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New traditions: Americans increasingly looking for creative ways to cook Thanksgiving turkeys

Interest in smoking, deep-frying, slow-cooking are all up.

Updated: November 25, 2020 - 10:57pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook


Long a hallowed tradition of the venerable American Thanksgiving feast, the classic roasted turkey is facing increasing competition from alternative cooking methods such as smoking and deep-frying, with more and more American cooks opting for nontraditional ways of serving up the centerpiece dinner. 

Internet interest in smoked turkey has risen significantly over the past decade-and-a-half, according to historical records on Google Trends. Similar searches for deep-fried turkey recipes have also jumped compared to historical levels. Online interest in roasted turkey over that time, while still high, has been eclipsed by smoked turkey searches in recent years.

Carol Miller, a cooking expert with Butterball's long-standing "Turkey Talk Line," told Just the News that the turkey company "has noticed more questions about grilling, smoking and deep-frying" turkeys over the last decade. 

Deep-frying turkeys "is no longer a Southern thing," said Miller, who also claimed that grilling produces "some of the most beautiful turkeys ever seen."

Interest in backyard smoking has steadily increased over the years, helped along by a burgeoning craft barbecue culture in the United States as well as a growing industry of top-shelf smoker manufacturers. Yet Esmee Williams, a spokeswoman for the popular food website Allrecipes, said cooks are exploring more new turkey cooking mediums beyond just frying and smoking. 

"Views [on Allrecipes] related to turkey recipes for cooking ‘whole birds’ is down -18% year-over-year," she told Just the News. While roasting is still "the top cooking method" on the site, she said, cooks are nevertheless pursuing "a strong diversity of cooking methods," including crockpot and Instant Pot recipes, she said. Cooks are also exploring air-frying turkeys as well. 

In some cases turkey has been pushed out of the picture altogether.  "For those who still want to cook a ‘whole bird’, it appears many are opting for whole chickens instead who turkey," Williams said, noting that whole roast chicken recipe searches were recently up 80%.

Turkeys were reportedly a part of the first American Thanksgiving dinner in the early 17th century, though they did not become a regular staple of the feast until the 19th century. 

Reflecting the bird's enduring place in the American culinary mythology, the National Turkey Federation, a turkey trade association, each year presents the President of the United States with a turkey that the president subsequently "pardons" and sends to live out its natural life on a farm. The NTF's presenting the president with a turkey began during the presidency of Harry Truman; the "pardoning" of the turkey as an annual tradition dates to the presidency of George W. Bush. 

Turkey sales nationwide have reportedly been brisk this year, though numerous stores report that consumers have frequently been selecting smaller birds over larger ones, potentially an indicator that—amid a surge in positive COVID-19 tests throughout the country—Americans are planning smaller  gatherings this year than in past years. 

A majority of American voters, meanwhile, have signaled that they intend to have face-to-face Thanksgivings with family and friends this year.