Your Gigantic Thanksgiving Turkey Might Be in Danger
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If you're buying Butterball turkey, that is
Your extra-large Butterball turkey might decrease in size this year.
Well, this might be another reason to get a heritage turkey this year: The Los Angeles Times reports that Butterball has announced a shortage of "fresh large birds," less than two weeks before Thanksgiving.
According to the Times, Butterball turkeys have had trouble "gaining weight on some of its farms," for unexplained reasons. "We experienced a decline in weight gains on some of our farms causing a limited availability of large, fresh turkeys," a Butterball statement read. Frozen large turkeys, weighing 16 pounds, are still available in the meantime, as well as smaller fresh turkeys.
A shortage might not sound that drastic when it comes to turkeys, but Butterball reportedly churns out 41 million turkeys a year. According to the Times, one out of every four turkeys cooked up on Thanksgiving is from Butterball. Meanwhile, Butterball notes its turkey production will be back to normal by Christmas, but people are already moving onto roast beef by then.
Thanksgiving is going to look very different in America this year. For one thing, political dinner conversations may be tenser than usual. But more importantly: Holiday travel is risky, and planning an appropriately distanced and safe Thanksgiving meal requires stressful mental gymnastics. For those who aren’t canceling the gathering entirely, safety is a major concern. As Zeeshan Aleem recently reported for Vox, two in five Americans say they are likely to attend a large holiday gathering this holiday season.
As a result, families and friends are adjusting their festivities to meet pandemic limitations. But smaller, socially distanced gatherings might create a certain staleness at your celebration. After all, at the heart of Thanksgiving — when you ignore the brutal colonial part — is togetherness. Americans who try to split the difference between celebrating and staying safe will refrain from hugging, eat at comically large tables or outside in colder temperatures in some parts of the country, and even wear masks during the meal. These are necessary precautions, but a strained way to host a celebration.
I’d like to suggest a method to prevent an uninspired pandemic Thanksgiving: Try partaking in the ritual of deep-frying a turkey, an exhilarating outdoor spectacle that feels strikingly, almost aggressively American. Amid all this madness, we might as well turn Thanksgiving into an extreme sport.
If you deep-fry your turkey this year, you can brag about your skills to your distant relatives, your coworkers, or your Instagram followers. What better way to enjoy a complicated holiday about American gratitude than by stunting on your neighbors? It’s a recipe that’s beautiful in its simplicity: Take a turkey, and, using a pulley system, submerge it in bubbling oil as your loved ones look on admiringly. Your family could possibly even drop by, wrap up a plate, and dip out to their respective homes. Watching football inside with your cousins feels unwise this year, but standing 6 feet apart to watch a sizzling-hot meal be prepared? It’s basically 2020 genius. If you want something a little more pedestrian and a little less performative this season, you could go for Arby’s new lineup of deep-fried turkey sandwiches, but intuition tells me that a DIY project is the more satisfying endeavor.
According to a 2015 Vogue article, Cajun chef Justin Wilson was the first person to report seeing a turkey deep-fried — way back in the 1930s. It was a popular Creole country dish that didn’t take off in the rest of America until the 1980s and ’90s (Martha Stewart had a 1996 recipe). Although one in four Americans is cutting back on their meat intake, and more health-conscious consumers might be wary of frying, now is the time to make the jump. As Luke Winkie previously reported for Vox, turkey farmers this year are uncertain about what the holiday season will bring business-wise, so they’re trying to get creative with smaller birds and different presentations. Why not match them by getting creative with your own preparation?
Into the oil
To deep-fry a turkey, you can buy a turkey-frying kit — available everywhere from Home Depot to Dick’s Sporting Goods — with all the essentials: a pot the size of a small child, plus a lifting hook to dunk your bird into and pull it out of the vat. A cooking thermometer would also be helpful, to know when the oil is hot enough (Epicurious recommends starting to fry when the oil reaches 375 degrees). You’ll also need a propane burner and a full propane tank.
Christine Byrne, a food journalist and recipe developer, has been deep-frying turkeys at Thanksgiving for about six years. She used to smoke or roast her turkeys but moved toward frying because it’s much quicker — it only takes her 30 to 40 minutes (online consensus says it typically takes three to four minutes per pound of turkey). “We have a whole pulley system rigged up on our bottom deck,” she told me. “We actually put the fryer oil on the deck outside, and hook the pulley up so that we can lower the turkey really slowly into the hot oil, which helps because you can’t drop it too fast. Otherwise the temperature will change too quickly, and it might overflow or explode.”
Not all turkey insiders are fans of the method, however. The director of consumer affairs for the National Turkey Federation (yes, apparently that’s a thing) once described deep-frying a turkey as “staring into a loaded double-barrel shotgun. One barrel is a cardiologist’s nightmare, the other . is a microbiologist’s worst dream come true.” Apparently, the federation was worried about the risk of undercooking the meat, but according to the US Department of Agriculture, as long as a turkey has an internal temperature of 165 degrees or more, it should be all good, even if it is slightly pink. Still, all I hear is a fantastic endorsement. We all deserve to eat something gluttonous this year! If it’s prepared correctly, microbiology shouldn’t come into play at all.
But safety is a concern because of Covid-19, because of our easily clogged arteries, and because of, well, the giant vat of hot oil being tended by amateurs. So preparation and awareness are key. First and foremost — and this is not to scare you — there should be a fire extinguisher present. Better safe than sorry: More cooking-related fires happen on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year and result in $15 million in damages annually. YouTube is littered with terrifying videos of turkey-frying gone wrong, and these instances are preventable.
Scott F. Pilgreen, Alabama’s state fire marshal, spoke with me about how to stay safe when deep-frying a turkey. He recommends that would-be fryers invest in the proper oil — something with a high flashpoint (the temperature at which the oil will begin to burn). Most resources online suggest peanut oil.
Byrne recommends making sure your turkey is dry before frying it, to prevent dangerous splattering. (The internet concurs.) “The turkey ideally will be room temperature when you start frying it because that helps prevent too fast of a temperature change. If the turkey is refrigerator cold and your oil is 350 degrees, that’s a big difference,” she said.
Pilgreen agrees that completely thawing your turkey is a key part of a safe experience. “The last thing you want to do is put a frozen turkey into that boiling oil,” he said. And oil maintenance is key: “Make sure you don’t overfill the fryer. Make sure there’s enough distance between where you’re frying and the building that you’re adjacent to, whether it be your home, your apartment, or your camper.” He also pleads with people to watch the fryer carefully and never leave it unattended. “That’s probably one of the worst things that one can do, once you have the frying going on, is leaving it unattended. It’d be no different than leaving something on your stovetop in your house,” he said. Onlookers should stay far apart and have one to two people lower the turkey into the oil, which works to limit potential virus spread, too.
“Don’t disrespect what’s going on, because it can be dangerous,” Pilgreen warns. “Fried turkeys are good. If you’ve never had one, they’re excellent, but let’s just be safe in doing it.”
Last year, my boyfriend’s family deep-fried a turkey. We ran outside, nervous with excitement, ready to see the show. It was a nail-biter of an experience we were prepared for the worst with a fire extinguisher in tow, but there were no accidents and the turkey was perfect — crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and made that much better by the experience of watching it get plunged into a giant vat of boiling oil. The drama of it all was deliciously satisfying: There in front of me was a pot of oil, loved ones, and a now deep-fried turkey, all captured on video in the cold November air. Sure, I fled as soon as the bird hit oil (I’m a baby), but it was the best Thanksgiving I can remember having in a long time.
This ritual gives us something that we can control, something warm to look forward to and look back on. The pandemic may have stolen a lot of fun from us, but a memorable Thanksgiving is something we might be able to pull off with a little elbow grease and a giant hunk of fried meat — and isn’t that just the most American thing? After the year we’ve all had, a deep-fried turkey — a reason to gather safely outdoors and be thankful — is better than anything we could possibly wish for.
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The ultimate speedy bird
Deep-frying a turkey can be dangerous if you’re not careful, but it’s not difficult. (Christine Hochkeppel for The Boston Globe)
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Do an online search for the words “deep-fried turkey’’ and it will not be long until you stumble across a video of someone creating a giant flame ball that burns down his or her house and possibly half the town. That, friends, is why I recently decided to attempt this feat. Danger makes me hungry. And so does turkey. Enough people have told me that after tasting deep-fried turkey, they will never, ever put a bird in the oven again. Ming Tsai deep-fries turkeys. Michael Leviton deep-fries turkeys. Alton Brown deep-fries turkeys. Paula Deen deep-fries turkeys (like you had to ask). These people know what’s what. This year, I want my Thanksgiving turkey to be the juiciest, most flavorful ever, with the crispest skin. Could deep-frying be the key?
The first step in finding out was to track down a turkey fryer. I’m not the only one who keeps hearing how great deep-fried turkey is, apparently, because in the month before Thanksgiving, kits are available at half the hardware and sporting goods stores in town. I picked one up at Lowe’s for about $65: a Masterbuilt 30-quart propane turkey fryer that came with pot, burner, hose, thermometer, turkey rack, and lifting hook. (If I’d had my druthers, I would have purchased a similar kit made by Bayou Classic, which gets good reviews. You can order it on Amazon , if you’re not out for instant gratification.) All I needed now was a turkey, the propane tank from our grill, and an alarming amount of peanut oil. You can substitute a different kind, such as safflower just make sure it’s one with a high smoke point. I obtained a 35-pound vat at Costco for about $30. Deep-frying a turkey is not necessarily the most economical kind of cooking you will ever set out to do, but the oil can be strained and reused. If you want to justify the expense of the deep-fryer, just tell yourself it’s also a seafood boiler: two tools in one. For the safety-inclined, there are also oil-free turkey fryers that use infrared heat. To me, if there’s not a vat of hot oil, it’s not deep-frying.
Next, it was time to determine how much oil to use. The best method for doing so is to put your turkey in the pot and pour water in, keeping track of how much, until the turkey is submerged by an inch or two. The amount of water you used is the amount of oil you will need. After, dry your pot thoroughly. When I broke out my pot, I discovered it had a fill line already marked, so I skipped the measuring step.
On to preparing the turkey. Ours was fresh, but if you use a frozen one, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted. Also, be sure to remove any plastic pop-up devices, possibly the only thing in the world that doesn’t taste good deep-fried. For the outside of the bird, I kept things simple and rubbed it with a healthy amount of kosher salt, figuring a significant amount of whatever went on the skin would come off in the oil. Then I used a syringe-like marinade injector to flavor the meat with a mixture of chicken broth, beer, Worcestershire sauce, and Frank’s hot sauce - in other words, a bunch of stuff I had handy. You probably already have your favorite rub and marinade I’m pretty sure you can’t go far wrong in this department. Ideally, you’d let the turkey marinate overnight, but see above point re: instant gratification. We let it sit around for a few hours while we drank bourbon and ate cheese. One of the best things about frying a turkey is that it’s a great excuse to have a party: holiday optional.
One of the other best things is that the bird takes very little time to cook. A 12- to 14-pound turkey needs to roast for 3 to 3 1/4 hours. A bird of the same size will fry up in 36 to 47 minutes. For deep-frying, a good rule of thumb is three minutes per pound, plus an additional five minutes for bigger birds. (For a truly giant bird, you might be better off using the oven, simply because your pot will only accommodate so much turkey while still cooking it efficiently.) So when hunger pangs began to strike, it was time to heat the oil.
It must be said, though it almost goes without saying, that turkey frying should only be done outdoors. We lucked out with a clear, warm day. Right now the long-range forecast is predicting lows in the mid-40s and a 30 percent chance of rain for Nov. 26. Bad weather could make your short cooking time feel significantly longer. We also quickly learned that our propane tank was empty. Not a problem on a random Sunday afternoon, but if you plan to deep-fry a turkey on Thanksgiving, when stores are closed, check your tank beforehand. Yes, I know, we were sure we had just filled ours, too.
When the oil reached 350 degrees - which took about 15 minutes longer than the half-hour I expected - I dried the bird thoroughly, inside and out. Hot oil plus water is not a good combination. Then the turkey went on the rack, we turned off the burner, and we lowered the bird into the pot. The oil bubbled up in true Macbethian fashion - if you leave the flame burning, this could indeed double your toil and trouble. After the oil subsided, we relit the flame to bring it back to temperature. We then discovered two things: The pope’s nose wasn’t quite submerged, so the fill line on our pot wasn’t particularly trustworthy we could have used a few more inches of oil. And the oil didn’t want to reheat. No matter how high we turned the flame, we struggled to keep the temperature at 350. Previously worried about the oil getting too hot - for safety’s sake, don’t let it get above 400 degrees - we were now concerned about it not being hot enough.
Really, we shouldn’t have worried. Frying a turkey can be dangerous if you’re not careful, but it’s not difficult. About 35 minutes later, we were pulling a beautiful, golden-brown bird out of the pot. A thermometer inserted into the breast registered 160. We put the turkey on a plate and let it rest for a few minutes to let the temperature get a bit higher and to keep the juices in.
Then we carved it. The turkey was visibly juicy. Would the meat taste as good as it looked? Simply: yes. It was tender and full of flavor - even the white meat, which may have been the juiciest white meat I’ve ever had. The skin was crisp, though not as crisp as it would have been if our oil had stayed consistently at 350. Nonetheless, I don’t think I could produce a turkey quite this delicious in the oven. (Nor could we have made an impromptu batch of onion rings, though, sadly, we never got around to battering and deep-frying our leftover Halloween candy.) And with the turkey in the fryer, there’s room to bake even more pies.
On the other hand, when I sign up for Thanksgiving, I’m signing up to spend time with friends and family, usually indoors and in a semi-civilized fashion. I’m not signing up to baby-sit, which is what one has to do with a deep-frying turkey. There are few things better than cooking food outdoors with some of your favorite people, but that feels more like tailgating, less like a holiday of humble gratitude. Also, there’s something about the house filling up with the smell of the roasting bird, hour after hour. And there’s something about gravy - oh, gravy, it’s not Thanksgiving without you. If you deep-fry your bird, there are no pan juices. You’ll have to make alternate arrangements, which may mean you wind up roasting a bunch of turkey pieces anyway (you can buy spare parts and/or use your turkey’s neck and giblets for this). Also, some say fried turkey leftovers don’t taste as good as roasted. I wouldn’t know. There were no leftovers.
Ultimately, I think our Thanksgiving turkey will wind up in the oven this year, simply for logistical ease: It means preparing everything in the kitchen, rather than running in and out. But the winter solstice is coming up in less than a month. It sounds like a fine excuse for a party.
Food Safety Tips for Your Holiday Turkey
Planning a holiday celebration? See CDC&rsquos considerations to help protect you, your family, and friends from COVID-19.
Handling poultry (chickens and turkey) incorrectly and undercooking it are the most common problems that lead to foodborne disease outbreaks linked to poultry. 1 Follow these four tips to help you safely prepare your next holiday turkey meal.
1. Thaw Your Turkey Safely
- In the refrigerator in a container
- In a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes) or
- In the microwave, following the microwave oven manufacturer&rsquos instructions.
Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the &ldquodanger zone&rdquo between 40°F and 140°F.
Federal food safety advice has recommended against washing turkey or chicken since 2005, but some habits are hard to break. A 2020 survey* found that 78% of participants reported washing or rinsing turkey before cooking. Old recipes and family cooking traditions may keep this practice going, but it can make you and your family sick. Poultry juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops.
2. Handle Your Turkey the Right Way
Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. Follow the four steps to food safety&mdashclean, separate, cook, and chill&mdashto prevent the spread of bacteria to your food, family, and friends.
- with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling turkey.
- Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey.
- Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board, or other surface that previously held raw turkey.
- Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing turkey and before you prepare the next item.
3. Cook Stuffing Thoroughly
Cooking stuffing separately from the turkey in a casserole dish makes it easy to be sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking.
With either cooking method, use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing&rsquos center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then cause food poisoning. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing this allows it to cook a little more. Learn more about how to prepare stuffing safely.
Use a food thermometer to check for a safe internal temperature.
4. Cook Your Turkey Thoroughly
Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times external icon will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you should still use a food thermometer to check that it is safely cooked.
Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures external icon and how to use a food thermometer external icon for turkey and other foods.
The bacteria Clostridium perfringens grows in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.
- Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December. 2
- Many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.
Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within 2 hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat, such as a roast turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they can cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving.
Americans prize colossal Thanksgiving turkeys — hulking burnished centerpiece beasts that make the dinner table groan.
Butcher Jered Standing can attest to that. Among his holiday memories from working in the Whole Foods meat department: donning a headlamp, climbing into a refrigerated trailer and digging through piles of 28-to-30-pounders, the ones he calls “dinosaur turkeys,” to appease shoppers in search of the fattest fowl.
But Thanksgiving gatherings will be smaller this year, and turkeys, too, are getting downsized. That’s affecting the entire supply chain as consumers, butchers, meat suppliers, grocers and chefs jostle to secure slender birds for the holiday, when a staggering 46 million are eaten. In many cases, it’s already too late: The little ones were spoken for long ago.
“Nine out of 10 people want the small birds,” said Standing, who now owns Standing’s Butchery in Hollywood. “I tried to get more — people are calling every day. They’re just not available.”
“We’re left with larger sizes,” said Yasser Elhawary of LA Fresh Poultry on Virgil Avenue. “A lot of people aren’t buying them because they’re not small enough. I try to tell them you can’t go wrong with leftovers — you can always make turkey breast sandwiches.”
To prevent their turkeys from becoming behemoths, farms that raise poults, as the young birds are known, slaughtered them weeks earlier than usual this year. Supermarkets have been adjusting their inventory to carry more modestly proportioned birds. Butchers are breaking down oversized turkeys and selling them in parts. And instead of whole-turkey dinners for large parties, restaurants are offering Thanksgiving takeout meals for two people some are serving chicken or duck instead.
In pre-pandemic times, the turkeys at Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma would gorge on grass, bugs and fruit deep into autumn, free to balloon in size unchecked. Not so in 2020, when they were weighed frequently with an eye toward keeping most in the 10-to-15-pound range. The first batch of birds was processed on Oct. 26, as soon as they hit target weight.
“There were very few people who wanted an 18-to-20-pound turkey,” business manager Isabel Squire said. “Normally we’d process all of our turkeys the week before Thanksgiving so that they were fresh. Unfortunately, because we’re needing to be so specific about our sizing this year, the birds are going to be slightly frozen.”
Just 40% of the turkeys sold this month at Gelson’s have exceeded 16 pounds, down from 80% in a normal November, said Paul Kneeland, the grocery chain’s vice president of fresh operations.
“We’ve seen a significant shift to 10-to-16s,” he said. “We actually had to get more because our pre-orders for the smaller birds went way up.”
With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide and officials urging people to celebrate with immediate family only, 70% of Americans are planning a Thanksgiving gathering with fewer than six people, according to Nielsen. That’s compared with 48% in 2019.
A general rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey meat per person, which means even a relatively scrawny 10-pounder will still be too big for many get-togethers. So turkey sellers are selling individual pieces in addition to whole birds.
“This was the first year I did parts, which is not usually something I’d do — I want the turkeys to come in whole and leave whole because that’s much, much easier,” Standing said. “But this time I asked for some big birds that we could cut up and do breasts and legs.”
At Butterball, a spokeswoman said the turkey brand “ramped up production” of several items, including bone-in and boneless breasts, in recent months to accommodate smaller groups.
Restaurants that are offering turkey pieces have seen huge demand. At All Day Baby, the individually smoked two-pound turkey legs ($19 per leg, intended to serve one to two people) sold out days before the $130 whole-smoked turkey for six to eight people. Co-owner Lien Ta began keeping a wait list, which had 32 names on it by the time she was able to secure more turkey legs on Wednesday.
That was also the case at Yang’s Kitchen in Alhambra, which quickly ran out of its Thanksgiving turkey leg dinners and was waiting to hear from its purveyors on how many more legs it could obtain.
“We may be able to offer additional dinners with a whole roasted chicken sub in place of the turkey legs,” the restaurant said in an Instagram story on Monday.
Turkeys destined for Thanksgiving are typically hatched over the summer, and retail buyers make purchasing decisions months in advance. Those who correctly predicted smaller pandemic-era holiday gatherings early had the best chance of being able to adjust their orders accordingly.
Gelson’s reached out in June to its usual turkey suppliers, Pitman Family Farms and Diestel Family Ranch, increasing its normal holiday order of small turkeys by 30%.
Two months later, when it had become clear that the pandemic was nowhere near under control, the Encino company called the farms back and asked for more turkeys and an even greater proportion of small ones. It also increased its inventory of turkey parts, doubling the amount of display space in the poultry sections at all 27 of its Southern California supermarkets to make room, Kneeland said.
Just how different this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations will be from years past is a matter for speculation. Two-thirds of Americans plan to celebrate in their own homes, up from 48% during the last three years on average, according to market research firm NPD Group. Some economists and farmers worry scaled-back gatherings and tight personal finances could lead to lower sales for the $4.3-billion U.S. turkey industry.
Others predict there might actually be a greater number of turkeys sold, a result of “more Thanksgiving tables but fewer people around them,” said Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst. Supermarket giant Kroger is betting that way, stocking more Thanksgiving turkeys at Ralphs and its other grocery chains, a spokeswoman said. Gelson’s estimates it will sell 30% to 40% more Thanksgiving turkeys than it did last year, when it sold 12,500.
One trend that pretty much everyone agrees on: With so many people staying home, next Thursday will see a lot of first-time Thanksgiving hosts, many of whom won’t want — or know how — to cook a feast that classically has a lot of dishes.
To entice nervous would-be cooks, Whole Foods got creative. Last week the chain announced that it had teamed with insurance company Progressive to offer a “Thanksgiving Protection Plan.” Shoppers who buy and take home a store-brand turkey by Sunday and go on to “commit a turkey cooking fail” — such as an overcooked, undercooked or burnt bird — are eligible to submit a claim the first 1,000 to do so will get a $35 gift card.
Restaurants, which have been battered by months of indoor dining restrictions and other strict measures, also see an opportunity to step in and assist.
“We had to do something just to make some revenue and keep the business afloat,” said Michael Cimarusti, chef and co-owner of Providence on Melrose Avenue. “It’s as simple as that.”
The fine-dining restaurant is offering Thanksgiving takeout meals for the first time. The smaller option, designed to feed two to three diners, sold so quickly that Cimarusti called his meat guy back hoping for 50 more turkeys.
“He only had 15,” he said. “If you have organically raised 12-to-14-pound turkeys and you want to sell them to Michael at Providence, you should reach out. This is a plea for 35 more turkeys.”
Some restaurants aren’t even bothering with turkey, opting to sell to-go meals with naturally smaller birds or no poultry at all. In downtown, Orsa & Winston is doing a Thanksgiving dinner for as few as two people with duck Manuela’s $100 “Thanksgiving Supper for 2" comes with a choice of turkey, ham or vegetarian pot pie.
In San Francisco, Birdsong also saw outsize demand for its small-party option.
“We’re doing two-, four- and six-people formats, and two has been the most popular,” accounting for 70% of orders, chef and co-owner Chris Bleidorn said. “It looks like it’s going to be a lot of personal, couples Thanksgivings.”
That won’t be true for everyone. A few farms said they were still fielding plenty of calls for large turkeys.
“I just took an order for a 26-to-28-pounder. So how many people do you think are getting together?” said Linda Gile, manager at the Willie Bird Turkeys store in Santa Rosa. “People are doing what they want to do. It is troubling, isn’t it?”
And although his days heaving massive supermarket turkeys are long behind him, Standing, too, will have at least one giant to contend with next week.
“A regular customer asked for a large bird this year the same way she did last year,” he said. “She wanted the ‘big mafia boss’ of turkeys.”
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Ultimate Thanksgiving guide: The best recipes, menus, tips and techniques for your holiday feast
Need help with Thanksgiving? We've got all your favorite recipes, plus menu ideas and tips and techniques from our Test Kitchen:
Mashed Potatoes (using Yukon Gold potatoes)
Beet Wellingtons, an elegant meat-free entree for Thanksgiving.
Dinner for Two (with Leftovers)
Roasted Turkey Parts With Gravy, a faster way to make Thanksgiving dinner.
Fortified Chicken Stock (required for Hazelnut and Whole-Wheat Stuffing recipe and Turkey Sausage and Corn Bread Stuffing recipe, below)
Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes.
Stephenson's Apple Farm Green Rice Casserole.
Apple Cranberry Pie (requires Flaky Pastry for Double-Crust Pie recipe, below)
Chocolate Hazelnut Tart (requires Sweet Tart Dough recipe, below)
Leftover turkey won't go to waste, thanks to creative recipes.
Southwestern Turkey Soup (requires Linda's Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Broth recipe, above)
Keep frozen turkey cold as it thaws
Frozen turkeys have a lot of advantages, but they come with one big drawback -- they need to be thawed, a daunting prospect considering they look and feel more like giant boulders than birds.
But thawing a turkey just takes time, plus attention to a few food-safety issues:
Keep the bird cold while it thaws. Thawing the turkey at room temperature or in a sink full of warm water will put its outer layers in the "danger zone" (between 40 and 140 degrees -- the temperatures at which bacteria multiply rapidly) while the inside still is thawing.
Thaw the turkey in its original packaging, breast-side up, on a tray in the refrigerator. You'll need a full day for every 4 pounds. Here's a cheat-sheet:
- An 8- to 12-pound turkey -- two to three days.
- A 12- to 16-pounder -- three to four days.
- A 16- to 20-pounder -- four to five days.
- Turkey breast -- two days.
Note that defrosting takes longer if your fridge is set at 35 degrees instead of 40 degrees, if you put the turkey in the back of the fridge (where it's coldest), or if you're defrosting it in a fridge you don't open very often, such as an extra one in the garage.
Quick-thaw method saves the day
Leave the turkey in its original wrapper and put it breast-side up in the sink. Add cold water to cover and change the water every 30 minutes or so to keep the water from becoming icy cold. This method takes 30 minutes per pound, or six hours for a 12-pound turkey.
Thawed turkey may be safely kept in the refrigerator for three or four days before cooking.
If you buy a commercially stuffed turkey, don't thaw it. Just cook it from frozen following the package directions.
Safety first for stuffing
Stuffing, dressing -- call it what you will, but the only way that savory companion to roast turkey can get the crunchy top we love is to bake it in its own dish. That's also the safest way to prepare it. Filling the turkey with stuffing is advisable only if you take all three of these precautions:
Make sure the stuffing is hot before you spoon it into the cavity, so that it can reach a safe temperature faster as the turkey cooks.
Do not overpack it, and use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees before serving.
If your turkey is done before the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, spoon the stuffing into a dish and finish baking it while the turkey rests.
Other words of advice from our food-safety soapbox
Wash your sink, cutting boards, utensils, counters -- anything the turkey may have touched -- thoroughly with a mild bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water).
Use a real instant-read thermometer. Pop-up timers aren't reliable so don't even bother with them.
According to the USDA, the breast, thigh and stuffing must reach 165 degrees, but FOODday prefers the texture of a turkey done to 170 in the breast and 180 in the thigh. To avoid overcooking, take the turkey out when it reaches 5 to 10 degrees before the desired temperature because it will continue to rise even after the turkey is out of the oven. Let it sit, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, which will also let the juices redistribute so you have juicy turkey instead of a juicy cutting board.
If you do stuff the turkey, heat the stuffing beforehand, and fill the turkey lightly just before it goes in the oven. This is one step you never want to do ahead. If the bird is done before the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, remove the stuffing and continue to bake it in a casserole dish until it reaches that temperature or beyond.
And here's a final note about safety: Don't roast your turkey at temperatures lower than 325 degrees. The overnight-at-200-degrees method that you may have heard about is just not safe.
Pack up leftover food before it's been sitting for two hours. Try to use shallow containers to bring the food out of the danger zone (between 40 and 140 degrees) fast. Any food that has been at room temperature longer than two hours must be tossed.
When storing leftover turkey, be sure to remove the meat from the carcass before refrigerating otherwise it'll take too long to get cold. If you want to save the carcass for broth, pick the bones clean and refrigerate the carcass separately.
Anyone who's experienced the juicy, flavorful results brining brings seems to be more than happy to take the extra steps needed. Brining is basically easy, but it does involve planning and some maneuvering of pots and pans. Here's how to wrangle your bird into moist and succulent perfection.
The bird: Use a fresh or thawed turkey, never a kosher one, which has already been salted, or a self-basting bird, which has been injected with a salt solution. Twelve- to 16-pound turkeys work best if you need to serve more people, roast two smaller birds.
The ingredients: The most basic brine solution is 2 cups kosher salt (or 1 1/2 cups table salt) to 2 gallons of cold water.
We like the additional flavorings used in Chez Panisse's recipe: 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 bay leaves, 1 bunch fresh thyme (or 4 tablespoons dried), 1 whole head garlic, 5 whole crushed allspice berries and 4 smashed juniper berries. Stir everything together until the sugar and salt dissolve. These extra ingredients will add flavor to the stuffing and gravy (if it's made with the drippings), but there won't be a distinct flavor difference in the turkey meat itself. The sugar, however, will promote browning, so if the bird is getting too dark during roasting, you can tent it with some foil.
If your recipe calls for heating the brine, be sure it's cold when you add the turkey. A warm brine could create problems with bacterial growth.
Brine the turkey for 12 to 24 hours, no more (it can get mushy).
The equipment and method: A soaking turkey is a large object, so finding a cold and stable space in which to brine it can be tricky. If there's enough room in your fridge, use a large stockpot (stainless steel, not aluminum because the salt could cause pitting) or a food-grade bucket (available at some bakeries and restaurants for a nominal charge). You can also use a plastic oven-roasting bag (though double or triple them we had one break during testing), XXL Ziploc bag or special turkey-roasting bag, sold at gourmet stores.
Put the turkey in the bag, pour in enough brine so that all the bird is covered (pressing out extra air makes this easier), seal the bag securely (we like to use kitchen twine to tie the roasting bags tight, finding it easier to use than the plastic tab seals that come with the bags) and set the bag in a wide bowl or a roasting pan (this will hold the bird steady, and, in the unlikely event of a leak, will catch overflow). Arrange the pan on the bottom shelf of your fridge, which is stronger.
If the fridge isn't an option, use a picnic cooler to hold the bird-in-a-bag. Surround it with lots of ice or freezer packs, and remind yourself to check on it frequently, because the temperature of the turkey needs to be below 40 degrees the whole time (use a refrigerator or instant-read thermometer).
The roasting: After removing the turkey from the brine, rinse it well -- inside and out -- in cool water. Use a mild bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart water) to clean your sink and counters afterward to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria.
The brine will do most of the seasoning, so don't salt the turkey after brining, nor should you add salt to your stuffing if you plan to put it inside the bird. Some of the salt from the brine remains in the cavity and can season the stuffing later. To be safe, some cooks recommend baking the stuffing separately.
Ditto for the gravy: You can make gravy using the drippings, but don't add any salt until you taste first. You will probably need little or none. If you need to extend the gravy with chicken broth, only use low-sodium or unsalted broth or the gravy could become too salty. Or just add water.
Watch your timing, because a brined turkey cooks faster than a nonbrined one by about 30 minutes. Use a meat or instant-read thermometer to determine when it's properly cooked (don't ever trust the little pop-ups in the turkey). It's done when the final temperature on the thermometer registers at least 165 degrees in the stuffing and the turkey. (The USDA has actually lowered the safe temperatures for all poultry to 165 degrees, but we feel that the dark meat on a turkey really needs to cook until 175 to 180 to be tender, though of course the breast meat can dry out easily.)
Know that the temperature will rise about 5 to 10 degrees in a medium turkey after it leaves the oven, so take it out before it reaches the target temperature.
Gravy made easy
Gravy makes even some seasoned cooks nervous, especially if all the in-laws are watching. But it's easier than you think to make perfect Thanksgiving gravy.
Do the math: Start by estimating how much gravy you'll need figure on about 1/2 cup per person. For each cup of finished gravy, you'll need 2 tablespoons fat (reserved from drippings in roasting pan), 2 tablespoons flour, and 1 cup broth.
Make (or buy) the broth: You can use store-bought chicken broth for gravy (just make sure it's labeled "reduced-sodium"), make your own from
the turkey neck and giblets, or make a shortcut broth by simmering the giblets and neck in the store-bought broth for about 30 minutes. To make giblet broth, place turkey neck and giblets (don't use the liver) in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch. Add a quartered, unpeeled small onion, a roughly chopped stalk of celery and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for about an hour. Strain and set aside.
Separate the fat: Pour pan drippings into a 2-cup or larger measuring cup or a gravy separator. If using a measuring cup, spoon off fat and set aside. If using a gravy separator, pour off the dark juices that settle to the bottom into a medium bowl and set aside. To the reserved de-fatted juices, add enough broth for your gravy (1 cup per serving).
Make the roux: Measure out 2 tablespoons of reserved fat for each serving of gravy desired, pour into roasting pan and set over two burners. Over medium heat, whisk in an equal amount of flour until smooth. Continue stirring the mixture, called a roux, for about 3 minutes.
Finish the gravy: Slowly pour in reserved broth and juices, whisking well to dissolve any lumps. Bring gravy to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the flavor is concentrated and the gravy is as thick as you like. Taste and season with salt and pepper or additional flavorings as desired. (If lumps remain, pour through a fine strainer.) Pour into gravy boat or other serving dish.
To successfully pre-bake a pie shell:
Line it with foil or parchment (not wax paper, which smokes), with enough overhang to give you something to grab. For maximum browning, don't fold the foil over the edge.
Fill the shell with about 2 cups of dried beans or pie weights, arranging some of them partway up the sides.
Bake until the dough sets and can keep its shape. It will be light brown on the edges and won't look wet anymore.
Lift out the foil or parchment and beans and return the crust to the oven.
If you will be filling it and baking it again, as with the accompanying tart recipe or a quiche, bake the crust only for about five more minutes, until the rest of the shell has started to brown.
If it won't be baked again, as with a cream pie, let the crust finish baking until golden, about 12 to 15 minutes more.
Getting ahead by freezing pies:
Pumpkin, the favorite pie for Thanksgiving, loses quality if baked ahead and frozen. A solution is to make the crust ahead and refrigerate or freeze. Pie crust for any pie can be frozen for up to three months, or refrigerated for up to a week. To save time, mix the filling a day or two ahead and refrigerate. For best flavor, combine crust and filling and bake either the day before or the day you serve it.
Fruit pies may be made ahead and frozen, baked or unbaked. Whether to bake the pie and then freeze or to freeze the unbaked pie is a matter of personal taste. If berry pies are made and frozen before being cooked, increase the thickener (tapioca, cornstarch or flour) slightly. Also, do not cut steam vents. Wrap the pie airtight in freezer-weight material and label. Freeze pie for up to three months.
To bake a frozen pie, set it in the lower third of a preheated 450-degree oven for 20 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, open the oven and cut steam vents in the top crust. Then lower the heat to 350 degrees, raise the pie to the center of the oven and bake an additional 40 to 45 minutes.
If freezing already-baked mince and fruit pies, remove from freezer and thaw. Reheat at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes and serve warm.
Cream, meringue and custard pies do not freeze well. Chiffon pies freeze OK if eaten in the partially frozen state.
Pies with custard or cream fillings and those with whipped cream toppings should be refrigerated for safety reasons and eating quality, they can be kept for two or three days. Let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.
Other kinds of pie may simply be kept in a cool corner of the kitchen and covered loosely with aluminum foil or plastic wrap to keep them crisp.
17 Thanksgiving Turkey Mistakes Everyone Makes
If you're buying a frozen, conventional turkey (like Butterball) from the supermarket, buy it 1-2 weeks in advance and store it in your freezer.
If you're buying a fresh turkey (conventional OR free-range organic) from the supermarket, you can't pick it up too far ahead of time, because it'll go bad. But you can and should call the supermarket to reserve your fresh turkey at least two weeks in advance.
If you're ordering a super fancy turkey, such as a Heritage turkey, order online at least a month in advance. The turkey will be delivered to you the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
How To Deep Fry A Turkey With An Engine Hoist
Fried turkey, the official food of Thanksgiving hoons, only gets better when prepared with an engine hoist. Here’s Mike Bumbeck’s holiday classic on how to dunk your bird in boiling oil properly. — Ed.
Happy Thanksgiving from Jalopnik: Engine Hoist Turkey Deep Fry
Those of you who have not yet deep-fried a turkey and enjoyed its crispy yet still juicy goodness…
Those of you who have not yet deep-fried a turkey and enjoyed its crispy yet still juicy goodness are indeed missing out on the turkey day experience. This deep-frying exercise is not to be taken lightly. Hooking a propane tank up to a flimsy stand upon which five gallons of hot oil and a big ‘ole turkey sit bubbling is a recipe for one heck of a grease fire. Even lowering the big bird into the bubbling oil is an exercise in danger. Jalopnik is here to show you how to deep-fry even a monster bird with relative safety and amusement.
Each year the warnings hit the news about the dangers of deep-frying a turkey. Some folks compete for the Darwin award and try to pull this off inside. This is a very bad idea. Please do not attempt to deep-fry turkeys in the house. Also don’t try to pull this off on a dried out wooden deck attached to the house. That being said, the second great problem is lowering the giant bird into the hot oil without getting burned. Years ago we stumbled upon this procedure over at Big Nate’s house at a holiday-related function. A 17-pound bird on sale for six bucks at Ralph’s and an engine hoist sitting in the garage got us thinking it was a procedure worth revisiting.
Buying or Hatching Baby Turkey?
Should you buy turkey poults or should you hatch eggs?
Many of the heritage breeds will breed and produce poults just fine without your help. If you want to incubate heritage turkey eggs, you can do that also.
The broad-breasted breeds usually cannot breed on their own and require artificial insemination to mate successfully. If you’re not feeling up to AI your turkeys, then you can always purchase poults from a reputable hatchery.
How long does it take poults to hatch?
It takes turkey eggs 28 days to hatch.
Eggs are turned by the mother once a day. If you’re incubating eggs, then you’ll need to turn the eggs yourself once a day for 28 days.
Poults can leave the nest within 12-24 hours after hatching.
Raising Wild Turkeys from Eggs
It is very possible to raise wild turkeys from eggs. Wild turkeys lay their eggs in late March.
They will lay about 9-12 eggs per clutch. Just like with other turkeys, it takes about 28 days for the eggs to hatch.
Poults will be able to leave the nest 12-24 hours after hatching.
Exotic Dishes to Spice Up Your Thanksgiving Feast
Thanksgiving dinner may be the supreme all-American meal, and it’s surely one of the most satisfying feasts that ever has come across a table. It’s starchy, greasy and meaty it’s both savory and sweet it’s massive—and usually a sure recipe for leftovers. One could argue that a table set for Thanksgiving lacks in nothing. But we could likewise make the case that a Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most predictable buffets of Americana. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and, of course, an absurdly overweight turkey all have their rightful places on the Thanksgiving table. But would it entirely upend a revered culinary tradition to add a little exotic variation to the feast? From turkey to pumpkin pie, Peru to Tahiti, these dish-by-dish suggestions will spice up this Thursday’s banquet with some global flair and fare.
French duck. Turkeys—especially monstrous ones so fat and fleshy they cannot fly—are as American as apple pie, Chevies and suburbs. While Europeans have gained a taste for our largest native fowl, other birds have traditionally taken the seat of honor at their dinner tables. In much of France, the bird of choice is the duck. Now be warned: Most of the guests on your invite list have been waiting all year for their turkey, and if you screw it up they might mob you—so only replace the turkey for a small or particularly adventurous crowd. Ducks are only a fraction of the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, often with far less meat and a thick layer of fat. Don’t expect much leftovers, even if—as might be wise—you serve two ducks. To cook, try this: Brown some hand-sized cuts of the duck with shallots and onions in a Dutch oven over a medium flame. Then add Belgian beer, dried fruit and dried herbs, put on the lid and bake for two hours. Or you might spice up the bird with ginger, green onions, garlic and sesame oil for an Asian presentation.
Peruvian mashed potatoes. The origin of Solanum tuberosum, Peru is home to thousands of varieties of potato, some of which are available in America and, mashed with milk and butter, can add color and flavor to what may be the blandest dish on the table. For a dramatic presentation of mashed potatoes, try a purple potato. In taste and texture, the dish will be negligibly different than the one you grew up on. If you wish to take the same concept a step further, separately mash and season a batch of yellow potatoes. Then, fold the two mashed potato purées together in the serving dish, leaving layers of color.
True yams, like these white yams at a wholesale market in Ghana, are African natives that can grow to more than 100 pounds. They resemble sweet potatoes but are unrelated. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user IITA Image Library)
Nigerian yams. Almost everyone loves yams on Thanksgiving—or at least they think they do. Because “yam” is a misnomer commonly applied to the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), another Peruvian native. You want a real yam? Then look straight to western equatorial Africa, where four-foot-long tubers weighing as much as 100 to 150 pounds are a staple carbohydrate for millions. The vegetable, which is celebrated with annual festivals, consists of multiple species in the genus Dioscorea. Africa’s white yam (D. rotundata) is the most popular and important species, and, like sweet potatoes, may be baked or boiled for starchy, semisweet results. Yams are grown throughout the Caribbean where African cultures took root (sorry) several centuries ago. Some are exported, and in the United States this huge vegetable is available in some Caribbean and Asian supermarkets.
Belizean baked plantains. The sweet syrup that leaks from the splitting skin of a hot baked yam—I mean, sweet potato—is one sure signature of the fourth Thursday in November. But along the belt of the Equator, an abundant local alternative produces a similarly delicious result: a baked plantain. This banana-like fruit, though often eaten as a savory starch source, can be left to ripen until black in the skin and soft in the flesh, which will by now be sweet and sticky. Cooking plantains as a sweet potato alternative is a cinch: Put them in a metal baking dish and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 or 20 minutes. When that syrup starts bubbling, the plantains are done. To serve, peel open the fruits, and the steaming flesh will fall onto the plate. Now, season as you would a yam—or melt coconut oil onto the fruit for a stronger exotic accent. Plantains grow throughout the tropics, but I name Belize as the origin of this dish simply because that’s where I first learned to make it.
Ripe plantains may be baked and served as a Central American rendition of sweet potatoes. (Photo by Andrew Bland)
Turkish fig-and-cranberry chutney. Messing around with the cranberry sauce is not as likely to draw unfriendly fire from expectant diners as, say, replacing the turkey with a scrawny avian cousin, so take this idea as far as you want. Following a Turkish theme, add dried brown figs—a major product of the nation—to your usual cranberry sauce recipe. Then, go incrementally further, ingredient at a time, to make a spice-laden chutney. Simmer the cranberries in a cup of fortified red wine (a.k.a. Port) and begin adding elements of the East: Dice and toss in the figs, some lemon and orange zest, garlic, ginger, cloves and cumin. Sweeten with honey and, after the stew has cooled, garnish with chopped mint and serve.
Tahitian stuffing with breadfruit (or taro) and coconut. Your guests may sulk at the sight of a nontraditional stuffing, so approach this idea cautiously. The theme takes us to the Pacific islands, where, lacking the culture and systems of grain cultivation, many societies rely on breadfruit as a major carbohydrate source. Cooked in its earlier stages of ripeness, this round, green, thick-skinned treefruit somewhat resembles a pineapple, but the fruit inside is as starchy and savory as bread or potatoes. Cooking breadfruit is easy grilling or broiling thick slices with a little olive or coconut oil is a simple method. The challenge, however, may be finding the things, as our blog “Food and Think” reported three years ago. If you can’t find one of these exotic fruits, go underground for a similar result with taro, a starchy tuber of the tropics and also grown in Tahiti. Peel and halve the roots, then bake until steaming and tender. Use the breadfruit or taro as the bread in your favorite stuffing recipe. If you want some tropical sweetness in the dish, you can add cubes of fresh coconut and pineapple.
Breadfruits roasting on an open fire. The meat of this savory, starchy fruit may be used in a tropical-themed stuffing. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user travelingmcmahans)
Italian porcini-chestnut gravy. Where chestnuts fall, porcini rise. That’s because Italy’s favorite mushroom happens to prefer the roots of the chestnut tree as its mycorrhizal companion, and for one who wakes early to beat the competition, a walk in the woods in November can provide a double whammy of wild gourmet loot. The mushrooms are considered relatively unmistakable, with no dangerous look-alikes (but if there’s any doubt, throw it out) and chestnuts, well, they’re as easy to harvest as pine cones. At home, de-husk the chestnuts, bake and peel. Using a blender or a hand potato masher, make a smooth paste using half the batch. Coarsely chop the rest of the chestnuts. For the mushrooms, brush off the grit, slice and dice, then sauté in olive oil until brown. Make the gravy as you normally would, using bird broth as the base and the chestnut mash as a thickener in place of flour. Add the porcini and chestnut chunks halfway through the simmering process.
Moroccan pumpkin pie. You might not subject each pie on the table to exotic experimentation, but try this idea for one: Follow your favorite pumpkin pie recipe, but reduce the quantity of molasses and make up the difference using purée of Medjool date, a variety believed to have originated in Morocco. The date is the world’s sweetest fruit, with up to 80 percent of its mass being sugar, meaning you can expect a rather seamless swap. Additionally, coarsely chop a handful of dates to fold into the pie mix. Sprinkle the pie with toasted almonds and orange zest, and you’ve got a North African rendition of America’s most sacred pie.
Porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, two classic ingredients of the Italian autumn, occur in abundance in wild forests and may be incorporated into any number of Thanksgiving dishes, including gravy. (Photo by Andrew Bland)
About Alastair Bland
Alastair Bland is a journalist based in San Francisco who writes about the environment, agriculture, science and food.