Poultry and I have a longstanding and failed relationship.
It started when I tried to cook a chicken early on in my marriage and I succeeded in burning the skin to a crisp while keeping the insides cold, bloody and raw. I have since invested in three separate meat thermometers (165°F for poultry!) and have taken a vested interest in regularly praying over my poultry.
My mom (Gramma Flower) and my grandma (GiGi) always took care of Thanksgiving, the two of them perfectly orchestrating an amazing Thanksgiving dinner together for as long as I can remember.
I realize now I should have been taking notes instead of taking naps.
Thankfully I have the more major hurdles in preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal out of the way. Perfect pie crust? Piece of cake. Yams everyone yammers for? Easy as pie. Mashed potatoes with cascading gravy? You betcha. Warm buttery rolls? Checkmate.
But then there’s the turkey. The token centerpiece of a holiday meal. The thing that strikes so much fear into me I’m wondering if anyone would mind if I served a giant pile of grilled cheese sandwiches in the shape of a turkey. At this point I have reason to believe it would be better for my guests and any unsuspecting turkey that I go this route.
Hopefully my turkey terror will be turned to total turkey domination after attending Butterball University. *deep breath*
Here’s what I think I’ve learned from wandering back and forth into the kitchen to stick olives on my fingers the past 27 years.
- You can never (EVER!) be too prepared. GiGi sometimes made her famous rolls a month or so in advance so that they could be thawed and baked in a manner of minutes instead of with hours of preparation the week of Thanksgiving.
- Decide what foods are most important to everyone you’ll be cooking for. My in-laws loathe baked pumpkin pie, so while it seems against the natural law of Thanksgiving to go without pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, if no one’s going to eat it? Don’t bother making it.
- How do you want to prepare your turkey? When do you need to buy it? Do you want to buy it thawed a couple days before or do you need that classic blue and yellow Butterball logo staring back at you from your freezer? Did you know that Butterball even has fully cooked whole turkeys and some even come stuffed? If it’s frozen how many days will you need to thaw it? Do you even have room in your fridge? The holidays in our house always ALWAYS involve elaborate games of fridge/freezer Tetris. My dad has unlocked such secret levels of Fridge Tetris you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you. One cheat for Fridge Tetris is to store your turkey in a giant cooler with ice. If you decide to brine your turkey? This approach is even more handy. (Especially if you’re family is like mine and buys Turkeyzilla, 22 pounds of gobble, minimum).
- You are never too young or too old to help cook. I love to bake, in fact I have won awards in baking. While this isn’t exactly related to Thanksgiving, I get my 5 year old in the kitchen as often as possible to help me cook. Not only does she know the difference between bacon and prosciutto before entering Kindergarten, I have complete faith that she will never burn a pot of boiling water like my darling sister has done.
- There’s no right time for turkey. Growing up we started at my moms, had lunch with my Aunt Cheryl and always ended up at my dad’s for a traditional dinner. However my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I was called up for “dinner” at 12 pm. We ate ourselves silly, napped, watched some football and spent the rest of the day picking at the leftovers. (Okay, so when I said there’s no “right” time for turkey? I lied. The right time is in the evening, the way my family did it. But don’t tell my in-laws that, okay? Thanks. But if your family is of the noon turkey eating variety? Don’t mind me! Do it your own way! (Just be aware that it’s wrong. Very very wrong. *ahem*))
Which brings me to my final Thanksgiving observation…
- There is no wrong way to do Thanksgiving. There are only traditions and stereotypes. What we do in my family may sound bonkers to yours. I’m going to try and keep this in mind as I host my very first Thanksgiving in my very own (first!) house for the first time while my guests eat off of paper plates instead of fine china. Because guess what? I don’t have fine china.
Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to attend Butterball University. I have been basted in turkey wisdom and roasted with tips for you and your first Thanksgiving. I hope that when Thanksgiving comes, I will be a success and not a failure. Because even though I claim there’s no wrong way to do Thanksgiving? I know there are wrong ways to cook (burn? ruin?) poultry.
I’m well versed.