Romancing The Bird Transcript

Front Steps

    For most families, Thanksgiving is a joyous homecoming, a festive gathering of loved ones drawn together by that culinary homing beacon the turkey. Regrettably, my own family's history is a little more more Norman Bates than Norman Rockwell.

Suburbia, 1970

GUESTS: Young A. B.
              The Stranger
              Uncle Morty

    It happened in 1970. My Uncle Jed was sharing his Thanksgiving with the Marine Corp leaving a vacancy at the big table that I was happy to fill. Besides all the regular family and friends there was a stranger among us that year and although nobody could remember who'd invited him he was as in to turkey as I was.

THE STRANGER: You can feel it, can't you, the power coming from the bird?
YOUNG AB: [nods]
TS: Yes, the turkey is strong with you. The turkey is your destiny.

    Before he could go on, Uncle Morty was upon us.

UNCLE MORTY: Time to do the deed.
 TS: Please, allow me.
UM: Uh, but I always carve.
 TS: [waves 'Jedi' hand] But not this year.
UM: But not this year.

    Then this fancy knife appeared from thin air and that hippy musketeer started slicing that bird silly. I'd never seen anything like it. Neither had Uncle Morty.
    But despite all the fancy cutlery, Granny's six hour turkey was more plywood than poultry. The family and I were used to it. The stranger wasn't.

 TS: [chokes and dies on the table]

Front Steps

    The big bird was shunned from our table henceforth but the turkey sized hole in my appetite has remained to this day. The stranger was right, of course. Turkey is my destiny. Which is why I am determined to throw off the family curse and return the noble foul to its rightful place on the Good Eats role of honor.

The Office

    Though only two written records of the first thanksgiving survive they're enough to tell us that the Plymouth soirée was a three day alfresco affair—late September, early October, 1621.

An Historic Thanksgiving

Dear Neighbor,

Thou are invited to the first annual Thanksgiving feast.


    Now 1622 rolls around and the harvest, it ain't so good.

The Greater Plymouth
Thanksgiving Committee

Dear Neighbor,

The 2nd annual
Thanksgiving fest is hereby

due to lack of blessings.

    So the party gets x-nayed and it goes underground till almost 1777 when all 13 colonies get together for a Thanksgiving day to celebrate the collective butt-kicking of the British at Saratoga.

Dear Friend of the Revolution,

Thanksgiving's a GO!


Free turkey with every
dead redcoat!!!
(Limit 2 per customer)

    Now along the way a few Presidents did try to do the Thanksgiving thing right: George Washington gives it a shot, Monroe gives it a try, so does Adams. But it takes the efforts of a Philadelphia magazine editor named Sarah Hale to really get the butter-ball going.

George Washington
James Monroe
John Quincy that is.

Sarah Hale

    See, she's on a mission. She doesn't like this new fangled industrial revolution thing. She thinks it's eroding away at the genteel façade of American life. The antidote, the way she sees it, is that we need a holiday, a day that's about nothing but home, hearth, wholesome family values. What Mrs. Hale wants is Thanksgiving. And she intends to get it. So she starts letters. And I mean she writes everybody. She writes governors, senators, congressmen, city council members, dog-catchers. She writes anybody with an address. And she keeps this up for 40 years.

City councilmen,
dog catchers ...

President Abraham's Office

GUEST: President Abraham Lincoln

    President Lincoln alone received so much Hale mail he finally breaks down and gives her some satisfaction proclaiming the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. And this time it sticks.

Last Thursday in November

The Office

    Until the late thirties when Franklin Delano Roosevelt kind of messes around with the Thanksgiving date a little bit in attempt to widen the Christmas shopping season. But public backlash makes him put it right back where he found it.

    So finally, in 1941 with the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade already 15 years old and Sara Hale, well, long in the grave, Congress sanctions the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday: Thanksgiving. And they do it just a week or two before Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor

    Now, get ready to throw an irony-log on the fire because following West Point's tradition the Army serves all of its troupes turkey at Thanksgiving which exposes a lot of, well, non-Yankees to what had been one time been a predominantly Northeastern tradition.

    After the war, all it took was one [knocking sound on front door] magazine cover to solidify the turkey's place in the American gastronomic consciousness.

[Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want"]

Front Door

GUEST: Marsha, Deranged Sister

    Speaking of sneak attracts.

AB: [opens door]
MARSHA: [falls in] Oh. Ha, ha. Hm.
AB: Marsha?
 M: Yes.
AB: What are you doing?
 M: Well, your place looked just a little drab, you know ...

    Having already driven away one husband, two gardeners and a handful of caterers, my pestilently perky über-homemaking big sister had finally turned her glue-guns on me.

 M: ... and with the family coming for Thanksgiving and all, I just think, well, there's oodles to do, Alton ...
AB: Thanksgiving?  Family?  Where?
 M: Yes, here. [walks past him] You know we all adore turkey for heaven's sakes.
AB: But I just ...?  How did you know?
 M: [off camera] Well, sisters just know these things.
AB: [throws door wreath onto bush]

The first meal eaten on the moon by the crew of Apollo 11?

Marsha Takes a Field Trip
The Den

 M: We need to plan the decor: table settings, place cards, oh, maybe refinish this chair.
AB: Marsha.
 M: You know, I'm seeing real pilgrim-style here: bobbing for apples, big bowls of popcorn, ...
AB: Marsha.
 M: ... oh, Indian headdresses for the kids.
AB: Marsha!
 M: Oh, alright. What are you serving?
AB: [sigh] We're going to have turkey, uh, dressing, maybe a dipping sauce.
 M: Oh, dipping sauce. Well, that doesn't sound very Plymouth.
AB: Plymouth, huh?  [lighting changes to pale blue]  Marsha, would you like to know what the Pilgrims really had for Thanksgiving in Plymouth?
 M: Well, sure. I'm very into authentic. I just love sweet potato pie.
AB: You know, the truth can sometimes take us places we don't necessarily wish to go. Choose. [places blueberry in one of Marsha's hands and a cranberry in the other.] Take the blueberry and you can have your sweet potato pie. Take the cranberry and there's no going back.
 M: Hmm. I like blueberries but I didn't bring my floss.
AB: Hurgh. Marsha!
 M: Alright. Alright, Mr. Mysterious.
AB: You see, our image of the blunder-bust totting, buckle clad pilgrims in their so-called "Thanksgiving Meal" is really a Victorian fabrication, [places futuristic sun glasses on] an amalgam of religious-secular socio-economic illusions built on the shifting sands of shaky history.
 M: Um, hm. I can't understand a word you're saying. What's with those glasses?  And what does this have to do ...

The Forest (a.k.a. Alton's Back Yard)

GUEST: Deborah Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

 M: ... with sweet potato pie?
AB: The settler's didn't have sweet potatoes, Marsha. Come to think of it, I doubt they had any kind of pie at all.
 M: What are we doing in your back yard?
AB: This isn't my back yard. I've brought you deep into the forest to prove a point.
 M: Uh, uh, that's your house right over there.
AB: Huh. An illusion I assure you. Now, pay attention. There are plenty of foods that we associate with Thanksgiving that the settlers were either out of or just didn't have to begin with.
 M: Yeah, but why no pie?
AB: [sigh] Marsha, I can't answer all your questions because I'm not a nutritional anthropologist. But, uh, she is.
  M: Okay, fine. But why no pie?
DD: Well, they ran out of butter and flour and they couldn't make a pie crust.
  M: But what about baked apples?
DD: Well, Johnny Appleseed hadn't shown up yet. They didn't have many apples.
  M: You're telling me no cider.
DD: No, beer.
  M: What about for the little ones?
DD: Beer.
  M: Fine. Mashed potatoes?
DD: Most Europeans still thought they were poisonous. Haven't we been through this?

AB: Different episode.

    Which you can find out all about by going to

AB: Sorry. Continue.

This Spud's for You"

  M: Corn on the cob.
DD: Oh, well the Indians used a different kind of corn than we think of. It was dry and it was flinty and they'd dry it and make it into corn meal or they could cook it into succotash which was a vegetable stew that they used all winter.
  M: How about popcorn?
DD: They didn't have popcorn.
  M: Cranberry sauce. I know they had cranberries.
DD: They had cranberries but they didn't have sugar.
  M: Celery stuffing.
DD: Uh, there's no record of the English using celery in any kind of recipes until the mid-17th century ...?
AB: 1664.
  M: Fine. Turkey, then.
DD: Turkey they had, along with swans, geese and ducks. But the big hit at that Thanksgiving was venison. The Indians dragged in 5 dead deer.
  M: So, is that it?
DD: Oh, no. There was lots of food.

AB: Lobsters, oysters, cod, bass, eels ...
 M: Eww.
AB: ... uh, pumpkins, purslane, peas, gooseberries, chestnuts ...

Lobster     Oysters
Cod               Bass
Eels       Pumpkins
Purslane        Peas

DD: Hold up. There were no peas.
AB: Oh, bad crop that year. No peas.
  M: Well, that's just great. I suppose that's Thanksgiving at your house: baked tree bark and nasty old eels?  Yuck.
DD: No, we go to Grandma's and she makes turkey and all the fixin's.
AB: Wait a second. What about being anthropologically correct?
DD: What is anthropologically correct?  Holidays are about family and my family prefers tradition over authenticity.
  M: Well, that settles it. If you'll excuse me, I have a driveway to stencil.
DD: Is she really your sister?


GUEST: Chuck, Turkey Freak
            Uncle Morty, Pro Moocher

    Just as Marsha bee-lined for Crafts-R-Us, my butcher, Chuck, arrived in his surreal turkey-mobile.

I Entertain, Therefore I Am.


CHUCK: Hi Mr. Brown.
AB: Hi ya, Chuck.
  C: Picked up your turkey yet?
AB: You know, as a matter of fact I haven't.
 C: Know what you're getting?

    Watch this.

AB: Well gee, Chuck. Aren't all turkeys pretty much the same?
 C: What was that?
AB: Now take it easy, okay?
 C: You know, that's the type of pervasive ignorance I have to contend with every day.
AB: Sorry.

 C: Just look at this. The USDA recognizes three distinctive market varieties of turkeys. The first is frozen.


AB: Meaning below 32 degrees?
  C: Only turkeys cooled to zero degrees or lower can be labeled frozen.

------------------------ 26°F
------------------------  0°F

AB: Well, uh, set me straight here, Chuck, but I thought 32 was the freezing point.
 C: For water, sure. But the moisture in meat isn't just water. It's full of all manner of dissolved solids that effectively reduce its freezing point.
AB: You don't say. Okay. Thanks.

 C: Oh, next at 1 to 26 degrees—although most manufacturers shoot for 24 to 26—are refrigerated birds.
AB: But frozen are so great, why bother?
 C: Because refrigerated birds aren't as rock hard as frozen so they don't require as much thawing time. And grocers don't need as much freezer space.


AB: Is that it?
 C: Oh, no, no, no. Fresh turkeys are a whole other thing. Fresh turkeys can never go below 26 degrees.
AB: But that's still below freezing.
 C: Not in turkey.


UM: The bird or the country?
  C: The bird, of course. Who are you?
AB: That would be Uncle Morty. Uncle Morty, what are you doing here?
UM: As soon as I heard about your feast I loaded up the chair and said good-bye Bocca.
AB: You brought the Barc-a-lounger?  Here?
UM: It's a Strat-o-lounger.
AB: [sigh]
UM: Sure. I've got a trailer for it.
  C: Is that like a La-Z-Boy?
UM: Is a Porsche like a Yugo?  Say, why do you have the floor mat on your chicken up there?
  C: It's a turkey. That's his snood.
UM: Whatever.
AB: Look. Chuck here was just telling me about how sub-zero turkeys are called frozen.
UM: Uh, that's rocket science.
AB: Yeah, but wait. If they're between 1 and 26 degrees, then they're refrigerated.
UM: But that's still freezing.
  C: Not in turkeys.
AB: Then you've got fresh birds which are, uh ...
  C: Above 26 degrees. Some folks say fresh tastes better but they are more prone to damage and can suffer time-temperature abuses.
UM: Sounds like this guy has been abusing something.
  C: Excuse me?
AB: [sigh]
UM: Make sure he gives you a Grade A bird.
  C: I assure you that all of my birds are Grade A.
AB: Guys, almost every bird on the market's Grade A.
UM: What does Grade A mean anyway?
  C: Why would you ask for one if you don't know what it is?

AB: Look, Grade A turkey, it's got a well developed fat layer under the skin and there aren't any bruises, cuts, tears, broken bones or pen-feathers. That sorts of thing.

Grade A

developed fat layer
no bruises
no cuts
no broken bones
no pin feathers

  C: Where'd you get this guy?
UM: Why don't you ask him where he got the Dodo head.
  C: I told you once, it's a turkey.
AB: Guys, guys, guys. You know, Thanksgiving is still a couple days away. I'll take a frozen bird.
  C: Excellent choice. May I ask how many dinners.
AB: Well, from the way things seem to be shaping up, I guess 8 to 10.
  C: A 14-pounder should be perfect. Splendid.
UM: I'd go for the 20-pounder. You're going to listen to a guy with a cardboard flamingo on his truck?
  C: It's a turkey!
UM: You want a piece of me?
  C: Don't make me get out of this truck!
AB: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!  Thanks. This is going to do wonderfully. Chuck, have a good thanksgiving.
  C: [all smiles] Happy Thanksgiving.
AB: Let's go, Uncle Morty.
UM: Freak.

Front Steps

AB: Hey, Uncle Morty. Before you park it in front of the TV, park this in the kitchen, will ya?
UM: Alright.

    [sigh] Since I'm to be overrun by uninvited family members, I think I'll poll them on all their favorite cooking pointers and then do exactly the opposite.

90% of American homes serve turkey at Thanksgiving.
That's about 675 million pounds.

Send in the Browns
The Kitchen

GUEST: Cousin Ray, Thawing Expert
            "W", Equipment Specialist

COUSIN RAY: Now to thaw a turkey like this, whatcha gotta do is leave that sucker on the counter there for a day or two until she loosens up. Then if you're in a hurry, you can pour some hot water on it.
AB: Ray, I think Morty left a six-pack out on the driveway.
CR: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

    Whew. Cousin Ray has left the kitchen.

AB: Hello, W.
W: That man is going to kill somebody someday.
AB: Oh, I doubt it. State of Illinois says he's completely rehabilitated.
W: I mean with this [turkey].
AB: Ah.
W: Doesn't he understand that holding raw meat between 40 and 140 degrees is like sending out invitations to a microbe love-in?

[sic, probably should be 40°] to 140°
They don't call it the "danger zone" for nothing.

AB: Ray thinks hush-puppies are seafood.
W: Really?  Well, this turkey needs to be in your refrigerator.
AB: Uh, that's all well and good but as you can see I couldn't get a turkey sandwich in here. But you know?  If all our fowl friend really needs is a refrigerator temperature place to rest for a little while, I may have an idea.
W: Oh. I'll alert the media.
AB: I'll be back. [exits]
CR: [enters and leers at W]
W: Keep walking.
AB: My trusty old fishing cooler. Now, there are some cold packs in the door of freezer, W. Would you grab those for me, please?  Now. [places turkey into cooler] That's a perfect fit.

W: Anything else?

Freezer Packs

AB: No, these will do. I usually keep these around for sickin' the chill on picnic items but these should be perfectly good at helping keep the air in here cold while the turkey thaws. Now, the walls of the chest should insulate adequately and the pan will catch any drippings. Do you have something for me?
W: I thought you'd never ask. [opens Good Eats case]
AB: [takes item from inside] Hey, now I could get into ... 
W: No, not that.
AB: [sigh]

W: The Polder probe-timer thermometer. This monitor has remote probe that remains in the food during the entire cooking process.

Digital Probe Thermometer

AB: I see.
 W: Simply set the alarm to the target temperature, insert the probe into the meat and roast as normal.
AB: Nice.
 W: The unit stays outside of course.
AB: Of course.
 W: Either on the counter or on the kitchen door. It's magnetic.
AB: Like your personality.
 W: What?
AB: I said, the height of practicality. Heh, heh, heh.
 W: It also functions as a timer, a very flexible tool.
AB: Yes. Literally. I can see that. I wonder if it can help me with a problem on the opposite end of the thermal spectrum. Now, as you see as this turkey thaws the air inside is going to warm up above 40 degrees and move into the dreaded bacterial danger zone. I wonder. If I set this to 38 degrees and, well, put that into the air of the cooler, looks like I can just park this in a nice, quiet place and wait for the alarm to go off.
 W: How very McGyver of you.
AB: Hmm.

Coolers and turkeys vary, so if your bird is still stiff once the cooler
air reaches 40°, finish in the refrigerator OR keep watching.

AB: You know, W, I think that's just about the only nice thing you've ever said to me. Would you like to join us for Thanksgiving dinner?
 W: What, here?
AB: Well, sure. Why not?
 W: Is the rest of the Addams family going to be attending?
AB: Oh, they don't bite ... much.
 W: Let's keep this professional, shall we?
AB: Right.

    Oh well, she almost cracked.
    Now as effective as a slow thaw is, you might still find yourself facing a turkey-cicle come Thanksgiving Eve. If that happens, we can execute a speed thaw. Come upstairs and I'll show you how.

The Bathroom Tub

    Just place your block-o-bird in clean, 5-gallon bucket and fill it to the top with cold water. If you find you've got a floater on your hands just give it, uh, "Mafia Treatment." [places brick on top] There.

5 G Bucket
Cold H2O

    So, why am I in the tub?  Well, this water really should be changed about every 3 to 4 hours and it's a lot easier to tip and fill here than to haul this up to the kitchen sink.  

Change every 3 hours

    This bird will be perfectly pliable in 6 to 8 hours.

That's about 2 pounds an hour.

    Whatever method you use, always remember to thaw your bird in its original wrapping.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Niece Nancy, Basting Advocate
            Shirley O. Corriher, food scientist

NIECE NANCY: Everybody knows the best way to introduce flavor into a turkey is by continual basting.

AB: Bad news Buffy McBeal. Basting is A-1 useless.

Basting: don't do it!

NN: No way.
AB: Yes, way. Not only does it do nothing for the flavor or texture of the meat, but repeated opening of the oven door just slows down cooking.
NN: Whatever.
AB: Hey, isn't that your pager I hear going off?
NN: [runs out]

    [picks up Teen magazine]  Of course you could and should add juiciness and flavor to your bird by giving it ...

NN: [grabs magazine]

    ... pre-roast soak in a brine. Now to understand what a brine is and how it do its voodoo, we're turning to Shirley Corriher a mad food scientist if ever there was one.

AB: Shirley. What's the score?
SHIRLEY CORRIHER: Well, a brine can be as simple as a salt solution—salt and water—or sugar, salt and water.
AB: Okay. So, how exactly does a brine work?


SC: You're just in time for Mystery Food Science Theater.

    Where does she get all these wonderful toys?

SC: Take this turkey for instance.
AB: Excuse me Shirley. House lights. [lights dim]  Go ahead.
SC: Now, let's put this turkey in a brine. This turkey's cells are capable of osmosis.

    You see, osmosis is when the cell walls allow moisture to move from an area of lower concentration to higher concentration. So, if the salt level is higher out in the brine, the moisture inside the cells is going to move out into brine. But, won't that dry out the meat?


SC: Ah, but we're not done yet.
AB: Oh, okay. [begins to eat popcorn]
SC: What happens, as soon as the water outside gets diluted by the water coming out then the liquid on the inside and the out are about the same and the liquid's flowing back and forth, back and forth.
AB: It's equilibrium.
SC: Yes. Yes. And the liquid from the outside is carrying the salt and the seasonings into the bird. And so, this means that you've got all this moisture and seasoning trapped inside the muscle and it's not even going to come out when you cook it.
AB: Cook it and moisture stays in the meat?
SC: Yes.
AB: Well, how are the leftovers?
SC: Fabulous.
AB: Yeah?
SC: Hee, hee.

    Don't you just love a happy ending?

The turkey was introduced to Europe by Spanish
conquistadors returning from 16th century Mexico.

The Life of Brine
The Kitchen

    Now you can also think of a brine as kind of a flavor delivery system. After all, if at least some of this moisture is going to go back into the bird, well, why shouldn't it take a little bit extra flavor with it?

    Now for a basic turkey brine I like to start with about a gallon of vegetable broth and don't use the low-sodium or no-sodium kind cause we need the salt content. And we're even going to add some more: a cup of kosher salt followed by about a half a cup of light brown sugar—you can use regular brown sugar, it will be okay—and about a tablespoon of whole black pepper corns along with about a half tablespoon each of whole allspice berries and crystallized or candied ginger, same thing. Now, these last couple of ingredients may sound a little odd to you but you can probably find them in your grocer's spice department. If you can't, go ahead and leave them out. The brine will still make a huge difference to the turkey.

1 G veg. broth
1 C Salt
1/2 C brown sugar
1 Tbls. peppercorns
1/2 Tbls. allspice berries
1/2 Tbls. candied ginger

    And soon as your brine comes to a boil, give it a couple of stirs just to make sure everything is dissolved and kill the heat. Let it cool down to room temperature then refrigerate it until it's completely chilled. Now you can do this two, three days ahead of time. Just make sure you leave the lid on.

Bring to a boil
Stir to dissolve
Remove from heat
Cool & refrigerate

    Early the morning of the big day or late the night before, add your brine to a large, clean bucket ... not one that was recently home to roofing tar or latex wall paint, please. Add a gallon of heavily iced water. Now to the turkey. First, make sure that the giblets, the neck and anything else that used to be in the cavity isn't in there any more. Now since the breast has a tendency to dry out more than dark meat, I like to start with the breast down in the brine first. So just head first right in there.

Heavily Iced H2O

    I'll let this stay in for 6 to 8 hours. Just park it in a cool corner of your kitchen or, if it's winter time, and your garage is cold, just put it in a corner of your garage. You won't really have to worry about bacteria because the ice is going to keep it cold and besides, bacteria don't like salt which explains why salt's been used for millennia to cure and preserve meats. And don't worry, as long as you turn this over once about half way through the brining, the meat will be perfectly seasoned.

Turn bird over once.

The Kitchen Table

GUEST: Marsha, stuffing supporter

    This mind boggling mine field of mise en place is brought to us by my somewhat twisted sister, Marsha, who'd like to spend some quality time with you.

M: [enters] Hi. I'm Marsha. Everybody knows the very best thing about turkey is the stuffing. And today we're going to make my very favorite, Six Bread Stuffing. Let's start by baking a pan of corn bread, one loaf of sourdough, a baguette and my favorite, challah. Heh, heh. While you're pig feet are pickling, let's just steep a mixture of dry organic mushrooms in a surel{?} to scent. [the signs finally get to her and she begins to sob] That's it. {?} was right about you. You are so mean.

Stuffing Stinks

Stuffing adds cooking time, dries bird

Stuffing Harbors Bacteria

Stuffing Is Dead,
Long Live Turkey

    Well, I'll just save this one for later. The signs really do tell that tale. Stuffing, by and large, is evil. It adds mass which increases the cooking time and that leads to dry meat. It's also a haven for bacteria like salmonella and it's good buddy campylobacter. Neither of which make very good side dishes.

Stuffing is evil

    But this is not to say that we have to leave that cavity vacant. We don't. It's a great place to introduce flavors through the use or aromatics, herbs and things like that. I like to start with, well, rosemary. Just a big chunk of rosemary, maybe two, right into the cavity along with sage which is pretty traditional Thanksgiving flavor. I just use a whole stalk. Wad it up right in there.

    I've also got kind of a secret weapon which is ... I've got, uh, half of an onion and a red apple that I've microwaved on high for about 5 minutes in some water. Cooking it ahead will open up the flavors and make it easier for the turkey to take it in. Now, I'm going to add to that a cinnamon stick for that extra special thanksgiving something. I'm going to let that steep for a minute.

Cinnamon stick
1 Red apple sliced
Half an onion

    Now as for the gobbler itself, once you've washed off the brine and let it drain and patted it dry there's not that much you've got to do. We do have to deal with these wings. They'll just wag around inside the oven and get burned. So just take them and tuck them up under themselves like that. It doesn't take much force and you won't need any string.
    There. As for the back of the bird, almost every turkey on the market these days has some kind doohickey that holds the legs together. This one's wire but even if it's plastic leave it on. It's oven safe. Don't worry. If you have a turkey with unleashed legs, just strap the ends together with a little piece of butcher's twine and leave it alone.
    Now, during the Thanksgiving Day this is just about the time when loving family and friends start swamping in with all their side dishes and desserts that they've brought. And since you've got raw food out, it would be a really easy way to have a close encounter of the bacterial kind.

    Now if I had a loving family and a bunch of friends, if they weren't off watching Kojak while I did all the work, I might make sure there was an out-of-the-way spot that they could use as kind of a food holding area. They could just keep things out of the way of the raw food. I might even make sure there was a nice cooler here with ice in it for all their chilled things, all their congealed salads and their pies ... that is if I had a nice loving bunch of family and friends.

Holding area for room temperature items.

Cooler for chilled goods.

    I might also do this: I'd make sure that the turkey went straight from the sink to its cooking apparatus. The fewer surfaces the turkey moves around to the less chance there is of cross-contamination. Now you'll notice that I've just got a shallow pan here and a flat rack. I like flat racks because I think it promotes more browning on the bird. The popular V-racks there days kind of squish all the meat together and you get very pale crease lines.
    So, the last step is the insertion of the aromatics. Don't worry about neatness. It doesn't count on this one. Just get everything in there. It will bring a lot of flavor to the party. And now since we've gotten so close to the final oven count down, it's time for some words of wisdom from the big chair and Uncle Morty on thermometers. This should be good.

The Den

GUEST: Morty, Pop-up populist

UM: The only thermometer you need is already in the bird. You just cook that brown baby until the popper pops. Well, I gotta go. Barney Miller's on.

The Kitchen

    Be afraid. Be very afraid. Not of Abe Vigota necessarily, but of this [turkey popper]. Sure, it looks like a perfectly innocent little white tube but inside there's a coiled spring held in place by an epoxy that's made to melt at a specific temperature, about 180 degrees. When it reaches that point, the spring is released and up comes this little shaft which supposedly tells you your turkey is done. Now by the time all this happens the manufacturers figure that the dark meat will be perfect ... and it will. But the problem is that the white meat will be a desert.


    So, our advice: if your turkey's got it, ignore it. But don't take it out prior to cooking or you'll find you just got a gapping hole that all the juice will run out of. So we are left in a quandary: how do you really know when your bird is done?  Well, you sure can't trust the charts on the package that your turkey came in. They've got about as much to do with cooking as Charlie's Angels did serious detective work. The answer lies in our little probed friend. But you do have to be careful. You have to make sure that the probe goes into the deepest part of the white meat. I like to go in from the side but make sure you don't run into either the keel bone or the ribs. Either of those will give you a false reading.

The largest turkey on record weighed 86 pounds and was raised in England.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Aunt Verna, Rampant Roaster

    This humble bi-fold of fine American aluminum is actually The Answer to one of turkey-dom's greatest questions, namely how do you thoroughly cook dark meat—which we like at about 180 degrees—without over cooking the white meat which we like to pull about about 161.

Dark Meat - 180°
White Meat - out at 161°

    Now, you could cut up the bird before you cook it but come on, you want to deliver an American icon to the table not a jigsaw puzzle. You could butterfly your bird like we did the chicken in our classic episode, "A Bird In The Pan," but you'd need a surgeon's bone saw to get through this one.

A Bird In the Pan"

    Nope. the answer is the turkey triangle. And the secret is to form fit it before you actually need it. Just rub a little canola oil on the inside so that it doesn't stick and then just mold it to the breast kind of like a breast plate in a bad Wagner opera. Like that. The point of doing this ahead of time is so that when we really need it later, you won't have to squeeze it onto a 500 degree bird. There.
    Now the last step before we go into the oven is a quick canola rub down. A little bit of oil is going to promote browning by raising the ...

AUNT VERA: [enters, bumps Alton and starts to lower the oven temp]
AB: Aunt Verna. What are you doing?
AV: I was just lowering your oven, dear. You had it set too high.
AB: No, no. Aunt Verna, I start my turkeys in a ripping hot 500 degree oven because you need dry intense heat to brown the skin.
AV: No, no, dear. Low and slow is the only way to go.

AB: No. Actually 'low and slow' is no way to go. 'Low and slow' the fat layer just melts and rolls off without browning the skin. Longer cooking time means dryer meat. No. You go 500 degrees for 30 minutes, then you slap on the turkey triangle, drop the heat to 350 and cook until the probe thermometer says 161. Then you rest it, you carve it, you eat it and take a nap.

Half hour at 500°
Apply triangle
Reduce oven to 350°
Internal temp of 161°

AV: [in a lower voice] I never liked you much anyway. [storms off]

    A lot of my childhood questions just got answered.

    Roasting time is finally here. We have our 500 degree oven and I like to put my turkeys in legs first since the dark meat can take a little bit more heat and doesn't dry as easily.

500° Oven

    Now, I'm concerned more with time right now than temperature so I'm going to use the timer function of this bad boy set for 30 minutes. Now so far our times and equations have been based on no stuffing. So just stay away from the stuffing. Besides we've got something a lot better on the way.

30 min.

    Now, wash those turkey hands.

[Alton is reading,
"On Food And Cooking: The Science
and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee]

    Half an hour up already. Time for the turkey triangle. Oh yeah. We've got a lot of great color already. Definitely time to cover up the breast so that it won't over cook. Our pre-tailored turkey triangle goes on. Just tuck that corner up under the probe and back in she goes ... or he. Oven goes down to 350 degrees.

    Since the cooking ain't over until the fat thermometer sings, you want to keep this door closed ... no. No turkey tampering, okay?

Switch from time to temp.

    Now a 14-pounder like our friend here is probably going to cross the 161 degree finish line in about another hour and a half. That will make it a total of two hours of cooking. Granted not every oven in the world is alike and yours mike take just a little bit longer. But don't worry, just listen for the thermometer.

    Now, when you hear the words 'cranberry sauce' does your mind conjure up images of red, jiggly, nasty, canned masses?

Cranberry Sauce

    Well around here, cranberry sauce is a smooth dipping sauce perfect for turkey. Now it's not that we have anything against gravy, mind you. We dedicated a whole show to gravy. It's just that dipping sauce is a deliciously unexpected way to deliver on some expected thanksgiving flavors. Not to mention that it's a whole lot easier to make than giblet gravy.

"Gravy Confidential"

    Now if you're a big fan of complicated procedures you're out of luck on this one because all this takes is a 12 ounce bag of frozen cranberries, 2 cups of orange juice, 3 cups of ginger ale, 2 tablespoons of each maple syrup and light brown sugar.  Finish it off with the zest of one orange—just the orange part, none of the pith—and for good measure a hefty pinch of kosher salt. That's it. Now just bring this to a boil in a non-reactive sauce pan.

12 oz Cranberries
2 C Orange Juice
3 C Ginger Ale
2 Tbls Maple Syrup
2 Tbls Brown Sugar
Zest of Orange
Pinch of Salt

"Non-reactive" cookware, like stainless steel & glass don't react
with acids, which can cause discoloring and off flavors.

    Now as soon as it comes to boil, turn the heat down to medium and just let this reduce for about half an hour until the berries start to disintegrate and the liquid becomes like syrup. Just give it a stir every now and then.

    Now as you can see, the cranberries are going to throw a little scum while they cook. That's okay. I usually keep the pan kind of off center from the burner so that they'll all collect on one side. And you can just skim it off with a ladle or a large spoon. No big deal.

Half an hour later

    Now this is done but what self-respecting dipping sauce would be chunky like this?  None. So it's time to make a visit either to our local, friendly, neighborhood blender or you can reach for my favorite electrical device on earth.

Stick Blender

    The great thing about a stick blender is you can buzz stuff up right in the pot. There. Our sauce is smooth, bright, translucent, delicious. But granted, the average Thanksgiving plate may contain components which aren't exactly, well, cranberry compatible. So instead of just slathering this all over the turkey, I like to make sure that each diner has their own, individual ramekin for dipping.

    Just in case you were afraid you'd have to face a dressing-less Thanksgiving world, meet corn bread pudding. A delicious dish that's so easy to make that, well, you could do it blindfolded which I occasionally do just for kicks. But please, I'm a professional. Don't try this at home.

Professional cook in a closed kitchen. Don't try at home.

    Start with your trusty iron skillet over medium heat. Sweat a diced onion with a little butter and half a teaspoon of thyme and rosemary. Now, in a big bowl combine one 15-ounce can of creamed corn with a cup of cream, 2 eggs ... one, two ... half a cup of stone-ground corn meal—not polenta, the real stuff. Let's see, a teaspoon of baking powder and a little bit of kosher salt, about half a teaspoon. What the heck, a little pepper. Fold in half a cup of shredded parmesan cheese and then once you've got it all together about 2 cups of French of Italian style bread in cubes.
    Stir it up and then pour right into the skillet. Now I'll chuck the whole thing into a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Now, although this is great right out of the oven, I think it improves with age. So you might try making it earlier in the day and then reheat it while the turkey's resting.

Sweat diced onion in butter

1/2 tsp dry thyme,
and dry rosemary

15 oz can Cream corn
1 C Cream
2 Eggs
1/2 C Corn Meal
1 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
Ground Pepper
1/2 C Parmesan
2 C cubed Bread

350° oven
50 min

Israel leads the word in turkey consumption at 28 pounds per person per year.

It's okay, I'm with the Bird.
The Kitchen

GUESTS: Mr. Warhol
             Eater #1 & #2

MR. WARHOL, E #1 & #2: [waiting in line for the bird]

    As soon as that turkey unleashes its aromatic kung-fu you'll feel like a bouncer at Studio 54, circa 1981.

AB: I'm sorry Mr. Warhol. Um, you're not on the list. As a matter of fact, none of you are on the list. You're all going to have to wait in the dining room, okay? In the dining room. We'll be out soon. I promise.

MW, E #1 & #2: [shuffle off]

    You're just in time. We've just crossed the 161 magic line. Oh. [removes rope]  Sorry. This looks great. Exactly what we want. Good color, lots of juice. Great.


    Now, the temperature inside the bird will continue to increase for at least a few minutes so don't cut into this and don't pull out the pop-up thermometer. You just want to let it rest. So while you're reheating your bread pudding and finishing the cranberry sauce, cover this with something to keep it cozy. You could use an inverted stainless steel bowl or even a big tent of foil but, uh, I find that the lid from my kettle grill wards off all poachers.

Dining Room Table

 M: ... it looks so good ...

    Victoriously bearing the bird to its final roosting place, one last battle remains and, like most battles, success lay in the choice of weapon.

AB: [brandishes electric knife]
 M: Aaah, but that's the stranger's knife.
AB: That's right, Marsha. I've been saving it all these years. Knife happy as I am, the tool that separates the Boy Scouts from the Samurai is nothing more than a $15 hardware store electric knife.

    Start by separating the skin that holds the thigh quarter next to the breast. Just go all the way down to the board. When you reach the joint, stop. Put the knife down and just take a regular paper towel, get a good grip on the thigh and press down until you hear the ball socket pop.


  M: Ew. That's quite a snap.
UM: I've got a hip that'll do that.

    Then just cut through to the board. There. That comes off in one chunk.

CR: Say, that reminds me of that scene in "Saving Private Ryan" when, you know, the guy ...
AB: Hey, hey, hey, Ray. [points electric knife at CR]  We're trying to eat here. Okay?

    Okay, I usually serve the drum sticks whole and slice the meat off the thigh. So just come straight up the joint. The joint will pop as soon as you open it up a bit. Now, you can finally get to the breast. First thing you want to do, and this is kind of the trick here, is make a baseline, something that'll make clean slices. So turn your knife sideways parallel to the table and start an inward cut just above the wing joint and go straight in towards the rib and trace a line right up the side of the wish bone. Like that. Now you can carve off those luscious slabs of love unhindered. Keep them thin, though. They'll fall over, they'll look better on the plate and they'll be juicer. I like to use a fork to catch them with.
    Now I can usually feed about, I don't know, about 6 people off of one half of a bird. If you don't feeL like going ahead and carving the whole thing right at the table ...

AB: Is this enough to get you guys going?  Okay, great.

... I'll show you a trick.

The Kitchen

    A carcass is a big, unruly shape and it's tough to effectively wrap up and refrigerate and besides, there are things in bones that, well, bacteria could mistake as an invitation. So it's best just to not mess with it. So, I'm going to go ahead and take off the leg quarter same as we did before. Just reach down and give it a pop. As for the rest of the white meat, we're going to start exactly the way we did back at the table making that first cut at the wing line then coming up by the side of the wish bone. There. But instead of going to slices, we're going find the other side of the keel bone just by feeling for it and then cut right down the side. When you feel some resistance, turn out a little bit and you'll be table to take it off all in one chunk. Perfect.
    Now, if you're got make sandwiches later tonight, maybe tomorrow, you could go ahead and just slice this up and put it into resealable bags. But since we brined this, it's kind of special. It's going to be really, really juicy even months down the road even after it's been frozen for 2 or 3 months because it's still holding on to a lot of moisture. So I'm going to freeze mine. And to do that I'm going to take a kind of 2 tiered attack.
    I'm going to use a combination of foil and plastic. The foil is especially good at stopping a phenomenon, nasty phenomenon, called freezer burn which has to do with evaporation and crystallization ... it's a ugly, bad thing. And the only thing that stops it is a complete layer of foil, heavy-duty if you've got it is best. There. Completely sealed. A little juice on there doesn't matter.
    The plastic is a completely different issue. It's to stop the flavors and odors that the meat could pick up in the freezer. Now you might think that freezer's, you know, pretty free of strange odors but believe me an ice maker alone can generate some of the funkiest tastes you've ever had on meat. And of course, you can always put a nice label on here: return to sender, whatever. Always a good idea to label food.
    As for this bad boy here, oh I got plans for this but, uh, that's another show.

Front Steps

    Whatever you do this Thanksgiving keep the turkey in Turkey Day ... for the leftovers if nothing else. Just remember: buy the right sized bird for your crowd, thaw it properly, brine it, skip the stuffing, roast at two temperatures, keep the oven door closed and save the bulb-baster for, I don't know, something else. I'm Alton Brown. This is Good Eats. See you next year.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010