Every way to cook a turkey, ranked

Most people only cook a turkey a couple of times each year (if that), so it can be an intimidating undertaking when Thanksgiving rolls around. There are so many options when it comes to exactly how you should go about cooking a turkey, and if you've ever made one that tasted dry and mealy (or was otherwise ruined), it can be tempting to explore your other options. Even if you have figured out a pretty fool-proof way to turn out a perfect Thanksgiving turkey each and every time, you may be curious if there's something out there that would be even better. 

If you've ever wondered just how many ways you have to choose from when it comes to cooking a turkey, look no further. From the traditional oven roasting to the decidedly untraditional microwave method, narrow down your best turkey cooking method before Thanksgiving, giving you plenty of time to do all the research required to make the next turkey you make, the best turkey you make. Here is every way to cook a turkey, ranked from best to worst.

1. Dry-brining

Before we can even talk about how you're going to cook the turkey, we need to discuss getting it ready. If you're going to brine your turkey (and yes, you really should) there's more than one way to go about. But don't stress, we've ranked those for you, too. 

If you don't have the room in your refrigerator for a big vat of brine (or don't feel up to dealing with the mess that goes along with it), you may want to consider dry-brining your turkey this Thanksgiving. Some feel that dry-brining is far superior to a wet brine. According to Epicurious, because you let the turkey sit in the fridge uncovered for a few days (and coated in a layer of salt), a dry-brined turkey has far crispier skin than a turkey prepped any other way. Mixing up a quick dry-brine can be complicated, but there's no reason it actually needs to be — instead, just use some salt and call it a day. Who says turkey has to be any more difficult than the actual cooking process? The crispy skin and moist meat make it the turkey that can't be beat. After making it this way, you won't go back.

2. Brining

Brining in a wet brine (meaning there's a liquid component), requires time, space, and fore-thought. You'll have to place your turkey in the brine in the refrigerator well before its trip into the oven on Thanksgiving morning. According to Rachel Ray Every Day, the salt water brine seasons the meat before cooking and adds an extra boost of moisture, which will help during the cooking processes that take a little bit longer, like roasting or even smoking. The negatives? Not only the time, space, and mess, but you'll also end up with a turkey that doesn't have that crispy skin of a dry-brined bird. It's good — and a better method than many — but not the very best.

3. Roasting

Once you've settles on a brining method, it's time to talk (cooking) turkey. 

I roast a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. It's the one time a year that I make turkey and I personally think that roasting it is the best. If you have a large brood hunkered down around your table each year in November, then it's hard to beat the classic roast bird. If it starts to brown too quickly, tent it with foil. Make sure to start roasting earlier in the day — it'll take a while.

4. Spatchcocked

This funny-sounding technique is one good way to cook either a turkey or chicken and involves, essentially, butterflying the entire bird before cooking it. Cut out the backbone and then lay the turkey down flat before cooking it. According to Serious Eats, this method isn't for those who desperately want a centerpiece worthy turkey for their table, but definitely is for those who want a perfectly cooked turkey, with moist meat and crispy skin, fast. After you butterfly the bird and lay it down flat, you can simply roast it. It's simpler than you think.

5. Deep-fried

In one of the early seasons of Gilmore Girls, chef Sookie St. James' partner Jackson decides he's going to make the Thanksgiving turkey that year and, not only that, decides to deep-fry it instead of roasting it. That was the first time I'd ever heard of deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey. According to The Spruce, this cooking method actually works quite well with turkey, resulting in tasty, moist meat and flavorful crispy skin. But, it won't be fried in the way that you normally view fried foods since it won't be battered before its dip in the hot oil. You'll have to deep-fry your turkey outside, however, so if you don't have the space to do that, you'll probably be better off choosing another cooking method. Not only that, but you need to be extremely careful. There are injuries related to deep-frying turkeys every year in the U.S., so tread carefully.

6. Smoked

If you don't normally smoke meats, than smoking a Thanksgiving turkey might not be your thing, but if you do get good use out of your smoker, you might want to consider it as an alternative to roasting or deep-frying this year. According to Food & Wine, your smoked turkey will, of course, cook over lower heat for longer time in your smoker, meaning you won't have to worry about having enough room for everything that needs to cook in the oven. Not only that, but the smokey flavor will be something different in a good way and the deep, dark colored turkey skin will stun.

7. In pieces

While it might seem disappointing to cook your Thanksgiving turkey in cut-up pieces, rather than cooking the whole bird all together, if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. The different parts of the bird will cook at different rates. As The Spruce noted, not only does it make it so that you can have just the right amount of white and dark meat (based on your guest's preferences), but you can also add the pieces at different times, ensuring that nothing gets dried out and everything is perfectly cooked and seasoned right when it hits the dinner table.

8. Grilled

In much of the country, grilling might not be the most obvious way to go about cooking a turkey near the end of November, but it can be a great alternative to roasting your bird and, unlike smoking, you likely won't need a special piece of equipment in order to do so. According to PBS, grilling the turkey results in crispy skin and charred flavor on the exterior. It can be a bit tricky to time the cooking process, however, so if you don't mind not having an impressive centerpiece, go ahead and break the turkey down into pieces so that you can be sure everything cooks as it should. Like with smoking, one of the benefits to grilling your turkey is that you won't have to stress over oven space, which, on Thanksgiving, can be a bit of a hot commodity. The big drawback to grilling your turkey is that it's weather-reliant — one of the big reasons it falls lower on the list. Thanksgiving is stressful enough without worrying about if the weather will cooperate enough for you to stand outside and grill your turkey.

9. Slow-cooked

This may or may not be the most practical way to prepare your family's Thanksgiving turkey, given that it already takes quite a bit of time to cook, but if you're looking for a new way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, you might want to consider the slow cooker. According to The Spruce, this is best for a turkey breast or turkey legs, not a whole turkey. Then, if you'd like, you can add stuffing right into the slow cooker (just as you would if you stuffed the bird you were roasting or popped a casserole dish of stuffing in the oven alongside it). If you're prepping Thanksgiving for a smaller group, a turkey breast, stuffing, and vegetables cooked in your slow cooker might be just the ticket. Again, it won't get as crispy or golden brown as a turkey that's prepared other ways, so it's a little bit of a letdown come dinnertime.

10. Made in advance

What? Make your Thanksgiving turkey before Thanksgiving? Yes, it can be done. Again, you won't be able to place the whole bird on the table before carving, but for your peace of mind, it might be well-worth it. According to Better Homes & Garden, the best way to pre-cook your turkey is to roast the turkey as you normally would and then break it down into pieces to store in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. Then, on Thanksgiving, you can reheat the pieces by putting them in a pan with some stock (either turkey or chicken) and then placing that pan in the oven to warm through. Your guests will never even know you did the heavy lifting the day before. It can be done, but should it?

11. Stuffed with other birds

There are many good ways to make a turkey, but stuffed with other birds just isn't it. A turducken is a turkey that's been stuffed with chicken and duck. It might seem like a good idea, but you just might end up regretting it once you make it (or even just start making it). A turkey stuffed with two other meats requires a lot of careful cooking (you don't want to serve meat that's not cooked enough and endanger your guests, after all). It's too persnickety for a holiday that requires so much cooking and so many different dishes. Skip it.

12. With a beer can

You've probably made, or at least heard of, beer can chicken, but you can also make your turkey for your family's Thanksgiving that same way. According to theRachel Ray Show, you start by emptying out (or drinking) half a can of beer, then adding aromatics like citrus, herbs, and garlic to the beer can. Apply a rub to the outside of the bird, as well as under the skin, and then stand the turkey on the beer can and place that on the grill to cook it until it's all done — and perfectly flavored and moist. It's not as good a method as many of the others, however, if you're committed to switching things up, this is better than some of the other alternatives.

13. Cooked from frozen

It might sound silly to even consider cooking a turkey from frozen, but you can actually do it. It'll take longer, so you'll need to keep that in mind for planning purposes, but it's not impossible, if you need or want to make your Thanksgiving turkey this way this year. The benefit, as The Spruce noted, is that you don't have to worry about the juices and whatnot going all over the place as you try to open the turkey and get it into the roasting pan. Because you really can't season it very well, however, Thanksgiving isn't the time to cook from frozen unless you absolutely have to.

14. Wrapped in bacon

Normally, wrapped in bacon would score much higher on a list like this, but for Thanksgiving,it might not be your best-bet. As Anne Dolce told The Daily Meal, however, there's a way to do this right. Make a paste out of seasonings and olive oil to rub underneath the skin, then wrap the turkey in bacon. It's delicious, but it's just not what you expect for Thanksgiving. 

15. In an oven bag

While you might not think it'll make the best roast turkey, you absolutely can cook your Thanksgiving dinner in an oven bag. According to Taste of Home, an oven bag will keep the juices locked into your turkey, plus catch the mess (or all of the drippings you'll need for the best gravy). The turkey will still get nice and toasty golden brown, so don't worry about that, you'll just need to be sure to rub it with butter or an oil and season it well so that it's tasty. No one will ever know it was cooked in a bag, sure, but regularly roasting it is better. Brine it if you're worried about locking in moisture.

16. In a dishwasher

Looking to free up space in your oven? You can cook your turkey (or, at least, part of it) in your dishwasher. According to the Los Angeles Times, chef David Burke developed a recipe to cook two boneless turkey breasts when packaged in Tupperware with herbs and vegetables on the top shelf of your dishwasher. You'll need to run it through on more than one cycle, so it likely won't be as quick as you might have initially thought. Be careful — raw turkey juices could make quite a mess if you don't ensure the containers are tightly sealed. You can't do a whole bird in your dishwasher, plus you'll have to tell people you cooked it in your dishwasher. Nope. Experiment with dishwasher cooking, if you must, when it's not a major holiday.

17. In the microwave

Yes, you can cook your Thanksgiving turkey in your microwave, as silly as that may sound, but it ranks dead-last on this list. If you insist on considering actually cooking your turkey in the microwave, at least make sure you're not going to have to cook from frozen. According to the University of Illinois, you need to start with a thawed turkey because if you try to microwave cook a turkey immediately after thawing it in the microwave, the end result will be unevenly cooked, which you definitely don't want. Also, make sure you don't have the turkey stuffed. This method only works for small portions, because large turkeys won't fit well in the microwave, even a full-size microwave. The timing can be tricky on this one — cook it enough to make sure that it's all cooked through, but not too much so as to render it horribly dried out. Still, microwave cooking never results in anything near as delicious as other cooking methods. Unless you have absolutely no other option, don't consider cooking your turkey in the microwave this year. It's easy to overcook, dry out, and make soggy. Forget it.