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Ways to cook a turkey and the history behind it By: Noah Rubel

Thanksgiving is a popular holiday in the United States for some obvious reasons. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the Colonies. Interestingly enough, our main dish now--the turkey--was not the main dish then. The colonists’ and the Wampanoag actually ate swans, lobsters and even seals at their first feast.

Now this is not the only interesting piece of history behind our American-made holiday that has shaped how we celebrate today. There is one more story that has to do directly with the main bird: the turkey. “Freedom From Want '' is the name of an illustration that shaped how we cook turkeys today. In 1943, Norman Rockwell created the now-famous cover art depicting a typical American family gathered around the table with the mother setting down a magnificent


Rockwell, (1894-1978), was an American painter and illustrator. He is probably most famous for his five-decade association with the Saturday Evening Post and his many creations for its cover illustrations. The one pictured below is part of a series known as the “Four Freedoms.” This series is considered to be among Rockwell’s best-known works.

Now this may not seem like much, but the depiction of this fully cooked, literally picture-perfect turkey is actually one of the worst ways to cook a turkey. Now, this is also recognized as the first way to cook a turkey, the “Rockwell” version. This version is probably what most people grew up with in their family because it is the most popular way to cook this massive bird. However, popular does not always mean best.

If we get into the science of cooking, we need to understand that birds have different types of meat: dark and white meat. These types of meat cook at different rates and will reach specific temperatures at different times. Also, the turkey is not a piece of meat that is evenly distributed. Laying down a turkey and tying the legs and wings create spots of the bird that will cook much faster than others.

So you may be asking, how should you actually cook a turkey? Spatchcocking, yes it is a strange word and sounds odd. But, a “spatchcocked” turkey is taking the bird, cutting out the spine, then spreading the turkey on its back where you can then break the rib cage and have the bird evenly spread out which allows the bird to cook faster and much more evenly, depending on the size of the bird you can half the cooking time of the turkey by using this method, which also allows the meat to keep much more of its moisture.

Now for the final method, which is the method I use when I am able to cook for Thanksgiving. You can probably see that I am a major proponent for spatchcocking, but I do add one extra step. I am pretty well known for loving to smoke meat, so after spatchcocking and adding rub to my turkey, I put the bird on a smoker. If you have not had a smoked turkey, I suggest you to try this method of cooking.

There are obviously other ways of cooking turkey and other methods to help it along, like deep frying the turkey, wet brining and dry brining. But, the variety of options is one of the best parts about cooking. So I urge you to try something new this holiday and maybe cook a different way and see how it goes. You will never know what you like best unless you try.


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