... squabbling for the drumstick. If one or more of these isn't a part of your
family tradition, you must have grown up somewhere else!
-- from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, 1969 edition, distributed free w/purchase of a major appliance from Sears.
Did you know that some of the wild turkeys the Pilgrims hunted for the first
Thanksgiving were between fifty and sixty pounds? That amazed me when I
read it; I didn't think North America had edible fowl that big south of
Sesame Street. Even the domesticated kind you buy at the grocery can get up
to thirty pounds. This is why, in late November and early December, so
many meals across this great land are made up of a local dish called "holiday
leftovers", whose main ingredient is turkey.
My friend Troll thought about that, and he wondered why nobody ever
cooked turkey except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Troll liked turkey
just fine, and he suspected that between himself and his two roommates,
twenty bucks would buy enough turkey to feed everyone for a couple of
weeks -- but not long enough for everyone to get sick of it.
I was one of those roommates, and listened to him wax eloquent about it. Troll's
girlfriend Bubbles happened to be in the room, and advised against it; her
mom had made turkey every Thanksgiving for years, and she had seen it to
be a humongous undertaking.
The Troll disagreed. "It's not that big a thing," he said, "if the Pilgrims could
do it without Teflon and microwaves. Your mom just thinks it's a big thing
because she has to cook, serve, and clean up after two dozen people every
November." With that, Troll promptly went out and bought a turkey. I don't
remember what season it was, but it was definitely not the holidays -- I'm
fairly sure it was, in fact, midsummer or so. Still, the stores had turkeys for
When he got home with the bird, he promptly yelled for me. "How do we
cook it?" he asked.
"Um," I replied. "How much does it weigh?"
Troll grinned. "Thirty pounds."
I stared at him for a minute. "Thirty pounds?"
"Biggest one I could find," he grinned. "Hey, I'm hungry!"
"Jesus Christ in a Bunny Suit... not too hungry, I hope," I said. "A turkey
takes a long time to cook -- especially a big one."
Troll's face fell. "How long?"
"For a family-size bird, about three, four hours," I said. "This one looks
more like a baby ostrich. You're looking at, like, five or six hours in the
Troll frowned. "Well, fine. We'll do it tomorrow, then."
"Suits me," I said.
The next morning, Troll asked over breakfast how soon I thought we should
start the turkey. "Do you have a roasting pan?" I responded.
Troll looked at me funny. "Roasting pan?"
"You know," I said. "It's a big sort of bathtub-shaped pot you put the turkey
in, about four or five inches deep--"
"Can't we just, like, wrap it in foil or something?"
"Not unless you want to start a fire," I said, pointing at the bird. "Rodan,
here, is full of ice and bird fat. Roasting him is going to make him sweat it
all out, big-time. Unless you feel like putting out the fire, throwing the
turkey away, and cleaning the oven, you want a roasting pan."
Troll responded with his favorite four-letter word, got his hat, and stormed
out the door. He returned a while later with a disposable aluminum turkey
pan and a folding roasting rack. "Will this do?" he growled.
"Did you check it for holes?" I asked. His eyes bugged a little; before he
could say anything, I said, "Put it under the faucet and run a few inches of
water in it. If it doesn't drip, it'll work." A gallon or so of water later, we
found that the pan was unperforated. Smiling again, Troll went and got the
turkey out of the fridge, to put it in the pan.
"Wait a minute," I said. "No way is that thing thawed yet."
"Huh?" said Troll. "It's been sitting in the fridge since yesterday afternoon!"
"Yeah, but that's a lot of bird. I'd leave it in the fridge another day or so."
"Dammit, Doc, if you'd just said something, I'd have left it in the sink--"
"--and given us all salmonella poisoning," I finished. "Better to let it thaw in
Troll scowled, then cooled. "All right," he said. "We'll cook it tomorrow."
He then glanced up at me and said, "We will cook it tomorrow, right? No
more thawing, no more pans, no Sacred Turkey Dance, or anything?"
"Not a reason in the world we can't have that bird for supper tomorrow," I
The next day, I made the mistake of asking if Troll had a meat thermometer.
Fortunately, I was able to tell him that we didn't exactly need to have one
before he caught me.
When he'd cooled off, we set up the roasting rack in the pan, set the turkey
on it, fired up the oven, stuck it in, and settled down to wait.
"How long?" Troll asked.
"Between seven and eight hours."
"Wow," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Is there anything we need to do
between now and then?"
"Well," I said, "You'll need to baste it."
"Baste?" he said, mystified.
"Every half hour or so, you open the oven door, dish up some of the juice in
the pan, and pour it back over and around the turkey. Keeps the meat juicy.
Ever had turkey that was too dry?"
"Oh, okay," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "Sounds like a plan. What do
you say we make an event of it?"
"Well, there's you, me, and Bobo. I can call Bubbles over, and Crazy Jane,
Before long, the place was full of people. Well, not full -- no more than
seven, I'm sure. Still, we were all there, and before long Bobo broke out the
cards, and soon the Thanksgiving In July was in full swing. At length, I
retired to my room to study.
Until the smoke alarm went off.
I jumped; until then, I wasn't even aware that we had a smoke alarm. All
three of us were smokers, and between Bobo's cigars and the pipe I
sometimes smoked, the place had often been sort of opium-den'ish. Or at
least I thought so until I opened the bedroom door.
I couldn't see anything! It was as if someone had built a wall right outside
my bedroom door -- a wall covered with dirty gray cotton. The only thing
missing was a subtitle reading LONDON 1898. I could still hear the thin
electronic squeal of the smoke alarm, though. In the distance, I saw
movement, and heard a woman shout.
"Hey!" I yelled, my voice a little shaky. "Is the house on fire, or did Troll do
something weird with the turkey?"
From off in the distance, I heard the oven door clang open, followed by
Troll's favorite four-letter word. I took this as a sign of relative safety, and
strolled into the foggy evening. From the living room, I heard Bobo call my
"Yeah?" I replied.
"Doc! Dammit! I'm getting the front door! Dammit! Troll's putting out the
bird! Dammit! You get the $*#&$%@ smoke alarm an' make it shut up!"
I tried, and collided with one of our guests. Together, we followed the sound
to its source. Working together, we managed to climb up, yank the thing off
the wall, fail to figure out how to turn it off or yank the battery, and finally,
we beat it to death with a baseball bat and a golf club. As we did so, the air
cleared, which helped us to see the thing as we took turns whacking it.
And, at the end, the turkey remained edible. It turned out Troll had gotten
tired of basting it, and in order to save time, he'd pulled the bird out,
removed the roasting rack, and set the turkey down directly in the pan,
partially immersed in its own juices. "That way," he thought, "it'll baste
itself while we play cards."
I explained to him while we ate that this should have made turkey soup, not
roast turkey -- and what started the fire?
"No fire," he said with his mouth full. Swallowing, he continued, "I
accidentally poked a little bitty hole in the pan when I put the turkey back in
it. It started a slow drip going, and when the puddle reached the heating
element in the bottom of the oven, it started to burn. No fire, just lots of
"Incidentally saving the turkey from a soggy grave," I added.
"Nice smoky flavor, too," chuckled Bobo. "I have to admit, this is pretty
good. What did you stuff it with?"
"Huh?" said Troll.
"What did you make the stuffing with?" I rephrased.
"Huh?" said Troll.
"The stuffing, dipstick, the stuffing!" laughed Bobo. "What-did-you-stuff-the-
"Oh," said Troll. "I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty."
A dead turkey (Chaosia showed me how some of these birds come with
little disposable meat thermometers where the red button pops up when it's
done; these are nice if you don't have a meat thermometer. Make sure the
bird is light enough to handle fairly easily and small enough to fit in your
A meat thermometer (not essential, but really, really handy)
A good-sized roasting pan, at least two inches deep, and more like four
inches. The disposable aluminum kind are nice for cleanup, but be warned
that they perforate pretty easily, which makes cleanup a lot more difficult,
depending on where and when you perforate...
Turkey baking bag (available in the same part of the store where you buy
boiling bags and sandwich bags)
Roasting rack (optional)
Required for stuffing:
2 8-oz. cans smoked oysters
3/4 cup minced onion
1-1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup butter/margarine
8 cups soft bread cubes (or just run bread thru a cheese grater 'til you
2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. crushed sage leaves
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 box Stove Top Poultry stuffing (just get this and the oysters if you're
busy enough already)
Make the stuffing. If you're doing it the hard way, just fry the onions and
celery in the butter until tender; stir in half the bread. When the bread
absorbs all the butter, toss everything into a big bowl and add everything
DON'T STUFF THE BIRD UNTIL JUST BEFORE ROASTING if
you're going to do it that way; I usually serve the stuffing on the side.
Take a couple of days to thaw the bird in the refrigerator if it's frozen; if
it's fresh, you'll want to cook him immediately. If there's a lot of fat hanging
loose, you'll want to trim it off.
Now comes the part Troll didn't do -- cut the thong binding the
drumsticks together and go prospecting inside the bird, making sure your
arm and hand are clean. Somewhere in there, you'll find the neck and giblets
(giblets are probably in a plastic bag these days). Rinse turkey, inside and
out. Note that if you don't do this, the bird will still be edible, but you're
probably up for a weird surprise when you carve it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking bag as per directions
included with them. It's a good idea to throw a couple tablespoons of flour
in; it'll absorb excess moisture and prevent the bag from bursting if any air
pockets develop. If you're using a meat thermometer, plant it so the tip
should be in the thickest part of the breast or thigh muscle.
Rub the turkey with vegetable oil to prevent sticking; rub the inside with
salt, if you want (I have no idea why one should do this, but I've heard that
some folks swear by it). If you're going to stuff the bird, do it now.
Carefully maneuver Gobbles into his new home and seal the bag with the
ties included with the bag. NEVER use ordinary ties; the metal wire will
heat up and melt itself off the bag, and the paper wrapping is apt to catch
fire. Make sure none of the bag hangs over the edge of the pan, and try to see
that none of the bag is directly exposed to the heating elements at the bottom
of the oven. Cut six half-inch slits in the top of the bag, and put the bird in to
If you're not using a bag, you can do all this in the roasting pan. Make
sure you have a rack or something to keep the bird off the floor of the pan by
at least an inch. When the bird starts to get golden, throw a tent of aluminum
foil over him to keep him from getting too dark. Baste every half hour or so
with a ladle or giant-eyedropper-turkey-baster-lesbian-inseminator thingy.
Note that you won't need to baste it if you use a bag. Cooking times are as
follows for the bagged turkey:
TURKEY WEIGHT TIME TO COOK
12-16 lbs 2 to 2-1/2 hours
16-20 lbs 2-1/2 to 3 hours
20-25 lbs 3 to 3-1/2 hours
... and for the unbagged turkey...
12-16 lbs 3 to 3-1/2 hours
16-20 lbs 5-1/2 to 6-1/2
20-25 lbs 6-1/2 to 7 hours
The temperature on the thermometer should read about 180 degrees. Add
about a half hour to your times if the bird is stuffed. If he's stuffed, and the
point of the thermometer is in the stuffing, it should read around 160-165 or
so when it's done.
If you don't have a thermometer, test the meat about a half hour before
the chart above says it should be ready by pinching a drumstick; the meat
should be very soft.
When he's done, take him out of the oven and let him sit for fifteen
minutes or so. If the bag sticks, gently work it loose before removing the
bag. Note that the bag is not intended to be reusable. Note also that it's a
good idea to get the stuffing out of the turkey before you put it away for
leftovers -- it'll go bad before the turkey does, which is why I serve it on the