Your First Thanksgiving Dinner:
Thank you for calling the Butterball hotline…. now let’s talk turkey.
At some point, every couple hosts its first big Thanksgiving dinner. There’s no right or wrong way to cook a 20 lb. bird, at least according to the patron Saint of Chefs (ok, there’s no such patron saint, but chances are someone in the extended family of ex-husbands and ex-brothers-in-law plays the role of farm-to-table epicurean, cites the Times restaurant critic Pete Wells instead of arguing whether Detroit should go for it on Fourth and Inches, and deconstructs the trendy resurgence of Watergate Salad, a fact gleaned from the pages of Facebook).
However, cooking a turkey as the host on your first Thanksgiving dinner for a full house while juggling friends and moderating in-laws like a UN peacekeeper is a daunting task, especially if you want to show off and flash some culinary cred in the kitchen. You can’t just toss the turkey on the Weber and walk away. Still, it’s your task; it’s part solo workout, part Shakespearean monologue. Hell, you even made the 20-person table with artisan plywood and sawhorses. When, ten days before the big meal, Uncle Jon Balaya and his girlfriend, Nicole Slaw, suggested that the Thanksgiving menu be a collaborative effort, you freaked out and started ranting and raving about the evils of collective farming.
Thanksgiving features all sorts of Dr. Seuss-like surrealism. Green eggs and ham is replaced by bourbon-glazed turkey and Duchess baked potatoes, Who-Hash swapped for stuffing, and Truffula Fruit traded for pumpkin pie. And chances are someone at the table, perhaps that West Coast liberal who runs a Yoga studio, goes full Lorax and starts speaking for the trees… or if not the trees, then for organic and sustainable farming. “Wait, hold on, is this pasture-raised meat?”
In other words,
You can cook the bird on a grill… braised, deep fried or smoked
or stuff its wingspan in the stove and hope the thermometer doesn’t choke.
Deep-fried or dehydrated, Tarducken or bacon-wrapped
vacuum sealed, souse vide, and immersed in a water bath,
but doesn’t that leave the turkey pruned, no good for leftover scraps?
Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be America’s national symbol, which means you have freedom of choice when it comes to cooking up that almost national bird on Thanksgiving. If your traditions are untraditional, that’s your right. Feel free to whip up a Butterball using the molecular gastronomy techniques of Ferran Andria.
However you decide to prepare the turkey for hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner don’t stress. Have a nip of of Wild Turkey ready in the carving knife drawer. And while it may lack the elegance of a Zen mantra, remember the entertaining philosophy: “What’s better than good? Good enough.”
That’s something to be thankful for.