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Your Thanksgiving turkey probably sucks

Posted by Euroranger on November 8, 2012

So, being 2 days after the election I’m sure some of you thought I’d likely be on here ranting and raving.  In truth, I had contemplated a post to discuss just where the hell America lost its collective mind.  However, while that post will likely go up sometime next week (unlike many, I like to think about what I want to say rather than merely blurting it out) I decided that I’d help out some of my fellow Americans regardless of whether they deserve the benefit of my generosity or not (that goes doubly for you idiots in Ohio, Virginia and especially Florida).  I refer, of course, to the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday and the iconic roast turkey supper that’s normally the centerpiece of such.  Now, a great many of you may believe that you are already adequately served by whatever passes for turkey at your house on our day of national reflection and thanks for the bounty that is (or used to be anyway) America.  You are, sadly but not unpredictably, incorrect.  I know this because I have sampled Thanksgiving turkey varieties over the years and places I’ve been and over those years I came to one inescapable truth:

Lots of you have no frickin’ clue how to cook a turkey

Now, you may say “hey, wait a minute…I like our T-Day bird” and, while it’s statistically possible that you may be one of the vanishingly few people who know how to properly cook a turkey, chances are you’re not and as a result you’re laughably wrong via ignorance.  Don’t feel bad though.  Not many folk know how to produce a Thanksgiving turkey whose taste will have your tongue slapping your brain clean out of your skull.  By now you’re either offended and wondering how it is I came to be drinking so early on a Thursday (my employer in New Jersey STILL doesn’t have communications since Sandy blew through town…BTW, thanks a ton, Verizon/Earthlink) or you’re offended and waiting to see a demonstration of my claims of superior fowl-based meal preparation.  Well, be offended no longer as I am about to reveal to you all, the recipe by which my father and I have been producing exceptional T-Day turkey meals for the past 44 years.  As a family, we have few traditions…but this is one of them.  My father started this and passed it on to me and I passed onto my stepson (although he hasn’t attempted this on his own yet).  I will, this year, take my 10 year old son aside and involve him in this effort.  In fact, we’ll be doing Thanksgiving supper down with my in-laws in Florida and my presence there was specifically requested so that I may cook the bird (presumably while the ladies commune with my wife’s 89 year old grandmother as she passes on the secrets to her sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes…she has managed to break both her wrists as of 2 days ago and she’ll still be in casts come Thanksgiving day).

Before we begin, I want to stress that this process is a Man’s Job.  Yes, that sounds chauvinistic as all get out and sexist (and it is) but it’s also traditional and…well…that’s just the way it’s done.  The men folk wrangle the bird and commit breathtaking acts of culinary derring-do while the women folk wrangle whatever else we’re going to eat with supper.  Both genders get to claim they’re busting butt and working hard all the while consuming heroic amounts of alcohol supposedly unbeknownst to the other.  It’s like “Fair but Equal” except that it pertains to participating in meal prep.  So, without further ado, allow me to share the secret for producing a nearly perfect Thanksgiving day turkey.

First off: most of this process is accomplished outdoors (the cooking part anyway) because we’re going to use a grill.  Now, for those of you who may be “regionally challenged” (read: “not from the South and possibly also afflicted with a wife who hyphenated her last name”) when I say “grill” I mean a Weber charcoal grill, like so:

Weber grill

If you don’t recognize this stop reading now, travel to the nearest Home Depot or other commonly accepted “man place” and turn in your man card (if you haven’t already done so).

You see, roasting a turkey in an oven (sometimes in a bag…good God) is wimmen work.  Yes, you can plant your fat pasty butt on your couch and watch the Cowboys and Lions play football but why do that when you can do those same things AND get full man credit for cooking the turkey…and it turns out not tasting like soggy toilet paper with the consistency of a piece of wood?  Do you enjoy the disapproving glares of your wife and possibly mother and/or mother-in-law while they do all the work?  If you’re married, don’t you get enough of that already?  Anyway, we’re using a grill and not an oven.  In addition to the above mentioned grill, I have this handy recipe you can follow through to male culinary victory (and perhaps a small amount of restoration of your abandoned male dignity).


1 whole 18-22 lb turkey (I prefer Butterball but any will do)
2 sticks of butter
1 8oz bottle of Italian dressing (room temp)
1 1/2 cups white wine (also room temp)
2 quarts water
Various spices (thyme, marjoram, oregano, salt, McCormick’s Season Salt, pepper – basically any leaf spices and nothing citrus and no cayenne, chili powder, etc)
1 bag Kingsford charcoal (none of that easy lite crap or lighter infused stuff)
1 bag hickory chips
1 disposable aluminum drip pan
Cooking twine or wire
Large handled measuring cup (I use a quart size glass measuring cup with handle)
Medium sized bowl of water
Baste brush
Metal bulb baster (plastic can melt but is usable)
Bamboo skewers
Beer proportional to number of cooks/bystanders (recommend something seasonal like Sam Adams Oktoberfest)

Bird on grill

Good example of the bird centered over the drip pan with the banks of charcoal and chips to either side. Not pictured: women, children, other irritants, my drink.

In the measuring cup melt both sticks of butter in the microwave. To the melted butter add the Italian dressing and white wine. Add additional spices/salt/pepper if desired.  Mix together and set aside.  The room temp dressing and wine is important as using cold versions of either will cause the melted butter to re-congeal and make mixing near impossible.

Clean/wash turkey, remove neck, giblet bag (some like my wife’s grandmother make a gravy from these parts, we don’t tend to). Once the bird is washed inside and out, twist each wing around to the back and bind the wings together with twine or wire so that bird rests wings side down, breast side up. Apply a generous amounts of all spices to the neck opening and breast cavity using your hand to rub the spices into the meat from the inside (that part’s messy). Once done, use bamboo skewers to close the skin flap over the neck opening.  This completes the bird’s pre-grill preparation.  You should now acquire an adult beverage of your choice.  As an aside, Thanksgiving is one of those few days on the calendar that it’s entirely okay to start drinking before noon.  In fact, it might even be a law in some places.

Place at least two handfuls of hickory chips in a bowl with water and set them aside. In either a chimney starter or in a mound in the grill and with lighter fluid (I prefer the chimney starter) start 30 charcoal briquettes. When the briquettes are ready to spread, divide into two parts (15 coals each) on each side of grill with the disposable aluminum drip pan in center. The coals should be mounded on each side of the pan with a few to several in direct contact with the pan. Add 2 quarts of water to the drip pan and replace the cooking grill. Place the turkey breast side up (wings down) on cooking grill centered over the drip pan. Incidentally, this process is otherwise known as indirect grilling. Baste generously with the dressing/butter/wine baste. Retrieve a handful of wet hickory chips from the bowl, shake the excess water from the chips and divide evenly onto the briquette piles on either side of the turkey and close the lid (allow for half open vents on both top and bottom).

Every 15 minutes, open the grill, baste the turkey and apply a handful of damp hickory chips to either side of the bird. Try and baste/chip the bird as quickly as possible. Remember to baste first, chip second as the chips will start to smoke/burn within moments of applying them to the briquettes and getting a face full of fresh hickory smoke is every bit as delightful and entertaining as a pepper spray facial. Every 45 minutes, add 9 charcoal briquettes to each side of the drip pan when basting/chipping (baste first, add coals, add chips).

Depending on the outdoor temperature, a 20 lb bird will take anywhere from 4-5 hours total to cook. You know cooking is finishing when the skin on the legs starts to pull up the bones on each side. Once that starts, I usually give the bird around 30-45 additional minutes of grill time.

When removing the bird from the grill (you’ll want a large spatula or two to scrape it from the grill and two wads of paper towels to grip the bird to place on a pan or platter) be aware that the chest cavity WILL have an excess of juices and baste and those juices WILL be very hot. Having them pour out onto your arm is commonly described as “unpleasant”.  Take this from me…I know.

With the metal bulb baster, draw a sufficient amount of liquid both from the bird cavity and additionally from the drip pan if necessary with which to make a turkey gravy in a small saucepan.  The gravy is made by combining the ingredients on the stove with flour or starch to thicken the baste/juices.  You can add salt and pepper to taste and white wine if you’re fancy like that.  Be aware that this step requires you to venture into the “wimmen” domain of the kitchen (the room where you typically keep the beer) so try not to screw up your manly accomplishment of cooking the bird by doing or saying anything dumb here (because if you’ve been doing this right, you’ve been drinking for the past 4-5 hours by now).

Anyway, allow the turkey to rest at least 30 minutes after removal from the grill before carving. The bird can and probably will be nearly black. That’s normal. If done correctly, it’ll come out looking something like this:

Turkey about half done

As a helpful hint: if it’s cold out, you can keep your baste running free by leaving it on top of the kettle lid when you close it. The warmth from the lid will keep the baste nicely heated. And no matter how drunk you get, you won’t likely have trouble finding it.

Anyway, that’s all there is to producing probably the best turkey you’ll ever enjoy on a Thanksgiving.  The recipe has evolved over the years since my Dad started to do this.  For instance, the bottle of Italian dressing supplanted a much more complicated process where he basically made Italian dressing from all its constituent parts.  Only about 5-6 years ago my stepson suggested the white wine to cut an extra thick baste I had produced (because the dressing had been put into the fridge).  It worked great, the taste was better and hey, it’s wine so you can bet that stayed in the recipe.  This recipe has not only served us at Thanksgiving but also at Christmas a few times and, when we lived in Canada (where using a grill anytime after Labor Day produces incredulous neighbors who wonder aloud at such weather defying perversity) my Dad was asked to cook turkeys for neighbors/friends.

So, have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving holiday and should you decide to use this recipe let me know how it turned out for you.  I’ll get around to examining America’s national IQ disgrace in my next post.  In the meantime, enjoy!

My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.


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