Thanksgiving turkey tribulations

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

There are so many different ways to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving.

First, you need to find the right bird. Most folks will be going down to their local Publix or Winn-Dixie to pursue the different frozen butterballs. There will be muttered discussions and asides, debates really, about which turkey will be the best on Thanksgiving.

Size is probably what most folks will look at first. Is it better to get a large bird, something you can feast on for days, or a smaller poultry specimen that will take less prep and time to cook? 

Then there’s the consideration of brand. Do you go for the tried and tested factory-raised turkey that has that helpful little plastic thing that pops out when it’s cooked all the way through, or do you venture out to one that’s certified organic and has all the giblets tucked away in the bird’s chest cavity in a little pouch?

Either way, you take a bird home. Put it in the sink to defrost, and then comes the fun part of figuring out how to cook the blasted thing.

This is perhaps the most stressful part of the entirety of Thanksgiving. 

Mostly because everyone and their mother seems to know the “perfect” and “best” way to cook a turkey.

There’s deep frying, brining, smothering in butter, dry rubs, injections and a plethora of other turkey cooking techniques that somehow become more and more elaborate as time goes on.

There’s also the “stuffing debate.” Do you stuff the turkey’s gulet with your tenderly prepared cornbread stuffing, laboriously executed from a Bobby Flay recipe found online and toasted to perfection? Or do you cook the turkey and stuffing separately? 

Or do you just say, “Why are we making stuffing? Does anyone actually eat this stuff? Because I feel like we’re just wasting food at this point.”

This is then usually followed by someone, usually a sibling or parents saying, “Of course we have to make stuffing. You can’t make turkey without stuffing. Why do you hate Thanksgiving?”

And you may want to yell back, “I don’t hate Thanksgiving Mom, but I hate stuffing and if you think it’s so important that we need stuffing then why aren’t you the one making it?”

But by then she’s left the kitchen and you’re just left there alone with headless turkey and half a dozen frozen cornbread muffins that are waiting to be chopped up and turned into stuffing that you just know that no one’s going to eat.

So you take a deep breath and just get back to getting the turkey. Because the turkey is the central dish on Thanksgiving, and it needs to be perfect and delicious.

Of course, inevitably, something goes wrong. There’s a missing spice, someone forgot to buy enough butter to slather the bird with, and the little plastic thing didn’t actually pop out. Regardless, something has gone wrong, and it’s Thanksgiving day, and nobody. Nobody is ever open.

There’s panic. Obviously. Then there’s the desperate search for something, anything, that can fix whatever’s gone wrong. You swap out missing ingredients for whatever weird spices are floating around the very back of your grandma’s spice cabinet. You slather a half-cooked turkey in olive oil, toss it in the oven and just hope for the best. 

I’m not going to admit how often one of these scenarios has happened to me over the holidays. But I will freely say, and with a great deal of convection, that it is possible to cook a turkey that’s deep fried to a crisp on the outside and almost inedibly raw on the inside.

At a certain point you need to know to just throw in the towel, pour a glass of wine and just serve your turkey no matter what sort of horrific state it’s in.

Because ultimately, as much pressure as we put on ourselves to have an awesome, delicious turkey on Thanksgiving, it isn’t about that. Thanksgiving is about being with your family and being thankful that you have people around you that you love.

Besides, the side dishes are better anyways.