“There is one day that is ours. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that
is purely American.” ~O. Henry
“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed
in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.”
I hold a record of sorts. Not a World Record—nothing prestigious,
like most snails on face or fastest hundred meter hurdle wearing swim
fins—but I think there is an asterisk in Thanksgiving lore with
my name attached to it. Last year, I used three different cooking apparatuses
to cook my turkey and those who ate it lived to tell the tale. I had this
brilliant idea, like all men do, that I was going to smoke a turkey for
Thanksgiving dinner. My Dad cooked it that way, and I guess I paid enough
attention to the process to wing it.
Two weeks prior to the big day, I did all the requisite homework. I bought
the bird, brined the bird in a big cooler, researched all necessary injectable
concoctions, rubs and aromatic cavity blends. When the big day was upon
me, I woke up at the crack of dawn. I lugged out my cooler and started
my Green Egg in a low slow mode. I only had a half bag of lump charcoal,
but I have never had to refill the charcoal. Once I had the grill set
up, I put the behemoth bird on the grill, closed the lid, and with my
trusty blue tooth temperature gauge on my waist, went inside. One hour
later, with the deafening blare of an air raid horn, the temperature gauge
alarmed me that the temperature was reaching a critical level. I ran downstairs,
popped open the lid, and there, glistening in all of its turkey-flesh
goodness with hardly a golden hue was my bird surrounded by burnt out
gray ash below. In that hour, the turkey had become a heat sink and sucked
all the life out of my charcoal.
About that time, my lovely wife asked inquisitively, but with a tinge of
concern, “How’s it going, honey?” as she stared at a
basically uncooked fowl.
I reassured her that everything was great, pulled the turkey off, relit
the grill, let it get to the appropriate temperature and put the turkey back on.
One hour later…“WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!” the alarm went off,
and I was all out of charcoal. By then, it was going on 10 a.m., and I
was starting to get a little desperate. But I couldn’t abandon the
smoked turkey dream. I quickly lit my gas grill, wrapped up some wood
chips and tried it again. Unfortunately, I only had enough propane for
another hour. My lovely wife was becoming just a little peeved as her
side-dishes were done, the three-year-old was getting tired and the other
children were getting restless.
No problem. I’m already at 130 degrees, I thought. I can just pop
it in the oven for another 45 minutes, and voila, dinner will be served.
Now, I know the adage, “a watched pot never boils,” but that
Thanksgiving, I learned that a watched turkey thermometer never hits 165
degrees. Finally, it did, albeit four hours later than Thanksgiving dinner
was supposed to start, at which time we had a dinner rivaling that of
a Norman Rockwell painting.
Obviously, part of my goal is to keep y’all—my readers—entertained,
however, to justify to Southeast Georgia Health System that these ramblings
have a purpose, they encourage me to include
something informative and possibly educational.
The first topic, and one near and dear to my heart, is turkey fryers. Here
in the South, we believe everything tastes better fried. You name it,
and I promise you it has been fried: Oreos, Snickers, macaroni, pickles,
cheese… the list goes on and on. I’ve even had a fried hamburger.
It was heavenly, though I had chest pain running down my left arm for
a week. Fried turkey is the quintessence of a fried delicacy. However,
the preparation scares me to death. The National Safety Council (NSC)
reports 168 turkey-fryer fires since 2002 with 672 people injured (I was
almost 673). The NSC discourages the use of turkey fryers at private homes,
but for those who don’t heed the advice, here are a few tips:
- Set up the fryer more than 10 feet from the house, and keep children and
- Find flat level ground; the oil must be even to ensure safety.
- Use a thawed and dry turkey; any water will cause the oil to bubble furiously
and spill over. (BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!)
- Beware of the fryer lid and handle that can cause burns.
- Have a fire extinguisher (or two) ready at all times.
For those of you who plan to go the traditional oven method, here are a
few tips to prevent giving the gift of food poisoning. It would be better
if the turkey evokes a round of applause and not multiple rounds to the
bathroom or the hospital.
- Avoid fresh, stuffed turkeys.
- Buy your turkey at least 1-2 days before you cook it
- Store it in the refrigerator or the freezer if you purchase it earlier.
- Thaw in the refrigerator. Every four to five pounds needs one day to thaw.
- Submerge the turkey wrapped in leak proof packaging in cold water. The
water should be changed every half hour. (Every one pound needs 30 minutes to thaw.)
- Personally, I’m not a fan of microwaving, but if you choose that
route, closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Cook immediately after thawing:
- The temperature of the turkey should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit (at least).
- Cook stuffing separately.
Don’t carve immediately:
- It’s best to let the turkey sit for 20 minutes after removing it
from the oven. Go check the scores of the game. Chat. Enjoy yourself.
- Wash your hands often.
- Never handle cooked and raw food together to prevent cross contamination.
- Keep all surfaces and utensils clean.
Finally, let’s not forget the little guys running around the kitchen
and the dining room table, creating havoc. Both kids and pets should be
monitored, so they don’t get hurt. Make sure they stay out of the
kitchen during all the cooking, as this is an invitation to get burned
by the numerous bubbling pots and casseroles. Also make sure all knives,
sharp objects and open flames are out of reach. During clean up, make
sure all plates are cleared of any turkey bones as this is too enticing
for animals to resist. Remember, bird bones are hollow and can splinter
when eaten, leading to internal injuries and therefore not safe for pets.
I hope these pointers allow for everyone to have a safe, happy Thanksgiving
replete with a tryptophan-induced nap on the couch with the din of football
in the background.