Heather Rockwood is a food science senior and Mustang Daily food columnist.

There are few days throughout the year in which we celebrate food more than we do with the bountiful harvest of Thanksgiving dinner filling our plates. It is a meal in which many families take the time to prepare homecooked and delicious family favorites and sit down together to savor each bite shared in the company of loved ones. I know that this holiday is especially appreciated by the student population — a meal where almost certainly someone else is fixing it, and even more certainly will top the charts in feel-good comfort flavor.

Each year our plates are filled with mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, cranberry sauce and various other scrumptious sides, but the culmination of succulent success and culinary craftsmanship is no doubt, the bird.

The turkey is the highlight of the meal for many, and for good reason. Those who aren’t cooking just get to enjoy the eating, but for the cook, the turkey is the blank canvas in which a masterpiece can be created.

There are numerous ways to cook a turkey — the traditional roasted turkey is a classic, and many cooks rely on this consistently year after year, but as the bird does not seem to be going anywhere in a hurry, many cooks are beginning to test new waters.

I think by far, my favorite non-traditional method thus far has been barbecuing the entire turkey. The rich smoke flavors that resonate throughout the meat are simply mouthwatering. Not to mention this is actually a fairly easy cooking method. The key to making each bite a juicy delight is temperature control — high heat at the start and finishing off with a lower temperature to keep the meat moist and tender.

Another untraditional cooking method gaining in popularity was brought to us by the South — deep-frying the turkey. We can deep-fry fries, veggies, ice cream and Twinkies, why not a turkey too?  However, this is the cooking method primarily chosen by the risk-taking adventurers because it is by far the most dangerous cooking method one can choose.

Cooking with oil over an open flame presents certain dangers and one must take caution if this is the culinary flare of choice. A few things to keep in mind if this is the method you choose this year:

1. Do the deep-frying outside.

2. Make sure your bird is thoroughly thawed and isn’t stuffed, period.

3. Never leave your oil and bird unattended. For good measure you might even want to keep a fire extinguisher on hand, especially if the infamous Uncle Bill is in charge.

The last technique that is gaining real popularity in the recent years is still cooking the turkey, just not as a whole. Instead of buying a whole bird, many cooks are buying and cooking just parts of it.

This technique is a time saver for sure. Cooking a few turkey breasts is much quicker than a 25 pound bird; not to mention it means no fighting for the light meat — everyone gets it. This method also results in fewer leftovers, typically. This can be a good thing for those who don’t eat much turkey beyond Thanksgiving, but can also mean no more holiday-stuffed sandwich the following day, which, at least for me, is not a good thing.

Whether it will be a barbecued, deep-fried or traditional roasted turkey making it onto my plate this year, I am not quite sure, but one thing I do know is one week is just too long to wait to find out.

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