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Turkey Talk: 5 Popular Cooking Methods Put to the Test

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Ever wondered whether roasting, grilling, frying, or smoking uses the least energy to cook your Thanksgiving turkey? And is there a method that’s better for the planet? Read on for the detailed gobble gobble on each cooking method:


We’re all gearing up for Thanksgiving at ClearlyEnergy, whether the bird is cooked in the oven, on the grill, in the smoker or deep-fried. We’re also big fans of saving money, so we set out to find the smartest way to cook a turkey. On the way, we’ll hopefully provide you with a few random facts to use in conversation with great uncle Fred!

Turkey Waiter 400 Clr 13396Oven:

The oven is the most common way to cook the good old bird. At 375 F and 1500 watts per hour, a 20 lbs turkey - big enough to feed 15 people - will need nearly 6 hours in the oven. With pre-heating, that’ll cost you … drumroll ... one hundred pennies. Yep, $1 for a huge bird you’ll eat for a week, what a deal!

On average, generating these 10 kW of electricity produces about 13 pounds of CO2, but that varies hugely depending where you live. In the Midwest or Alaska, where the power mix is more fossil fuel heavy, cooking your turkey in the oven will contribute to emissions more than in, say, upstate New York or Oregon.


If you have a sturdy propane grill big enough to handle a whole turkey, you might consider turning it into an outdoor oven and cooking out this Thanksgiving. Assuming a slightly smaller turkey (to fit), and a 4 hour cooking time on the grill, you’ll need about half a standard 15 lb tank of propane, which in turn sells for roughly $20. Total cooking cost of grilling your turkey: $10. Not such a good deal, but if you can cook out at Thanksgiving, why not?

On the emissions side, burning propane for four hours will add 23 pounds of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Deep fryer:

Frying has become everyone’s favorite turkey cooking method in recent years - who doesn’t like a super moist bird with a nice crispy outside? Just be careful you don’t end up being the latest turkey fryer explosion headline on your local news. Continuing with our analysis, we looked at these dangerous gas-fired outdoor varieties and also checked out their more expensive indoor counterparts that use electricity instead.

The average outdoor turkey fryer uses about as much propane per hour as a grill – but it cooks the bird much faster, needing about an hour to heat the oil and then only another hour max to fry the gobbler. That’s less than 5 lbs of propane or $6.20. The lower propane use accounts for lower greenhouse gas emissions than grilling: about 14 lbs CO2. You may burn your deck, or worse … but you’ll save a few bucks over the gas grill option.

Electric indoor fryers are pretty expensive, and some don’t fit a turkey anyway, but you can use them for all kinds of food outside of Thanksgiving…With the appliance itself using only 1700 W, a fried turkey comes out super cheap compared to the gas fryer version, since it only takes slightly over an hour including heating up the oil. Total energy costs amount to about 20 cents. Greenhouse gases caused by this small amount of electricity use are also miniscule at about 2.3 lbs CO2. This is an environmentally friendly turkey cooking method...but we don’t necessarily recommend it for your arteries!


A rare option for delicious turkey is to smoke the meat, adding a unique flavor - and another environmentally friendly cooking option, since the fuels (wood & charcoal) are renewable and thus carbon neutral. Actually high-end smokers have electric components that run at low wattage and help even out the smoke flow, but we’ll ignore that. The catch with smoking is that it takes forever: standard wood chip varieties would need about 8 hours for a large turkey. Cost: some charcoal and wood chips, but maybe not worth the wait?

And the winner is...?

In terms of bang for your buck, the cheapest method for most folks is probably still the oven. The cost of propane makes grilling and outdoor frying less competitive, and unless you chop your own wood, buying wood chips will add to the smoker’s overall cost. Then there’s the big cost that renders all frying a losing proposition: the oil! Fryers need a couple gallons of cooking oil, which gets real pricey real fast.

The moral of this turkey story is: Don’t be afraid to stick to your boring old oven - it’s among the greenest options, and for most people also the cheapest. Happy Thanksgiving!

Table of turkey

Oven            Grill (gas)       Outdoor fryer Indoor fryer  Smoker       
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Turkey Holding Thanksgiving Sign

By Lisa Zelljadt, you can find me on Google+

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