Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you are well on your way to enjoying the holiday with family and friends. In this post and podcast, we are going to talk about cooking for Thanksgiving. I’ll talk about turkey, trimmings, funny failures and other ways to prepare your turkey, stuffing and appetizers. While you are probably already hustling preparing for your Thanksgiving feast and have a plan in motion, this post might spur a few ideas for future meals and give you a few chuckles about some of our past failures. After all, people will sleep off their turkey coma at some point, football is only so interesting, and those dishes aren’t going to do themselves!
I wanted to start this podcast by wishing you all a great Thanksgiving and safe travels in your way. AAA is reporting that over 51 million Americans will be traveling over 50 miles for this holiday, and that is a 3.3 percent increase over last year. That translates to more than 1.6 million more people traveling this year than last year, so be careful out there on the roads, at the airports, at the bus stations and at train stations!
Like last year, we will be on the road and will be traveling more than 50 miles from our home. We will be heading to Julie’s cousin’s house in Becker, Minnesota, for the day. We will watch some football, socialize, play some games and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast. We had a great time last year, and I wrote an article about it called Thanksgiving Reflections. Of course, the bulk of that article was talking about the blog and podcast, particularly after a busy harvest season in 2016. My have times changed! I’ll have more on comparing 2016 to 2017 in a future podcast.
Turkey and Trimmings
Because I am not cooking a turkey and all the side dishes this year, I did not post an articles, podcasts and videos about how we make our Thanksgiving feast. HOWEVER, if you are like us and will be guests at someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, you should still cash in on great prices for turkeys! This is a fantastic time to buy a couple of birds at a low price and save them in the freezer for the future. Save some money; buy them on sale now!
I am really excited that Julie bought one last night, and with the two Domres’ boys here this weekend, I will be making a turkey! I am in charge of the bird, and I typically make them in a roaster. I bought a 22-quart Hamilton Beach roaster from Walmart several years ago, and it works like a champ! I have cooked many birds and other meals in this roaster, and it is really good to have during the holidays or for parties. One of the real advantages of the roaster is that the oven is free for other dishes and tasks (i.e., cooking other dishes and keeping other dishes warm while the bird finishes).
You can usually find one for under $50 at Walmart or other stores, and they will last a long time. Of course, I am kicking myself that I don’t have an Amazon affiliate right now!
How I Cook the Turkey
As I mentioned, I have cooked several birds in the roaster over the years. I have used a pretty straightforward method for cooking my birds:
- Defrost the turkey (usually overnight process, so you might be in trouble if this isn’t done yet).
- Remove the package of organs and neck (throw them away – like those worthless tomato cages)
- Rinse off the turkey and clean the internal cavity. Look for any pin feathers and remove them
- Line the roaster with tinfoil (it makes for easier clean-up)
- Put the turkey into the tinfoil-lined roaster
- Brush the turkey with olive oil
- Brush the turkey with honey
- Sprinkle on garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, pepper and seasoning salt
- Cook the turkey at 325 degrees F until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F
- Remove the turkey, carve it and serve it to the family and guests
- Note: I do not put stuffing in the bird. That is reserved for the oven to be cooked separately
- Save the leftovers for sandwiches and other meals (if there is anything left)
This system has worked well for me for a number of years, and I usually have a moist turkey at the end of this process.
Funny Food Failures
Fortunately, we have not had too many failures (that I can’t remember or easily correct). Don’t let me fool you though: we aren’t culinary geniuses over here. I shouldn’t toot our horn too loudly; we have had a few funny food failures over the years:
- Paste Mashed Potatoes – We made mashed potatoes that had the consistency of paste. This was the result of overcooking the potatoes. Try not to do that because the glue mashed potatoes are just not good!
- Mushy Stuffing – When we were first married, I used to make stuffing from scratch from breadcrumbs, celery, broth and other odds and ends. Unfortunately, Julie informed me that the stuffing was “mushy and slimy” and that she preferred Stove Top Stuffing. Since then, we have been making and eating Stove Top Stuffing. I might have to make a homemade batch to see how much better of a cook I have become (or not).
- Special Package – When Julie’s mom made her first Thanksgiving turkey, she didn’t realize that there is a package of organs inside the turkey. She cooked the turkey, and they “discovered” the package when they served the bird. That is pretty funny and easily done, especially if you have never cooked a turkey before. Make sure you remove the package of organs before cooking the bird. Some people use the organs in stuffing, but I do not. That would make the Mushy Stuffing even more difficult to eat!
- Wild Turkey – I am a turkey hunter, and I have prepared a few wild turkeys that I have killed over the years. Wild turkeys are not Butterballs; they are very lean birds. When you prepare a wild turkey, you need to use chicken broth to marinate the bird while it is cooking, and you should put plenty of bacon over the breast. This will give the wild turkey some much-needed moisture (otherwise it WILL be too dry). Besides, everything goes better with bacon!
Other Cooking Ideas: Turkey, Stuffing and Appetizers
I am not perfect, and I am always looking for ways to improve on my skills. Fortunately, there are some really talented people that I follow. As I was finishing up my work in Western Wisconsin yesterday, I clicked on Jack Spirko’s The Survival Podcast Episode 2116 – Cooking this Thanksgiving and Just Killing It. In this episode, Jack covers a lot of topics including:
- Handling those uncomfortable discussions about politics
- Getting chronically late people to be on time
- Meaning of criticisms from older generations
- Making appetizers
- Sweet Potato Rounds with Cranberry and Walnut Lebneh
- Apple and Chestnut Stuffed Mushrooms with Bacon (or anything small)
- Twice Fried Finger Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Garlic
- Warm Cranberry Sauce
- Quartering and brining a turkey
- Smoking or roasting a turkey
- Making a cornmeal stuffing
- Making gravy
- Creating some great mashed potatoes (his aren’t Paste Potatoes)
- Mixing after-dinner cocktails
- Making dessert
If you have listened to Jack, you know that he is very passionate about cooking. He loves to cook! I am always interested in what he is cooking and how he does it.
While I could go on and on about all the different tips, advice and dishes he discussed on the podcast, I did want to focus on quartering and brining the turkey prior to cooking the turkey.
Quartering a Turkey
One of Jack’s “a-ha” moments was when he raised and slaughtered his own turkeys three years ago. His Thanksgiving turkey was 38 pounds, and that creates a unique problem for most mortals like me, you and Jack: how do you cook a 38-pound bird in conventional ovens and roasters?
Jack’s solution was to quarter the turkey prior to brining and cooking it. By removing the meat from the skeleton, he could brine the various parts and fit them into the oven or roaster. He found an additional benefit from doing this:
Different parts of the turkey finish cooking at different times.
This is why your wings get fried, you breast meat is dry and your dark meat is almost done. If you quarter the turkey prior to cooking it, you can monitor each type of meat and take it out when it is done. Jack’e experience is that wings will come out first, breast meat will come out next and then the dark meat will come out last.
Jack discusses how he quarters the bird in the podcast, but essentially he removes the breasts first, then takes the leg quarters (think about how you see chicken leg quarters in the store) and finally the wings. Jack uses the carcass, organs and other odds and ends for making turkey stock for soups later.
This makes a lot of sense to me, and it is something that I want to try. There is an additional advantage to cooking a turkey like this: you are that much closer to serving your guests since you have removed the carcass from the equation. It is easier to carve the turkey parts rather than mess with the entire carcass and all the juices! This makes a lot of sense to me!
Brining a Turkey
One of the common problems people when cooking a turkey is getting a dry bird at the end of this process. Remember the turkey in Christmas Vacation? Dry meat is just not good.
One way to help with the “dry white meat” problem is to brine the turkey for 24 hours prior to cooking. As Jack says, “You notice that the deli turkey isn’t dry; why is that?” Brining the turkey will add a juice to your bird,a nd it will add some flavor to the meat as well. By brining the turkey overnight, you are soaking the turkey in a mixture of the following items:
Per Gallon of Brine
- 1 Cup Salt
- 1 Cup Brown Sugar
- Handful of Black Peppercorns (whole)
- Small Handful of Whole Mustard Seed
- 4-6 Bay Leaves
- 8 Sage Leaves (1tbs dry)
- 2-4 Star Anise
- Small Handful of Whole Coriander
Brine turkey parts for 24 hours prior to cooking the bird.
This brine will soak into the meat of the turkey, giving it some great flavor. Additionally, your brined turkey will have more juices for the cooking process rather than just relying on the nature juices of the bird and/or your basting sauce. I have not done this in the past, but I will with my next bird.
Putting It All Together
There are a lot of ways people celebrate this great American holiday. Enjoying a great Thanksgiving meal is a great way to bring family and friends together and enjoy each other’s company. Pulling it off just requires a little planning and some good advice; it is not as hard as you think!
Julie, Danny, Ryan and I wish you the best Thanksgiving. May your travels be stress-free and safe. May you enjoy the moment and the people you are spending your time with this holiday. Thank you for being with us on this journey to developing a Small Scale Life. I am thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with you and for your time, patience, feedback and thoughts.
Please be kind to each other this holiday and think of someone less fortunate than you. There are people in our communities that are hurting and need help. Give a little time, money and/or encouragement to others. Sometimes just a little help, encouragement and kindness goes a long, long way.
Thank you again for tuning in. Remember to grow, explore and be healthy! This is Tom from the Small Scale Life. Happy Thanksgiving!