Anna Billingskog. She estimates that she’s cooked some form of a Thanksgiving dinner upwards of a dozen times in her five-plus years as a food stylist for Food52.
One year alone, she cooked eight different turkeys. Eight. Turkeys. Needless to say, Anna is what we would call a turkey master. So, of course, I chatted with her to get the scoop on the best and brightest of our Thanksgiving birds on Food52. Without further ado, we present a gaggle of Anna-approved turkey recipes perfect for every host and cook.
For the turkey purist: The Judy Bird
The Judy Bird is one of our all-time top turkey recipes on the site, and for good reason: the dry brine is very hands-off, it requires no basting, and the crackling skin and flavor of the bird is unmatched. It’s also a Test Kitchen favorite. “I LOVE a dry brine for a turkey. As a food stylist, the hallmark of a successful turkey for camera is evenly browned, glistening, taut, crispy skin,” says Anna. And this one delivers on all of these qualities.
Her hot tip? Cut down on the prep time. “This recipe asks that you salt it three days in advance but I promise you can get a great result after just one day.”
For the classic cook: Dry-Buttermilk-Brined Turkey
“Buttermilk-brined meat is food science in action,” writes recipe developer Rebecca Firkser. Anna elaborates: “The buttermilk tenderizes, flavors, and serves—what I believe to be—the hallmark of a successful Thanksgiving turkey: crispy skin and juicy meat. Can I get an amen?”
Swapping dry buttermilk powder in lieu of a wet buttermilk brine, which removes excess moisture, allows the Maillard reaction to take effect even faster in the oven, which is why this turkey is always so tender with a delightfully hallmark browned exterior, because you don’t have to over-roast this bird to get golden-browned results.
“If you don’t already have this helpful powder in your pantry, please do yourself a favor and go buy it,” says Anna. “May you never have a three-quarters full bottle of buttermilk go bad in the back of your fridge again after making a batch of biscuits.”
For the flavor-lover: Herb-Rubbed Roast Turkey
This turkey recipe pulls double-duty. It creates a beautiful, tasty centerpiece, and leaves gorgeous, herbaceous flavor in the pan drippings, perfect “for your gravy, with the silky butter and those fresh herbs,” says Anna. “I like to call this bird the best of both worlds. You start with a dry brine of salt, and end with the generous slathering of herby butter, creating golden brown deliciousness. Butter is your friend in the browning department, and who doesn’t want a delicious bird?”
For the test-kitchen enthusiast: Roast Spatchcocked Turkey
If you’re looking to cut down on cook time and learn a new technique, a spatchcocked turkey is for you. “It’s true what they say: A spatchcocked turkey will cook more evenly. Though personally, the contrast in textures between dark meat and light meat hasn’t ever really kept me up at night.”
According to Anna, not only is a spatchcocked turkey a beautiful talking point of your Thanksgiving, it also makes the carving and cleanup a tad easier, especially if you live (or are hosting) in a smaller space. “It can be a little simpler to carve [because it’s laid flat], so If you aren’t looking for the heroic, Norman Rockwell moment of carving at the table, this is the quickest and easiest way, not to mention this only requires a sheet pan. For those of us who live in apartments—and having a roasting pan on top of a sheet pan is out of the question—this is a tried-and-true method.”
For the uber-prepared cook: Slow-Roasted Turkey
This turkey has the longest cook time of the aforementioned recipes, but as they say…the early bird gets the best…Thanksgiving? If you’re an early riser, or a night-owl, or just love a super-long cooking project, Anna confirms this recipe yields the ultimate, quintessential Thanksgiving turkey, though you’d never catch her making it at work.
“I rarely have the luxury of this kind of time on set. To cook a bird for 10 hours is generally out of the question, no make that 100 percent out of the question. But If I was cooking at home, for the people I loved, with enough oven space to take one up for a whole 10 hours, this would be my Thanksgiving bird. The approach here is similar to a “reverse sear”—slowly cooking the meat and then cranking the heat at the last bit to get the skin taut and crispy. Thank you Erin Jeanne McDowell. Again.”
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