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Dr.Bedlam

Smoked Turkey: A Tale Of Thanksgiving. Kind of. Well, Not Really.

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Chicken every Sunday ... turkey on Thanksgiving ... wishing on a wishbone ... 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.

 

Many years, back, one fine day, my friend the 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 sale.

 

When he got home with the bird, he promptly yelled for me. "How do we cook it?" he asked.

 

"Um," I replied. "How did I get to be in charge of this?"

"Because you know how to make food."

"Point. Okay, 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!"

 

"Krishna 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, six or seven hours in the oven, minimum."

 

Troll frowned. "Well, fine. Later, 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."

 

"Durnit, 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 the fridge."

 

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 replied.

 

The next day, I made the mistake of asking if Troll had a meat thermometer, which led to several moments of high drama and sudden exercise. 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 and chewy?"

 

"Oh, okay," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "Sounds like a plan. What do you say we make an event of it?"

 

"Mmm?"

 

"Well, there's you, me, and Bobo. I can call Bubbles over, and Crazy Jane, and ..."

 

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 at the time, and between Dave'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 name.

 

"Yeah?" I replied.

 

"Doc! [fourletterword!] I'm getting the front door! [fourletterword!] Troll's putting out the bird! [fourletterword!] You get the [obscene gerund] smoke alarm an' make it shut up!"

 

I tried, and promptly 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 would have made turkey soup, not roast turkey -- and why didn't it? 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 smoke."

 

"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-turkey-with?"

 

"Oh," said Troll. "I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty."

 

 

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Required:


      A dead turkey (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 oven)


 


      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...


 


      Salt


 


      Vegetable oil


 


      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


      and


      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 have enough)


      2 tsp. salt


      1-1/2 tsp. crushed sage leaves


      1 tsp. thyme leaves


      1/2 tsp. pepper


or


      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 else.


 


      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 probably still be edible, but you're likely up for a weird surprise when you carve it. Worst case scenario, the breast and everything will still be okay, but the inside of your bird will be laminated, which most people would agree is not good.


 


      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 bake.


 


      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-ersatz-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 side.


 


HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Edited by Dr.Bedlam
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While the bird is resting, make gravy. 

 

General rule of thumb, 1 tablespoon melted butter + 1 tablespoon flour will thicken 1 cup of liquid. 

 

Melt butter in a saucepan. When it starts to bubble, add in flour slowly and stir to make a paste.  Cook it a minute or two on medium heat until it starts to turn golden.  Add pan drippings and/or chicken/vegetable stock and whisk quickly until smooth. Bring to a boil, continue to stir as gravy thickens.  Remove from heat and serve hot.

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Dispense with those unnatural descendents of dinosaurs entirely.  I'm going to eat a hunk of cow, probably gnawed off of the bone. 

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While the bird is resting, make gravy. 

 

General rule of thumb, 1 tablespoon melted butter + 1 tablespoon flour will thicken 1 cup of liquid. 

 

Melt butter in a saucepan. When it starts to bubble, add in flour slowly and stir to make a paste.  Cook it a minute or two on medium heat until it starts to turn golden.  Add pan drippings and/or chicken/vegetable stock and whisk quickly until smooth. Bring to a boil, continue to stir as gravy thickens.  Remove from heat and serve hot.

 

You are, of course, entirely correct. I'm a bear about giblet gravy with Thanksgiving dinner, preferably with button mushrooms in it as well. Fortunately, my beloved is an understanding and talented woman. Who also happens to like giblet gravy with mushrooms...

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Dispense with those unnatural descendents of dinosaurs entirely.  I'm going to eat a hunk of cow, probably gnawed off of the bone. 

 

Heck with that. It took us 4 billion years to get to the top of the food chain, and I intend to prove my superiority every day. Thanksgiving is the turn of the dinosaurs.

 

:poke:

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I love your stories, Doc, they're always wildly entertaining and highly amusing, as well as well-written.  ^_^

 

Troll was very very lucky he didn't catch the oven on fire; grease is flammable...  :blink:

 

Huzzah!

--OneBoot :D

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I wish I could find a thirty pound turkey for twenty dollars <_< Lucky Troll. Heck, I just wish I could find a thirty pound turkey.

 

The little turkeys they sell in the store are only a year old, which is why they are referred to as "young" turkeys. To get a bigger turkey, a 40 to 60 pounder you have to actually let them grow up, which increases their cost far beyond what most mere mortal can afford to pay nowadays. I hear they taste better too though. *salivate* :rolleyes:

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I wish I could find a thirty pound turkey for twenty dollars <_< Lucky Troll. Heck, I just wish I could find a thirty pound turkey.

 

The little turkeys they sell in the store are only a year old, which is why they are referred to as "young" turkeys. To get a bigger turkey, a 40 to 60 pounder you have to actually let them grow up, which increases their cost far beyond what most mere mortal can afford to pay nowadays. I hear they taste better too though. *salivate* :rolleyes:

My brother and his wife get their turkey from the neighbor of some friends who raise them for Thanksgiving.  You have to reserve one a year in advance, but they get pretty big.  I think they got a 27  pounder this year.  Plus they get to visit it when they go over their friends house for parties.

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I love your stories, Doc, they're always wildly entertaining and highly amusing, as well as well-written.  ^_^

 

Troll was very very lucky he didn't catch the oven on fire; grease is flammable...  :blink:

 

Huzzah!

--OneBoot :D

 

We wondered about that ourselves. However, there was also a fair amount of WATER dripping out of that pan; we can only assume it just never quite reached a flashpoint, or if it did, it got put out by the drippy water. Loads of smoke, but no fire.

 

And @ redambrosia: I might point out that this story was written in 1998 or thereabouts... and was a reminiscence of my college days, which were considerably before THAT. You could get a serious monster turkey for twenty bucks back then. 

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"I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty" Classic

 

Swelp me, he'd FOUND the bag of giblets, pondered it for a minute, and then ASSUMED IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THERE, and stuffed it back in. Luckily, the bag hadn't melted. But yes, we did get a bit of a surprise when we carved off all the breast and got a peekaboo of the baggie in there...

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"I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty" Classic

 

Swelp me, he'd FOUND the bag of giblets, pondered it for a minute, and then ASSUMED IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THERE, and stuffed it back in. Luckily, the bag hadn't melted. But yes, we did get a bit of a surprise when we carved off all the breast and got a peekaboo of the baggie in there...

 

:lol:

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