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Thanksgiving is upon us. Are you ready?

FDthanksgiving turkeyLast year, with some fanfare, we bought a real turkey roaster — a deep vessel fashioned of anodized steel, with two gleaming handles on either side. No more disposable aluminum roasters for this crew: We were going high tech.

And then, early Thanksgiving afternoon, I discovered that it wouldn’t fit in our oven.

Panicked phone calls to every closed market in the area ensued, followed by a tear through the pantry and basement, but no foil roasting pan surfaced.

Finally, we were able to find a home for our turkey in a neighbor’s oven. Alas, I wouldn’t be able to perform my usual tricks. There would be no starting the turkey upside-down and flipping it, no basting every 20 minutes, no tenting and untenting of foil.

With the source of all my Thanksgiving day anxiety out of the house, I realized that I had set aside all day to cook a relatively simple meal. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry chutney were all ready to go within the hour. I got a batch of Parker House rolls ready to go, cleaned up the kitchen and surveyed the situation. There was really nothing more to do.

Normally at this time in the early afternoon, I shoo people out of the house so I can work. Instead I joined them for a walk around the neighborhood and a game of Frisbee.

At some point in the late afternoon I realized that I had completely forgotten about the turkey, at which point I rushed to the neighbor’s house clutching a meat thermometer, tore open their oven and found …

A nicely browned bird that registered 180 degrees on the instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. When it came time to serve, it was a fine turkey indeed — maybe not as good as that insanely juicy turkey I produced one year with a method that involved a three-day brine, rotation of the turkey as it was cooking and an incantation in Aramaic, but certainly better than mealy-breasted carcasses I have been known to roast.

What was markedly different about this turkey was the low level of stress it produced. I simply stuck it in the oven and forgot about it until it was cooked. Instead of that typical Thanksgiving afternoon spent with the seemingly unending to-do list, I made dinner.

I think that’s what you all should do, as well. Prepare your turkey, seasoning it to taste — stuffed or unstuffed as is your preference. Put it on a rack in a roasting pan that fits in your oven. Paint it with a little oil or melted butter, if you like. Tent some foil over it. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Stick the turkey in it. If in a couple/three hours you remember to take the foil off, fine. If not, fine. The turkey will be done when the thigh registers 180 degrees on your thermometer or, if stuffed, the center of the stuffing registers 165 degrees. That is all. Those Butterball ladies have been right all these years.

So put your turkey in the oven. Make dinner. Then go out and throw a Frisbee. You’ll be glad you did.

17 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tex Blair, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Thanksgiving is upon us. Are you ready? [...]


November 22nd, 2010
9:41 am

I am curious how your new kitchen will work for Thanksgiving??? and what you are preparing.??


November 22nd, 2010
10:14 am

After a few T-day feasts, I’ve come to the same conclusion. With a little planning (and a roasting pan), the feast is really fairly simple to put together. I’ll dry brine the turkey this year – so much easier than the old way. I’ll start the from-scratch yeast rolls on Wednesday & make the cranberry sauce & gravy that day, too. T-day: roast the bird & relax.


November 22nd, 2010
10:17 am

I’m curious about the thanksgiving cake. Complete with gravy

Sophie's Choice

November 22nd, 2010
12:18 pm

Roasting bags– if you don’t have time to bring, you can’t beat ‘em for baste-free juicy turkey goodness! Just stuff the turkey cavity with fresh sage, thyme, & rosemary, then do the same with the breast meat under the skin. Salt & pepper it heavily (especially in the cavity), jam it in the bag, pour a half-cup of melted butter over the works, then stick it in a 350-degree oven for the amount of time recommended on the roasting bag box. When it’s done, let it sit for about 15 mintues, then take it out of the bag (your drippings will be there, neatly waiting for you to make them into gravy), place on a platter, & carve. FABulous!


November 22nd, 2010
1:04 pm

The best tip for keeping a turkey moist is to brine it the day before. It’s almost fool-proof at that point.

I also opt for a large turkey breast than the whole bird. Over the years, I’ve found that most people prefer the breast over legs, wings, et al., and it is much easier to maintain an even cooking temperature when you’re only dealing with the breast.


November 22nd, 2010
3:05 pm

I don’t like using bags because it steams the turkey rather than a true roast. It leaves the skin all rubbery.

Sophie's Choice

November 22nd, 2010
9:17 pm

Kev, you must be doing something wrong– I’ve never had rubbery skin on my bagged birds…


November 23rd, 2010
8:52 am

My mother (our turkey cooker) tried the breast once. Only problem….many of us love the dark meat, and it’s sad not to have that option. If you’re going to only do one part of the turkey, I vote for turkey thighs–much better than white meat.


November 23rd, 2010
9:29 am

Most better grade new ovens have a convection mode (John, I bet your new kitchen re-do got one) that is perfect for turkey roasting. Some even have a probe that goes in the meat while roasting and shuts off the oven when the proper temperature is reached.

I’ve had a convection oven for years and the results have always been perfect as no rotisserie-type turning of the bird is necessary….the circulating air keeps the skin crisp but the interior is moist.

I suspect that many people have a convection cycle oven but never use that wonderful feature.


November 23rd, 2010
12:47 pm

“an incantation in Aramaic” – LOL!! I’ve never tried that, but I just might – couldn’t hurt, could it? The only time of year when I’ll cook some meat, I deem it a success if people eat it, and unsuccessful if nobody wants any leftovers. What about the dressing? Don’tcha stay in the kitchen all day concocting that?


November 23rd, 2010
1:36 pm

USDA recommends a temperature of 165 not 180. Save your bird from dryness, cook to 165.


November 24th, 2010
2:13 pm

I thought 180 sounded a bit high.


November 24th, 2010
2:31 pm

I’ve brined, I’ve rotated and roasted, and last year, after years of being addicted to quick cooking, low fuss, moist spatchcocked chickens, I had the butcher remove the backbone of the turkey to cook it flat. I roasted it at high heat for 2 hours, basting it once or twice at most, never turning or flipping a thing, and it was the best turkey in 20 years. Everything cooks evenly and stays moist, and the skin is perfectly crisp. There will be no going back to other methods.


November 25th, 2010
3:43 am

Great discussion, however I’m disappointed the AJC has apparently chosen not to give a list of restaurants serving T-Day meals.


November 25th, 2010
7:10 am

Disappointed, go to– you can see list as well as make reservations. Many price ranges.


November 25th, 2010
8:13 am

No turkey here. Standing rib roast and cornish hens at my house.

Leelee, I like your smart idea of cooking a large bird laid flat. May try that at Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving!