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I love Thanksgiving! However, as the true conservative that I am, I don’t outsource my cooking like John Edwards outsources his Christmas shopping for his kid’s Playstation 3. I roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty and destroy the kitchen because that’s the way my American ancestors wanted it. Through trial, error antd much tribulation, I have re-captured the Thanksgiving spirit and hope to inspire you to do the same. Here’s the secret: it all centers around cooking the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey.
Like the war in Iraq, it’s been a long slog. However, to admit defeat now would be an unmitigated disaster. What kind of lesson would that be for my kids? My name would be “Mud” in the neighborhood, and my wife would never trust me to cook for the family again – Christmas dinner would be non-negotiable and Fourth of July cookouts might come to an end, as well.
There is a lot at stake every time I do battle with Tom Turkey, but make no mistake, I am up to the task.
Sure, there have been setbacks along the way. When any battle plan meets the enemy, everything changes. The Thanksgiving of 1996 comes to mind. It was just after Bill Clinton had won re-election over the great World War II hero, Bob Dole. I was despondent for my country and myself. Neither Bill nor Hillary had shown America any leadership in tax cutting, morality or cooking (Bill was hung up on Big Macs), and I knew the only way to improve upon my patriotic spirit was to honor the Pilgrims and Native Americans (I was born here, that makes me a “Native American” doesn’t it? Note to self: save for later column) by preparing my first Thanksgiving feast. I didn’t need help from friends, relatives, local restaurants, and especially no help from Swansons Hungry Man TV dinners. No, like our brave forefathers who struggled mightily against the elements, disease, famine and their own horrific sense of fashion (they put the “grim” in “Pilgrim”), I was determined to spend the entire Thanksgiving day doing for myself. No more wallowing in sorrow over the Clintons attempts to socialize medicine or promote “Midnight Basketball” – perhaps the shallowest idea from a thoroughly shallow administration. I was determined to honor the American spirit and celebrate my individualism.
It was my first imperfect step toward perfecting a self-made Thanksgiving turkey.
Having lived in two of the great barbecue capitals of the world, Kansas City and Dallas, I had developed a fondness for barbecue (second note to self – column on what style of barbecue is best Texas, Kansas City or Carolina – a debate second only to abortion in intensity). In my mind, slow-smoking meat added flavors that could mask any mistakes an amateur like me might make: Poor choice of turkey, cooking a turkey that’s not completely thawed, unbalanced seasonings. These things would be lost/covered up in the wonderful taste of hickory-smoked turkey.
Nevertheless, I suffered a rather grievous defeat. I admitted my mistake and slogged on. Frankly, I had not calculated the “dryness” factor in slow-cooking. Turkey is a lean meat and I learned why gravy has become the universal cure-all for slow-cookers. Seeking a moist, succulent turkey is a counter-intuitive journey. In an effort to create such a delicacy, we baste, we employ the use of foil, embedded thermometers. Everything except the use of a Cross to ward off whatever Dracula-like force sucks the moisture out of our once-a-year dinners (third note to self – try asbestos Cross next year).
Like the persistent Pilgrims who sacrificed everything so you and I could have a much-needed four-day weekend, I stuck with my Turkey Day experimentations in the kitchen and have created the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey recipe for you and yours. I have countered the counter-intuitive problem of cooking lean meat and preserving what little moisture it has. As a result, I now use gravy as a flavor enhancement and not a moisture-delivery system.
Here’s the secret: Cook your turkey at a very high temperature. Cooking your bird faster is the only way to successfully combat the moisture riddle wrapped in a mystery inside your oven. It is the answer to all your gravy-fixing problems.
Rusty’s Roast Turkey
16-18 pound turkey, tops. Heavier birds are still a work in progress
2 teaspoons kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 cups turkey or chicken broth
3 cloves garlic (whole)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Quick, and necessary tips: Basting is not allowed. This discourages skin caramelization and creates wild fluctuations in cooking temperatures (thank you Thanksgiving of 1999). Also, and most important, make sure your turkey is completely thawed (credit Thanksgiving 2001).
Dry your thawed turkey, inside and out. Use a paper towel, not a hair dryer (Thanksgiving 2003). Preheat oven to 475F. Mix the vegetable oil, salt and pepper together and then brush on or rub the oil and seasonings mix on the turkey – inside and out. Put the 1/2 lemon, 3 cloves of garlic, and the 3 sprigs of fresh thyme inside the cavity. Fold neck skin under body and tie drumsticks together with kitchen string. Pour the broth in the roasting pan and then place the seasoned turkey in the pan. Cover, do not wrap, the turkey with aluminum foil. Put the pan on a rack in the 475F oven and cook for two hours.
Cook the stuffing in a pan, not the bird.
While the turkey is cooking, fight the urge to baste it. To take your mind off this unnecessary and harmful practice, read the Declaration of Independence. It will demoralize any liberals you might have mistakenly invited over. Then, read the Constitution. Read aloud Article II. That is the part that sets out the powers of the Executive Branch, i.e, the president. Take this opportunity to remind your guests the president is the commander-in-chief, not the now Democrat-controlled Congress. That will really tick them off and you will forget about the basting no-no!
After two hours, open the over for the first time and don’t baste anything! Just take out the aluminum foil and cook at 425F for 20 minutes to brown the skin. Thigh meat should register 170F at this time. Let stand 20 minutes before carving/bragging. Cut the string, thank me and tell all your friends to listen to The Rusty Humphries Show.
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