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! []

7 Replies to “My First Turkey”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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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