For the first time in I don’t know how long, I won’t be making the Thanksgiving Turkey this year. It’s definitely a somewhat bittersweet
moment for me because for the last few years, making the Thanksgiving Turkey, which was at first a labor of love, is now looked at by me as more of a tribute. Since I can’t make the turkey this year, I thought I would share with you what I would have done
if this was a year like the last few years. So sit back, relax and let me tell you about “The Tale of the Traveling Turkey”.
My Mother’s health was not good during the last few years of her life and the strain of creating, cooking & serving an ever increasing in
size Thanksgiving Dinner began to take its toll. So we all started to help her out by taking over the different chores associated with the day & the meal. I volunteered to make the Thanksgiving Turkey which didn’t really surprise anyone in the family but it
did come with one potential obstacle. We live about an hour away from my parents. So I had to come up with a way to deliver a perfect turkey that would start in my oven and end up on my parents table without being cold, underdone or dry. In addition to that,
my Mother had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease so I had to make sure that the turkey was gluten free which meant no stuffing. That turned out, from a cooking standpoint, to be a blessing in disguise in the success of “The Traveling Turkey”.
That first year I plotted & planned . I knew that we were going to have a 20+ pound Bird and I knew I was going to have to figure out exactly
how long to cook it at home before we began the transfer. I woke up early in the morning and threw on my workout clothes. The first thing I did was take that 20+ pound Bird and lovingly wash it and rinse it and patted it dry. Then I took a large chunk of butter
in each hand and began to massage that butter into the skin in a way that would have made most shiatsu experts jealous. Once every inch of the turkey had been covered with butter I began to slide as many chunks of butter under the skin as I could so that when
I was done it looked like my Bird had goosebumps. Then it was Hawaiian Sea Salt & fresh cracked pepper sprinkled gingerly all over the Bird before I began to stuff it.
Now I may have said earlier that “The Traveling Turkey” had to be gluten free so that meant no traditional stuffing but that didn’t mean
that I was going to leave that cavity empty. I knew I needed to have something in there to help keep the Bird moist when the idea hit me. I wound up stuffing that Bird with as many chunks of cut up lemons & limes tossed with parsley, sage & thyme as I could.
Then I tied the legs together as high up as that Bird would let me and slipped a chopstick through the Bird under the legs in order to help keep them elevated. Good leg elevation is a key component to a moist bird. Finally my Bird was ready for the final step,
The Bacon Blanket.
I had always noticed that my Grandmother had put an X of bacon on her turkeys but I never understood why. When I started to roast the turkeys
for our family, I started to experiment with bacon on my Bird. By the time we got to “The Traveling Turkey” I was covering the entire breast with a Bacon Blanket and couple strips on each leg. It was my feeling that during the first hour of uncovered cooking
at 375 degrees that the bacon grease would not only help the turkey breast stay moist but would also help in the browning process with the butter & contribute to the pan drippings for basting & gravy. So in it went and I went to the basement to work out for
an hour. At the end of my workout, half dead & sweaty, I opened the oven, withdrew the rack, removed the crispy bacon strips, basted with what drippings there were from the pan juices & the citrus filled cavity and then tented “The Traveling Turkey in foil
while reducing the heat to 325 degrees. A quick shower and then I began the basting.
Basting a turkey, to me, is by far & away the most important step in the success or failure of the Bird. I basted my Bird constantly. I
try to baste every 20 minutes but I am sure I jumped the gun at times. I was nervous. I still had to get this Bird an hour down the road. The combination of the Bird’s own juices with the butter, bacon grease, lemons, limes and spices made for a wonderful
aroma & gorgeous browning liquid. The skin started to brown and bits of the pan scrapings started to stick to the skin as they were squirted out of the baster.
While the Bird was baking & basting I started to prepare the traveling cocoon in the back of my car. First I laid down a large Indian blanket,
a large water resistant picnic blanket and a beach towel. Then I placed our largest cutting board on top of those three items. I also had another beach towel and another blanket waiting in the wings. When it was time to put “The Traveling Turkey” into the
car, the plan was to wrap each layer around the roasting pan and hit the road.
And that is exactly what we did. As the clock closed in our scheduled departure time, I went out and started the car. The kids scrambled
this way & that under foot and in the way but somehow all wound up where they were supposed to be. My wife stood by ready to close & turn off the oven and then shut & lock the door behind us. With the precision of Navy Seal Team Six, we grabbed the Bird, dropped
the metal lid over the tented foil and rushed to the car. First it was one beach towel from the bottom and then one beach towel from the top. Next came the water resistant picnic blanket followed by the soft fleece blanket with a tiger on it and then finally
by the Indian Blanket. “The Traveling Turkey” was locked down and the kids were locked in and we flew out of the driveway. A quick phone call was made to our destination and the code words were uttered, “The Bird is on the move”.
Now my wife claims that I am a more aggressive driver than she is and that I must have been a NASCAR driver in a previous life. I tend to
think that I was more likely a Tennessee Moonshiner but that is another blog for another day. By the way I drove that day, you would have thought I was being pursued by Sheriff Buford T. Justice himself. I willed every red light green and every yellow light
to stay that way for an extra beat. The aroma of the Bird was driving us all crazy in the car and when we were about ten minutes out we called ahead to clear the landing pad for “The Traveling Turkey”. We had already told them to set the oven for 350 degrees
because we knew that my mother’s ovens were not as strong as our oven. We pulled into the driveway and the side door burst open to accommodate my running inside with the roasting pan. We opened the oven, pulled off the lid, pulled off the foil and basted &
basted before tenting and tossing it into the oven. The one hour drive hadn’t seemed to hurt the Bird and the pan had still been very hot.
A little over an hour later the juices were running clear and the Bird looked radiant. The aroma from the Bird ran laps around the house
and drew everyone to the table. The anticipation & anxiety were killing me as the sides were delivered to the groaning sideboard. Grace may have been amazing but it was interminable to me as I peeked out of the corner of my eye from my bowed head. As my Father
fired up his trusty electric carving knife I exchanged a glance with my wife and I knew that she knew that I knew that we were both nervous. The first piece of breast was sliced and lifted away. Steam rose from the bright white meat under it as it glistened
in the light. “The Traveling Turkey” wasn’t dry, it wasn’t underdone and it wasn’t cold. It was, not to pat myself on the back too much for fear of throwing out my shoulder, possibly the best Turkey I had ever had. The compliments were many and all decided
it was the mad dash in the car that made for the success of “The Traveling Turkey”. In fact, I have already been told that next year when we host Thanksgiving at our house, that I have to take the Bird for a one hour ride in the middle of the cooking process.
I am not allowed to just wrap it up and leave it in the car. I have been told that the juices have to be “kept in motion”. I think they just want me out of the house so they can eat all the appetizers and make the sides their way instead of mine. Oh well.
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me and may all your Thanksgiving
Turkeys have an extra leg. I’m an Allrecipes All Star Ambassador and the views & opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own. I think there is some other legal mumbo jumbo I am supposed to add as well but I really need to get busy making my Grandmother’s
Cranberry Salad for tomorrow. Respect The Bird !