The Turkey or the Table?

I learned an important lesson a few years back when my sister-in-law Rebecca brought piles and piles of variety to our shared Thanksgiving table. We already had turkey, mashed potatos, stuffing, gravy, rolls, and maybe a side of green beans, but with her contributions the “dish-count” sprang to something like twenty.

For me, the turkey was the important part. For her, it was the “spread.” There had to be lots of variety, such that you could never hope to eat more than a spoonful of everything without bloating.

I’ve since seen the light, myself. Turkeys are hard to cook correctly*, but a cornucopic feast is actually pretty simple if you plan ahead, and invite contributions from the invited guests.

So… what do YOU think?

*NOTE: Don’t give me this “oh, but it’s so simple” crap… if you cook the whole bird at once, then by the time the dark meat is cooked to perfection, the white meat is dry and awful, unless you perform some serious thermodynamic voodoo. I have very high standards for the meat I eat, thus, “hard to cook correctly.”

48 thoughts on “The Turkey or the Table?”

  1. I put my vote in for variety, but honestly turkey needs to be included in that variety. I like to see at least six dishes (not including desserts) but since some people are attached to the birdyness, it can take up one serving dish without offending me. I can cook one pretty easily, so I don’t see it as a hardship. That being said, I don’t eat turkey, and lose my appetite even smelling it… but the holiday is about family anyway, right?

  2. Um…I’ve always done just a few dishes (wife, one child, and I) but haven’t done turkey, yet. We do duck, goose, or, this year, lamb. There’s variety.

  3. My dad injects butter into the white meat sections – and then covers the entire bird in cheesecloth and bastes every 45 minutes. It’s a nice moist bird that way.

    But I agree – Turkeys are mighty fartassedy to cook. I’m dreading christmas this year because my oven is teensy

  4. I’m making a turkey for the first time for my parents this T-day. We’re a small family, always have been, so if we made too many sides we would have the whole turkey left over. Too many sides was usually saved for the large Christmas family reunions.

  5. It’s definitely not simple, but I recommend from my own experiencethis recipe. I’ve always been a dark meat person because the dark meat is more tender and flavorful and the white meat is so often dry and icky, but with this recipe, while I still prefer the dark meat, the white meat is actually juicy and flavorful.


    1. I’ll second that. Been using that recipe successfully for years.

      For those who are too lazy to click the link, the main trick is covering the breast with aluminum foil during part of the cooking time so that the breats catches less heat than the legs. A secondary trick also used in the recipe is to soak the turkey in salt water, which makes it harder to dry out because the salt helps hold moisture in.

  6. Not that I’m involved in the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner–I’m in the living room with my father and grandfathers, and my mother and grandmothers are in the kitchen, and if I even try to get close to the kitchen I get threatened with sharp knives.

    But in my family, though there is turkey, of equal or even greater importance are the stuffings–the regular bread-style, and my grandmother’s corn-and-oyster stuffing–and the brisket of beef. There must be a brisket of beef.

    1. I do hope you are one of those who smokes brisket…

      Personally, barbecue on Thanksgiving would seem downright weird to me, but then my family’s traditional Christmas Eve entree is one of those big family-sized Stouffer’s frozen lasagnas, so i’m not one to talk.

    1. We’ve done that one four years running and it’s turned out excellent every time except one. (That time we tried to use an 18-pound turkey, which is a little bit too big for this particular form of voodoo.) If you can contrive to watch the episode in question, I recommend you do so…we found some of the nuances difficult to pick up from just the recipe.


      1. I third that notion. Alton Brown is the cooking geek god and everything he does has science backing him up.

        Oh, and “stuffing is evil!” (that is, stuffing actually stuffed in a bird, is evil).

  7. My family actually prefers a well cured country ham over turkey if we can only have one, but we much prefer both even if it means we’re in leftovers for the next two years.

    1. Dude! You’re the dude! The dude that does that one thing! With the dice! And Final Fantasy! Dude!

      *coughs* Yes, I GM Returners.

        1. *coughs* And, of course, you know who I am on the boards. Because I have such a one theme name around. 😉

          Corradin (the fellow with the Monster Creator Program) is on my GMing team as well. And we both follow the work of Mr. Tayler. It’s odd the connections that just happen…

          1. It’s a very small world when you start talking sci-fi fantasy geeks. Several of the Returners crew used to be (maybe still are in some cases) regulars in back in the day. Me, eldersphinx/Rodger, Tempest/Carl, and one or two others. It’s always nice to run into familiar people. 🙂

  8. Turkeys are absurdly big and boring, as well as a pain to cook. We’re doing a duck, as in Canard a la Normand (means with apples and cider in cream). Thanksgiving tends to focus around stuff we grew and made this year, so there will be buttercup squash soup and maybe squash/pumpkin flan, home grown roasted Yellow Finn potatoes, etc. I’m going for a simple but classy meal. We’ll be stuffed, but not bloated.

      1. Just got this comment today. It was ok – I got the caramel a little darker than I like (new kitchen, just moved) and Iopted for the less caloric of the two recipes I had. I’ll try the other one next time – more cream is bound to be better. It’s sort of like pumpkin cheesecake – a cute gimmick for a holiday, but not as good as the “real” thing.

  9. the secret to turkey is this:

    1. wrap it in bacon. lots and lots of fatty bacon. this keeps it nice and moist

    2. cook it on a webber barbeque. get the coals nice and hot, stick the turkey in, put the lid on (with the holes open for ventillation) and then just leave it for about four hours.

  10. There must be turkey. It’s the staple, the solid-trenching food, if you will. The thing that you get some of everytime that you go back up to the table to get another round.

    However, to keep the trenching (defined as eating lots of food over a long period of time) going, it’s also important to have a variety. Not only in foods, but in drinks. After all, you can only have so much …


    Okay, if it’s not worth eating over and over again, you don’t need it.

    So, turkey and some darn good sides.

  11. As others have said, yes, it requires thermodynamic voodoo, but it’s also -easy- thermodynamic voodoo.

    Or, if you want the juciest damned white meat you’ve ever had, smoke the sucker.

  12. There are a couple of ways people keep thier white meat from drying out.

    Apart from the soaking and the foil shield you can also deep fry that sucker, the meat is realy moist and tender, but it is basically boiled in cooking oil.

    Of course white or dark meat, you need the gravy. And that gravy can make the driest white meat juicy, if it’s good.

  13. I don’t cook turkey in the house anymore. The method I use is extremely easy to do, requires no particular skill other than watching the clock or setting a timer, and produces delicious results with both light and dark meat.

    The result is visually different from the traditional oven-roasted turkey, but the quality of the meat is exceptionally good.

    I use an electric smoker, the vertical cylinder kind. Normally, I’m against using electricity to heat anything, but I make an exception in the case of turkey, because I just hate dry turkey.

    Here’s the one I have: (or mine is very similar; I’ve had it for 10 years +) at Amazon for about $100. Keep it dry and upside-down when not in use and it will last forever.

    Here’s the recipe (from memory; read the book that comes with the unit):
    Unpack the turkey, removing all giblets and make sure it’s thawed. If there’s any doubt, use hot water in the carcass to make sure there are no frozen parts.
    Baste the whole turkey with your choice of barbecue sauce. The flavor of the sauce does NOT strongly affect the flavor of the finished turkey, but since we’re smoking the bird, the barbecue sauce will help disguise what would otherwise be a greyish color of the cooked skin. You can season the inside of the bird with garlic and/or spices if so inclined. A dry-rub of curry/marsala/whatever would be nice, if you like things (volcanically) hot and spicy.

    Now the technical bit:
    Place the wood-chip plate directly on top of the electrical heating element, in direct contact with it.
    Load wood chips SPARINGLY. A few pecan nutshells make a nice smoke if you don’t have hardwood or fruitwood twigs. You only need 1 or 2 pencils worth for a good light smoke flavor.

    Place the drip-bowl on the lower support studs, above the heater element. This is VERY important. Do not place any liquid in the bowl.

    Load the BIG grille onto the LOWER studs, directly above the bowl.

    Place the turkey on the grill. Some PAM or butter spread on the grille would be good before doing so.

    Turn the knob to HI or 6 (out of 6) for 30 minutes.

    Turn the knob down to 5 (out of 6) and cook for 30 minutes per pound.

    DO NOT OPEN THE SMOKER TO CHECK ON THE PROGRESS until the calculated time is nearly done.

    GET HELP UNLOADING THE BIRD! It will likely stick to the grille, and it’s difficult to get the big grille past the upper studs without spilling everything.

    Once the bird is safely inside the house, cooling slightly, unplug the smoker and set the lid 1/2 on, so the moisture can vent. Once the smoker is completely cooled, carefully remove and dump the drip-pan, which will be full of turkey-grease.
    Store your smoker upside-down with the lid OFF, so it doesn’t retain moisture, or it will rust and die.

    The bird will relax and the meat will pull back from the ends of the drumsticks. It will be thoroughly moist and tender and very flavorful. You do not need an expensive bird or injections of marinade, but feel free to experiment.

    If your family just has to have that golden brown roasted skin, finish the last hour of cooking in the conventional oven, basting the skin with butter or olive oil until it’s golden and crisp.

    If you try the smoker, you won’t go back. Cooking turkey the traditional way is just too much trouble. I buy turkeys on sale after the holidays and we actually cook about two or three during the year. It’s that easy and tasty with the smoker.

  14. Variety is good

    Variety is good, But there Must be turkey.

    Would you have the Fourth of July without Fireworks?
    Would you have Halloween without Trick or Treat?
    Would you have Talk Like a Pirate Day without “ARRR!”?

    There is Turkey, and then there is everything else.

  15. Turkey!

    I favour variety AND Turkey. I have found turkey unsatisfying, possibly due to the problem cooking an enormous bird in a domestic sized oven. We traditionally have chicken, sometimes two, and invite all the neighbors over and everybody brings something.

  16. When we had Thanksgiving with friends this year we had roast chicken instead of turkey and lots of variety in our dishes as it was pot luck. Noone missed the turkey, I think we would have missed the stuffing, mashed potatoes and yams more 🙂

  17. It IS easy. Once you’ve got it cooked so the dark meat is perfect, who cares about the white meat? If they genetically engineer a turkey with 20 legs and no torso, Thanksgiving will become the best day EVER!

  18. My moist-turkey secret is to put a couple of whole, peeled oranges in the bird along with the stuffing, then use fairly low temperature (325°)and a cover for most of the cooking time. I uncover it and turn the heat up to 375° for just the last 30 minutes for browning.

    Sure, it probably doesn’t come out “perfect”, but “perfect” is such a relative standard. Probably no two people’s ideas of perfectly cooked turkey are exactly the same. I tend to prefer my meats well done and my vegetables undercooked, compared to most people. It comes out the way I like it, and that’s what matters.

    Proper accompaniments, for me, are roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, and parsnips if available, wine gravy, green peas, stuffing, bread sauce if available, and sometimes cranberry jelly at Thanksgiving. Holy symbols and garlic get brandished at those mutants who show up with a casserole of sugary mashed sweet-potatoes covered with an inch of marchmallows — EW! That’s not dinner. At best, anything that sweet is dessert. (Well, actually, best is if you just don’t bring anything so nasty at all.)

  19. Why not drop a few hundred bucks at N-Mart for a good set of heat emitting nanites? They more than pay for themselves in saved time and grief after a few years.

  20. Reynolds makes giant cooking bags that effectively self baste the turkey. Saved my Thanksgiving the last time I cooked a turkey. Anyone who tends to burn water would be advised to try them.

  21. You all are missing the point. It’s not about the turkey, or the variety on the table. It’s all about the pie – at least one variety of pie per person.

  22. Well, first of all it’s about the family. But when it comes time for the family to *eat*, it’s about tradition. At least it is for my family. And our tradition is simple – turkey, gravy, potatoes, rolls, dressing, cranberry sauce (yes, the red stuff in a can), and pie. It’s all delicious, every time.

    Funny, I’ve never had any problem roasting the bird so that both colors of meat come out tender and juicy and flavorful. Maybe my standards are different, or maybe I’m just lucky.

  23. There must be turkey. Love the turkey! Dressing is very good too.

    I cook good turkey. ^_^ I find that brining a turkey makes the bird cook evenly and not dry out. The downside is that I can only brine a 12-13 lb bird [due to pot size limitations that fit in the ‘fridge], whereas if I had the means I would brine a 20 lb+ bird.

    True, it means the meat has a higher sodium content than is judged healthy, but the meat is superb & even better used as left-overs. And the meat is perfectly-spiced. It also makes good drippings for gravy – and only needs to be basted 1x an hour.

  24. Solution for dry slices of turkey?


    That’s how I’ve always eaten the turkey, at least.

    There’s also the option of yoinking the turkey out, removing the white meat portions and setting them aside, then plopping the turkey back in the oven.

  25. Howard, I read all of the various methods of producing a moist turkey, and they all seem to me to be both overly complex and such that they change the flavor of the bird in some manner. If you otherwise like your favorite method of turkey preparation, then this is what you do. Do everything just like you traditionally would, but when you put the bird in the pan, put it in upside down. This keeps the breast from drying out. It isn’t as pretty as a traditional dry breasted turkey, but this is a single step that will make the turkey immensely better.
    If you are ready for some truely advanced turkey craft, then you can take one further step. About 30 minutes before the bird is done, take it out and turn it over. Put it back in the oven and let it cook. About 10 minutes before it is finally done, I usually turn the oven on broil (at the same temperature that it has been cooking at all day.) This will make the breast the golden crispy brown that a usual dry turkey is.
    My mom doesn’t flip her turkey, but then I am a lot bigger than she is, so turning over a 15-20 lb 420 degree bird isn’t nearly the problem for me as it is for her.

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