Publisher’s note: As part of our anniversary celebration throughout 2017, we will re-print some of our favorites from the past 25 years. These specials are identified with our “25th Anniversary Feature” banner at the top of the page. This “SUWAT” was originally published in November, 2009.
I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey last year. The missus and I usually host this classic American holiday, so I was excited to be responsible for something of this caliber. I typically get out of the Thursday affair with a dent in the wine collection and a few hours of cleaning. Occasionally, I’ll make a fancy dish like chestnut stuffing, but I have learned that the host can usually delegate every single element of the holiday, leaving more time to watch football.
My brother, who usually takes on the turkey, is on to my strategy, and has elected to punt this turkey task on. From the market to the table, I can tell you exactly why this is.
One week before: (at the market - on cell phone with wife) “...lots of people buying birds in here. What is it, ten pounds of turkey per person? How much do the guts and everything weigh? (tilting phone away from mouth, asking lady nearby setting up samples of spiced cider) “They clean these things, right? I mean, the guts aren’t in here are they?” (back into the phone) “Giblets?” (now to wife and cider lady) “Are there giblet-free turkeys?”
I would have perished as a pioneer. Dysentery would have led to simple starvation, I’m certain.
24 hours before cooking time is to begin: I’ve decided to try a new method I just read about. We’re not going to brine this bird – everyone brines their turkey; I want to do something different. I’m going to coat the whole thing in a spectacular sea salt, black pepper and fresh herb medley I am creating. This is a little risky, taking on a completely untested method in the preparation of the biggest meal of the year for 25 people, and it adds two new side dishes to the menu: anxiety and stress.
Pulling that fat bird out of the shrink-wrap plastic that contains it, I am instantly struck with the reality of what I’m doing here. This is a rather barbaric, grotesque moment and dude, this is hardcore. I look out our kitchen window and try to do a little focus/refresh for the brain, closing my eyes while taking a couple deep breaths.
In the process of rinsing off the bird, I discover the bones and joints all work remarkably well. With the right amount of bailing wire, this turkey is a perfect puppet. Inside the turkey’s dark and bony cavity, I pull out the giblet packet and set it aside as instructed. Then I extract the turkey neck – which any male will attest, feels curiously familiar. My fingers find the severed stump that the neck connects to up in the cavity and I feel a sense of pity for this bird. I envision an industrial band saw whirring away in a turkey factory, with a guy standing hip-deep in gobbler heads, his headphones blasting “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by Drowning Pool.
Night before cooking: I can’t sleep. I’m unable to shake the image of my whole family contracting food poisoning. It has been said that you will never know more about something until that something threatens your existence. I start my research discovering Meleagris gallopavo (turkey) originating in North America, and as we get closer to sunrise, I find that I have actually befuddled myself about this whole process. I’ve got so many recipes and tips swimming around in my head, I have effectively pressurized and scrambled everything and am now more likely than ever to screw this entire day up. Remove the wishbone before cooking, get your stock started right now and make sure you put your mixture into separate containers - also you need to start injecting at 30 minutes, but do not baste until 1 hour, and whatever you do, don’t forget to... what? Don’t forget to what?
10:00 a.m.: I think this is the right time to start the oven. I’ve carefully calculated the cooking time, subtracting the appropriate minutes for convection roasting, along with the dark roasting pan I’ve so foolishly selected instead of a light one (this seriously makes a difference? C’mon). I put in the roasting thermometer that connects our oven to the bird, and set the alarm to go off once the internal temp reaches 150°, which will tell me I’m close. This should take about six hours.
11:15 a.m.: 75 minutes later, the temperature alarm goes off, which causes me to officially freak out. The bird is now cooked about five hours ahead of schedule. The aforementioned side dishes (anxiety and stress) are boiling over.
I call my brother, to see what kind of turkey advice he can dish out.
“Bird’s ready,” I tell him, “so everyone needs to come over right now and chow down.”
He laughs, and does a decent job of talking me down. In the end, part of that turkey did indeed cook in 75 minutes. I was fairly certain some unlucky soul was going to be gnawing on turkey jerky for Thanksgiving, but that special rub I coated the bird with really worked. The rub (courtesy of Alton Brown, if memory serves correct) was essentially a magic potion; there is no other explanation.
Still I think, if people had to go through even a sliver of this process every time they wanted a turkey sammie, we’d all be doomed.
— Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, dear reader. You can always reach me
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