The reality is that many people spend the hours and even weeks ahead of the big meal sweating over this bird. Should I brine, dry-brine or butter-rub it? High heat, slow roast or fried? Do I need a paper bag like Mom used? How many times can I watch a video on how to carve a turkey before I go cross-eyed? And how do I turn off the smoke alarm?
Here’s a radical answer: Just. Don’t. I mean, if it makes you happy to roast a turkey, if you’re confident or want to learn to be, then by all means do it. After all, at Voraciously, we’re here to coach you through any kitchen challenge you want to tackle.
But there are alternatives to the turkey, and just contemplating them might lift a little bit of the stress associated with the holidays. Without the weight of that entree on your shoulders, why, you might just feel as free as — a bird. My editor, Post food and dining editor Joe Yonan, has often relied on a smoked turkey he picks up at Rocklands, a Washington-area barbecue purveyor, to feed friends at the holidays while he focuses on cooking everything but (he maintains a mostly vegetarian diet himself). If you want to go that route, too, you can find turkeys from your local pitmaster, at some groceries or via mail order.
We were also intrigued by an offer from Popeyes, the fast-food chain most famous for its viral fried chicken sandwich, which is selling a precooked Cajun-spiced turkey online and in some of its locations. (You can check your local store to see whether it’s participating; according to Popeyes you need to preorder to have them ready in time.) Popeyes describes it as being marinated “with our signature blend of Louisiana seasoning, slow roasted and then flash fried for a crispy coating.” It arrives frozen in insulated packaging (for online orders) and is sold frozen in stores as well. Instructions tell you to thaw it, then warm it through in the oven before serving.
The price was $94.99, which included shipping, for a 14-pounder that Popeyes said would feed eight to 12 people. That might sound a little steep, but according to a Popeyes representative I spoke to, it’s probably much less for in-store purchases; the prices vary by location, but they start at $49.99. And we figured it was worth a try, since Popeyes knows its way around poultry.
Our bird arrived securely packaged and frozen solid; I let it thaw for three days in the refrigerator. Following the instructions, we baked it, covered in foil, at 375 for an hour and a half, then removed the foil and put it in for an additional 30 minutes. It emerged nicely browned and crisp-skinned, with bits of the rust-red Cajun spice mixture flecking the surface. We probably could have reduced the oven time, since an internal thermometer registered 170, well above the recommended 150.
The bird was so tender it didn’t want to hold its shape, but we managed to wrangle it onto a platter. With a few toothpicks to pin the wings into place, and a little garnish, it looked worthy of a primo spot on a holiday table. (If you don’t mind a little subterfuge, you could hide that orange-emblazoned wrapper it arrived in and no guest would guess that you got a fast-food chain’s assist.)
And the flavor didn’t convince us otherwise: The breast meat was flavorful, with a slight hint of spice and a decent amount of salt. It was a touch dry (possibly because of the aforementioned 170 degrees), but give me a dab of gravy and it was a turkey I would have happily been served. (Shhhh — I’ve eaten far, far drier at Thanksgivings past.) The dark meat of the leg was, unsurprisingly, moister. It gave up about a cup and a half of excellent pan juice that doesn’t require defatting and that you can use to make a gravy, per instructions on the Popeyes website.
As we picked at the meat, like Thanksgiving diners hovering in the kitchen for a post-meal snack, we agreed that this was a winner of a turkey dinner, given the ease of preparation. A Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey might not be your idea of a real holiday meal — but a Thanksgiving dinner without the stress of one? As one colleague said: “That’s just a dinner party.”