My First Turkey

As we all know, I live by a “go big or go home” philosophy. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth going full tilt, right? In keeping with this, I decided that for my first Thanksgiving as an unvegetarian in the last decade and a half, I should cook a turkey. However, seeing as I had never cooked a turkey before, I was hesitant to invite anyone over to eat said turkey, because I didn’t want there to be any pressure on me in case the turkey turned out to be overcooked and dry or salmonella-licious! Also, the first time I cook *anything*, I find I have to really concentrate to not screw it up, so I’d be a terrible hostess if I invited anyone over and tried to cook a turkey dinner while I entertained. So, instead, I decide to cook a turkey for just me!

My first step was to find a good local butcher shop where I could buy a turkey that had happily run around, eating non-animal foodstuffs and gobble-gobble-gobbling with his turkey friends until such time as someone killed him in the most humane way possible so that I could eat him. I ended up ordering at turkey from Prime Beef in Delta – despite their name, they have lots of animals for you to cook besides cows! Now, I asked for the smallest bird they could get me, which they said would be about 10 lbs. Ten pounds is a lot of bird for one small Beth, but I am a fan of leftovers and turkey freezes well, so I decided to go for it. When I got there to pick it up on Saturday, however, I discovered that the smallest turkey they had, which they reserved for me was this one:

Free range turkey.
My Thanksgiving turkey. I believe his name was Colin.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. That’s a *sixteen* pound turkey! All for one person! Eep! Thank the FSM that turkey freezes well!

Anyway, after carefully following the directions that my sister gave me, I ended up with this:

My first turkey

Not a bad looking turkey, if I do say so myself!

Now, some random thoughts on cooking a turkey dinner:

  • Preparing the turkey brought me back to my lab days. I examined the giblets – “Yup, that’s a liver. And yup, that’s a heart. And, wow, that’s one heck of a long neck!” – and checked out the bones and flexed the joints – “These all seem to be in working order.” When I cut up the meat at the end, I was totally checking out the different muscles and where they inserted into the various bones. So awesome. Also, a turkey baster is just a giant pipette.
  • Once it turned out that my turkey was moist and delicious, I really wished I’d invited people over to share it with me!
  • It’s not that difficult to cook a turkey, but it is time consuming.
  • I also made a boatload of sides dishes, because it’s not a Thanksgiving dinner without them. Side dishes included:
    • roast garlic mashed potatoes
    • mashed turnips
    • steamed carrots and peas
    • baked brussel sprouts
    • Harvard beets1
    • stuffing
    • homemade cranberry sauce, made by my friend Lianna!
  • When I cook, probably my biggest weakness is not coordinating things so that everything is ready at the same time. Often, this is because I forgot that two things need the same pot until I’m partway through making them – and I have a limited number of pots – and thus something ends up done too early and gets cold and other things end up too late. To deal with this problem, I made the following Gantt chart:

Thanksgiving dinner Gantt chart

The great thing about the Gantt chart was that I could start laying up prep & cooking times and make sure that I wasn’t going to need the same pot for two things at the same time (Resource column), or to make sure that I didn’t have myself scheduled to be preparing two different things at the same time (represented in blue, I just had to make sure that I didn’t have more than one blue square at any one time slot). It took a bit of shuffling around to get it to work, but once it was set up, it allowed me to quickly look and see what the next thing I needed to do was. Best. Gantt Chart. Ever!

In conclusion, I’m happy to report that Colin was delicious and I can now add “cooking turkey” onto my list of “things that I can do.” (Cooking gravy, on the other hand, remains on my unachievable list.)



  1. As I said on Twitter, even my beets are nerdy! []

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  • Assuming you have enormous leftovers, here is a little tip. Put some of the turkey through a meat grinder (or perhaps a food processor, but I’ve always had access to a meat grinder around the holidays.) When ready to eat, mix a bowl of ground turkey with a spoon or two of mayonnaise and enough olive oil to get that mayo evenly distributed (as it will seriously want to clump, but I figure as a nutritionist you wouldn’t want to go for a 25% mayonnaise mixture.) Play around with seasonings if you like. The end result may look like an unappetizing paste. Yet from the bowl or between slices of bread, it is a delightful way to eat leftover turkey without reheating the stuff.


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  • Following my sister’s instructions, I brined it (though not overnight, like I hear most people do) and then followed the instructions in the Good Housekeeping Cookbook (which is sort of my bible of cooking basic things) – basically, coat it in canola oil, cook at 325 degrees F, basting every 20-30 minutes until the internal temperature of the bird reached 180 degrees F. From what everyone I talked to said, the most important thing is to make sure you use a meat thermometer and take it out once it hits 180 degrees. Also, before you cut it, you have to let it rest ~15-20 minutes. Let me know how it goes when you do one!


  • I, too, have never made my own turkey. I’ve helped my Mom and Dave’s family, but never done my own. We are not fans of dark meat, though, so it seems like a huge waste for us to make it. But yours? Looks delectable. Go yoU!


  • You know, I always thought I didn’t like dark meat because growing up, my mom always said white meat was way better. But I ate the dark meat from this turkey and it was delicious!


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