Want To Roast, Fry, Or Smoke Your Turkey? This Is What To Buy Now

Always be prepared.

Spatchcock Smoked Turkey
Photo: Photographer: Antonis Achilleos, Prop Stylist: Kay Clarke Food Stylist: Rishon Hanners

After several years of pandemic separations, this Thanksgiving promises to be epic for get-togethers. So you might be thinking about preparing now.

But if you've ever cooked a Thanksgiving meal—and most of us have, of course—then you know how frustrating it can be to prepare ahead of time, given that supermarkets like to mostly showcase seasonal items.

But there are some elements you can decide on now and then buy products accordingly.

In fact, "I think that one of the most important steps in pre-planning your Thanksgiving meal is menu planning. Deciding exactly what you want to serve, choosing recipes, organizing prep lists and shopping lists can save a lot of time and frustration in your kitchen," says Alex Herrell, executive chef of Virgin Hotels New Orleans. "You can buy non-perishables ahead of the holiday shopping rush that will save time and possibly save you money as well."

To that end, think about how you will prepare your turkey this year: Deep-frying? Smoking? Or good old-fashioned roasting? While most markets won't stock birds until a few weeks before the big day, you can even get some practice in—if you're going for a new method—by ordering a whole turkey or turkey breast in advance.

Even if you don't want or need a rehearsal, pitmaster Erica Blaire Roby, season 2 winner of Food Network's "BBQ Brawl," says, "Now is the time to preorder your turkey or be placed on the waitlist at your favorite farm or store. You will have peace of mind, knowing you won't be playing 'Thanksgiving Ninja' in the poultry aisle against all the other last-minute shoppers!"

You can also order a heritage or free-range bird from any number of mail-order or delivery services to save yourself an extra trip to a store, farm or butcher.

In addition to the main protein, here's what to buy now to get ahead.

Deep-Frying

Every year, you watch those YouTube videos of people deep-frying gorgeous golden-skinned turkeys and think, Wow, that looks delicious!

Or maybe you watch the disaster videos where the whole thing erupts into flames and think, Wow, that looks dangerous! Either way, you're tempted to do it this year because hey, fried turkey is hands-down the most tender bird you've ever had.

If you don't have one, now is the time to order a turkey fryer kit. This comprises a burner with a gas gauge, a large pot, and a couple of important accessories like a poultry stand, a hook for pulling it out, a glove to keep yourself from being burned, an injector for marinating it, a deep-fry thermometer and more.

Don't skimp; go for the best version of this kit, and put it together well before the big day. You'll need to test the hose for the gas connection to make sure there are no leaks. You'll also want to make sure that you understand the instructions.

If you do have one, get it out of the garage or shed, clean it off and test the connections. You want to make sure it's in working order.

Jacqueline Kleis, executive chef for Wild Fork, also recommends scouting your outdoor cooking area to make sure it's suitable for deep-frying. "Plan the open space and stable ground where you will place the deep-fryer. Those YouTube videos? They're mostly user error for various reasons, but one of them is unstable ground. Another is overflowing oil.

Finally, get oil you'll need now—most fryers prefer peanut oil—before there's a run on it. Roby suggests getting extra to have on hand just in case. "You should buy your cooking fuel/heat sources early and have extra for unforeseen events—i.e. spilling oil, broken fryer parts," she says. "This also gives you an early vision of what your prep station and day of cooking will need."

If you don't use them, you can keep them until next year. "I tend to buy my Thanksgiving decorations and various supplies the week after Thanksgiving (because most are on discount) and store them until the upcoming year!" Roby admits.

Smoking

As with a deep fryer, "Buy your barbeque smoker now," Roby recommends. "You want to have time to practice and season the inside before the big day! Pellet smokers produce amazing turkey and sides for the big day."

You don't necessarily have to get a pellet smoker as there are many varieties on the market. But whatever kind you do buy, make sure to follow through with the right kind of fuel: pellets, wood chips, or charcoal. You also might want to buy smoking salts or a rub. If you make a rub ahead of time, keep it in the freezer for freshness.

Again, Kreis recommends a reconnaissance of your outdoor cooking space for the best possible placement of a smoker for safety reasons. And she also suggests buying a smoking rack, if you don't already have one, along with a large heavy fork, carving knife, and thermometer. Try using a thermocouple thermometer with immersion probes for the best possible reading of both internal bird temperature and smoker temperature. Many of these are smart thermometers that connect to your phone so that you can scan and adjust from the comfort of your living room or kitchen.

Roasting

Should you choose to go the traditional route, Kleis advises buying "a roasting pan at least three inches deep with a removable rack." Here are the dimensions she recommends per poundage:

  • 8-10 pounds (small) 10" x 14" x 3"
  • 12-14 pounds (medium 16" x 10" x 3"
  • 14 pounds and up (large) 18" x 12" x 4"

In addition, test your thermometer to make sure it's working. (Use the ice test. Put ice in a glass of water, let it sit 5 minutes, then put in the thermometer. It should read 32°F. If it doesn't, the thermometer isn't reading temperatures properly.)

If not, invest in a new one, along with heavy-duty aluminum foil to cover the top of the bird. You'll also want a baster and basting ingredients, such as broth.

Sides

At this time, you can also purchase any boxed, bottled, or canned goods that you know you'll require for the gravy, stuffing, and sides ranging from bone broth to your favorite brand of stuffing croutons to jellied cranberry sauce. And, of course, the fried onions and cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, because you know no matter how you prepare your turkey, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.

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