Every Thanksgiving morning, in almost every household across America, the scene is the same: a sleepy-eyed cook walks into the kitchen still wearing pajamas, pours a cup of coffee, and turns his or her attention to the bird. We approach this annual ritual with a sense of duty and reverence, lavishing the turkey's skin with butter and salt, sauteing the onions and herbs for the stuffing in those early morning hours. Every family, every cook, holds an idea of the perfect holiday turkey: it may be the same big, bronze roast you make every year, the one that looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, or this time it may be a new recipe. Regardless, it's always something special.
As we've come to know turkey — on the holiday table and in kitchens around the world — we've also come to appreciate it as an ingredient capable of incredible things. It has rich, meaty legs you can braise or confit; juicy breasts that soak up the flavor of whatever seasonings they touch; and more kin than any bird has got a right to, skin you can imbue with the fragrance of spice and zest and herbs. When it comes to turkey, we are inspired by tradition but not bound by it. We indulge our wanderlust cravings, simmering the meat, as cooks in parts of Mexico do, in a rich pot of mole, or cooking it with a heady Alsatian-style melange of sauerkraut, apples, wine, and bacon. And why not? The five very different turkey recipes in our gallery produce what we consider to be the finest expressions of this noble bird.
Not sure what kind of turkey to buy? Take a look at our guide to turkey types — heritage, pre-basted, kosher, natural — to figure out what kind of bird goes best with your recipe.