A big, golden roasted turkey surrounded by all the trimming is iconic of the holidays and other special feasts. Smoked turkeys have also become popular. Here are the distinctions so you can decide which you want to serve up for your next festive meal.
For many Americans, the familiar aromas of roasted turkey and its side dishes are as much a part of the holiday season as the cooling weather and time with family. While everyone has their own favorite technique for roasting a turkey, there are some basic principles. The bulk of the roasting is done at a temperature of 325 or 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but some cooks start or finish roasting at a higher temperature to crisp the skin. The bird is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hot smoking a turkey takes longer than roasting because it's usually done at temperatures of 185 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Birds of up to 14 pounds can usually be smoked whole in six to eight hours; larger turkeys should be halved or quartered to cut down the cooking time. Before smoking, the turkey is soaked in a seasoned brine, which flavors the meat and protects it from drying out during the long, slow cooking process. Smoked turkeys can be served hot but are also good cold.
Smoked turkey is more flavorful because of the brine and the wood smoke. A well-smoked bird has a beautiful pink hue just under the surface and is blackened on the outside. Smoked turkey doesn't lend itself to gravy making, so gravy must be prepared separately with broth.
Roasted turkeys are more visually appealing and have the crisp, savory skin that is a general crowd-pleaser. They also have a milder flavor, which might actually be preferable to some people.
There's a well-established canon of side dishes to serve with a roasted turkey, from mashed potatoes and gravy to candied yams and cranberry sauce. Most of these are equally good with a smoked turkey, which also works well with sweet or tart fruit flavors. Roasted apples, applesauce, apple butter, pears or quinces are good choices. White or light red wine works with either style of turkey.