Talking Turkey: The More Things Change

After a 20-year ban, columnist Gerry Boylan is given a Thanksgiving turkey assignment.

It truly seems to be a function of getting older that the world seems to spin faster and faster every day. The rate of pace of technology is dizzying and even a nearly sexagenarian like me finds myself using my smart phone for directions and to settle an argument with a quick Google reference check.

(Older writers like me live to use words like sexagenarian because while it only means I'm nearing my 60th birthday, it evokes all sorts of other possibly more provocative meanings!)

But even as life's velocity increases, a gem of aging is that some things seem to never change. My case in point is a review of the beginning of the holiday season, which is what Thanksgiving is in our house. The lovely Kathy decided that I would be in charge of the turkey this year. This was a break in about a 20 year tradition that banned me from turkey cooking due to a few technical glitches that had unintended negative consequences to our family dinner.

I should probably name a few: My turkeys had a tendency to be done at unpredictable times ranging from 10 a.m. to midnight. I also often tried to jazz up the dressing with unusual food items. Pieces of everything bagels, pretzels and saltines were greeted with eye rolls, but my experience taught me that adding Pop-tarts or Twinkies is taking innovation too far.

The final straw was an attempt to follow a Joy of Cooking recipe that called for an 'open weaved cheesecloth' to be placed over the turkey and constant basting. I couldn't find any cheesecloth (for that matter, I don't even know what cheesecloth is. Does any man?) so I substituted a dishcloth, which seemed at the time to be a good 'open weaved' replacement.  Unfortunately, I did not know that the dish cloth had some plastic component that upon heating up, melted directly into the skin of the turkey and emitted a smoke that overpowered our vent fan and smoke alarms. Turkey ala-dishcloth, anyone?

That incident led to a secret family vote and Kathy passed on the dire decree of the turkey ban. Apparently the culinary memories faded over the last 20 years and I made the mistake of making certain editorial comments on the thickness of the gravy last year, which apparently resulted in the new turkey assignment for 2012.

Talking turkey

I approached the task with gusto, immediately doing what I do best, which is to delegate.  As luck would have it, a volunteer emerged in the form of my son-in-law Steve Crepeau.

If there were a son-in-law hall of fame, Steve would be shoo-in. One of life's true blessings is if the folks who enter your family life via marriage are wonderful people. There are many reasons why Steve fits that bill, with one of them is that he willingly takes over grill duty for nearly every family barbecue and performs with skill and aplomb.

When he heard about my turkey assignment, he noted that he had always wanted to smoke a turkey and would be willing to try if I could arrange for a smoker. My good friend, John McEntee provided a loaner and his son Scott offered some good advice, including directing us to a very informative website called the Virtual Weber Bullet. (http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/) They also strongly advised that 16 pounds would be the biggest turkey they would cook in it.

Big bird

Of course, I forgot that little tidbit and bought a nearly 20 pounder at Trader Joe's. (Is it just me, or am I not cool enough to shop at Trader Joe's?  I just feel a little out of place shopping in my 12 year old sweat pants and much older T-shirt.)

Steve did his research and bright and early Thanksgiving morning the turkey was brined, seasoned and perched over coals and hickory chips in the bullet shaped smoker, ready for its slow eight hours toward cooking perfection. 

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly as Steve did a two-hour check to see how the bird was progressing.  He noticed that the grate seemed a little askew and as he tried to gently reposition the-too-big-for-the-smoker-turkey, well, it took on a life of its own. I swear the fowl seemed to flutter its drumsticks just as it leapt off the grate, tipped south and torpedoed directly down through the turkey juice/fat pan, the water/chip tray directly into the red hot coals.

Fowl disaster

Steve looked up at me and calmly reported: "Turkey Disaster."  I panicked and ran into the house and as my daughter Shannon described, danced in a tight circle with my hands flapping in the air shouting, "Turkey disaster, turkey disaster!"  I don't think it was quite that bad, but a flood of previous turkey debacles were replaying in my mind.

But Steve was quick-witted and quick handed and using the trusty oven-mitts, he thrust his hands into the smoker and retrieved the now ash and coal dust covered Tom. I opened the door to the house and followed Steve to the sink where we quickly and thoroughly triaged the lamentable fowl. It was sprayed and washed clean in a jiffy and before you could say gobble-gobble, this turkey was in a cooking bag and in the oven.

Kathy had been thankfully absent for the calamity, but did notice the turkey had magically appeared in the oven. I answered her quizzical look with, "It's all part of the master turkey plan!"

Smoked Turkey Torpedo Method

Several hours later, the turkey emerged victorious and for a first, right on time for the scheduled dinner hour. It sliced in clean, succulent slices that would have made my dad proud. And the commentary from the numerous family diners actually elicited numerous compliments regarding the smoked flavor and juicy texture.

Steve and I are thinking about doing a YouTube video on our newly concocted recipe for how to cook the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. We would call it the Smoked Turkey Torpedo Method.  But I'm pretty sure an eye roll from the lovely Kathy will put the nix on that endeavor and our shot at minor culinary glory.

It really is a "you can't make this stuff up" kind of world! Please feel free to share your holiday miscues and mishaps. I hope I've set the table for your stories.

It's Monday: Let's go!

Columnist Gerry Boylan is the author of the novel: Getting There and the short story collection Gerry Tales. Both can be found at Amazon.com and the Yellow Door in Berkley Michigan. His website is:


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