Roasting a turkey is the worst part of Thanksgiving — so do this instead

This holiday season, leave the bird roasting to the professionals who can do it right

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Deputy Food Editor

Published November 18, 2022 12:06PM (EST)

Roast duck, crispy pork belly and barbecue pork displayed in front of a Chinese restaurant (Getty Images/Sunphol Sorakul)
Roast duck, crispy pork belly and barbecue pork displayed in front of a Chinese restaurant (Getty Images/Sunphol Sorakul)

Let's be real here: Roasting a turkey is factually the worst part of preparing a Thanksgiving meal, especially if you are cooking for a crowd. Once I hit adulthood and absorbed the bulk of holiday cooking responsibilities — a natural byproduct of working in food, I think — every November, I found myself increasingly resentful of what was essentially a stupid 16-pound winged ice cube sitting in my freezer waiting to be thawed. 

Once it was thawed, I did all the right things. I brined, I rubbed, I basted. I've delicately massaged the wings with a mixture of salt and brown sugar, and I've looked like a lunatic blow-drying my bird in pursuit of golden-brown, crispy skin. All while wishing I was working on the sides and desserts, instead. 

Save for one memorable disaster (I forgot to remove the plastic bag of giblets from inside the turkey), my turkeys are rarely bad, but despite all the work that went into them, they were never exceptional — that is, until I began outsourcing the roasting. 

Something holiday hosts may not know is that there are places — butcher shops, barbecue joints and Chinese duck houses, primarily — that will roast your turkey for you. And it is absolutely worth it. 

Sun Wah BBQ, a Hong Kong-style barbecue restaurant in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, has been hosting an annual "BYO Turkey" roasting event for years. 

"Whether it's your turkey or ours, Sun Wah BBQ will prepare and roast it in a manner similar to our Hong Kong Style Roast Duck with additional aromatics for the insides like our bean paste, house-blended 5-spice, cilantro, shallots and ginger," they wrote in a recent blog post

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According to a representative from the restaurant, Sun Wah's cooks have the capacity to barbecue 100 turkeys in total, which they will do over the course of Thanksgiving day. Customers have the option to bring their own frozen store-bought or butcher-bought turkey to the restaurant on the Monday before Thanksgiving, as long as they are no larger than 18 pounds. There are also a limited number of turkeys sourced from the restaurant available. 

The cost for the BYO service will be $4.50 per pound of pre-cooking weight and customers will be assigned a pick-up slot on Thanksgiving Day

Many turkey farms also offer on-site turkey roasting. It's not a particularly new service. New Jersey's Hinck Turkey Farm has been in business since 1938 and  has been cooking up Thanksgiving turkeys for customers since. As a 1955 advertisement that ran in "The Coast Advertiser" said: It's turkey time! Let us roast your turkey on our barbeque spits — They're delicious! 

If you aren't within convenient driving distance of a farm, look into area butcher shops that stock farm-fresh turkeys. The Chop Shop Butchery in Asheville, N.C., for instance, sells pasture-raised turkeys from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, which is located a mere 12 miles from the store. This year, The Chop Shop is offering those same turkeys, but fully-cooked. 

"We take a local, pasture-raised turkey, brine it, then smoke it until it is fully cooked and juicy with a nice smoky flavor," the shop writes. "Just take it home and reheat!" 

The first year I contemplated outsourcing my turkey roasting to professionals, I'll admit I felt a little guilty. Especially for women, there is a lot of cultural cachè associated with performing domesticity in a heightened setting like a Thanksgiving dinner. Since the turkey is the centerpiece, shouldn't I at least try my hand at making it? But after picking up a gorgeous, smoked bird from my local butcher, I realized my misgivings were unwarranted. 

The main tenet of being a good host, at least in my mind, is creating an environment in which my guests feel cared for and comfortable; it's much easier to cultivate that when I'm not stressed over pulling off cooking a gigantic turkey in my one-bedroom galley kitchen. Instead, count me in for a Thanksgiving where the main is taken care of and I can concentrate on my signature cornbread stuffing and replicating my mom's delectable sweet potato casserole — all, ideally, with a bourbon in hand. 

Put another way, this Thanksgiving, the only turkey I want to prepare myself is a Wild Turkey cocktail. I hope you can enjoy the same. 

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's deputy food editor.

MORE FROM Ashlie D. Stevens

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