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There's more than one way to cook a bird

November 23, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Linda Ciampa


(CNN) -- In olden days, the settlers might have cooked their turkey on a spit, over an open fire. Your mother probably popped her mammoth bird into her harvest gold Hotpoint oven, and basted it like crazy for the next six hours. How will you cook your Thanksgiving turkey? There may be as many ways as there are chefs.

Food writer Scott Peacock suggests roasting your turkey in an old-fashioned rotisserie, his favorite method. "It has a great taste. It's very connected -- it's a great way of connecting back to a time when the holiday originated," he said.

After Chef Peacock soaks the bird in brine, he rubs on a mixture of citrus, thyme and butter, then hangs the turkey in a tin kitchen or reflector oven. "It's a rotisserie," he said, but one side goes down. The contraption he uses is as unlike those typically available in Macy's as a microwave is to a cast-iron stove.


It sits on the ground, right in front of your open fireplace, and you turn it by hand -- every 15 minutes, Peacock says. He finds cooking in a fire hard but satisfying. "You sweat, and you burn yourself," he explained. A 10-pound turkey cooked this way will be done in about three and a half hours.

Another challenging but satisfying way to cook your turkey is on the grill. Food writer Ric Rodgers says not to buy anything larger than a 12-pound turkey if you want to smoke it for Thanksgiving. Anything larger will take too long to cook.

As it is, 12 pounds can take up to six hours. "Every 45 minutes, I'm going to want to add live coals to keep the fire inside of there smoldering," Rodgers explained as he stoked the smoker.

Rodgers prefers to use fresh birds for smoking. He says they simply taste better than frozen. But if you want to buy a frozen bird, look for one injected with the least amount of preservatives.


"If you choose a brand that's minimally processed and has something just like turkey broth, then you know you're going with a good brand. That's the one to get," Rodgers said.

If you prefer to use an oven, but you want to cut your cooking time in half, crank it up to 500 degrees and take a lesson from Barbara Kafka. "I don't think it's so special," said the author of "Roasting." "But everybody else seems to think it's special."

Kafka's somewhat special way of cooking turkey is quick and simple. A rinsed bird goes onto a heavy roasting pan and into a 500-degree oven. "I stick the turkey in there, and after about 15 minutes jiggle it, take a nice big wooden spoon and just jiggle it around so it doesn't stick, and then depending on the size of the turkey, this kind of turkey is about an hour and a half to roast," she said.


A 20-pound turkey will cook in only three hours. While it may seem you're blasting the bird with heat, Kafka says the bird will be moist, not burned or dried out.

"It did not roast that long, did it? An hour and 20 minutes, when other people put it in there for two, three, four hours. It's a whole different thing," she said.

No matter which way you choose to cook your bird and your stuffing, make sure everything is well done. "You want to stick the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching a bone," said Rodgers. When it's done, the thermometer will read 180 to 185 degrees F.

The stuffing, if placed in the bird, should reach 165 degrees, enough to kill any bacteria.

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