Good Eats for Cheap #6 – Thanksgiving

Did you ever want to make a Thanksgiving turkey without the event being a travesty?

Well, you came to the Chateau Smidlap so you are on the right track.  Start by going to the store and getting plenty of wine and come back and read the rest.

Maybe you live alone or have a very small gathering and if that’s the case you might try and use my warm-weather classic of grilling a turkey:  Good Eats for Cheap #1 – Artisan Bread and Grilled Turkey  That post will tell you how to cut up a whole turkey of if you’ll be too liquored up or afraid or both you can always just buy some turkey parts already cut up.  If you read it you know it also contains a cheap-o and delicious recipe for crusty bread you can use for your stuffing.

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Buy a piece of art from Mrs. Smidlap and I’ll mail you a bird like this all cooked.

I like to start with a regular ol’ bird for 99c a pound or less

If you season and cook it right it will come out tasting just like grandma’s.  What the hell kind of bird do you think she used to make?  Correct, whatever kind they had on sale at the store 50 years ago except she had the mad skillz to know what to do with it.  Go ahead and get the 80 dollar farm to table humane version if you insist but don’t blame me if the budget is blown there when you could have had a custom Smidlap Swag coffee mug in addition to a damned fine average bird.  I’ll buy the thing fresh/never frozen if that option is available but a frozen turkey will do just fine.  I start by making a brine of salt and sugar in water.  Just boil up a cup of sugar and a cup of salt in a few quarts of water until it’s all dissolved and let that solution cool near room temperature.  I often cut up an orange or piece of citrus and put that in with some rosemary of sage when boiling and that stuff tastes even better in the end.  Add a bunch of cold water to your favorite vintage cooler that’s big enough to hold the turkey and add your brine mixture with fruit and herbs and a bunch of ice to make an ice bath.  Unwrap your turkey and just plop it into your spicy ice bath.  You can thaw your turkey this way over a couple of days or if it’s already thawed it only needs an overnight in the ice bath.  If your bird was frozen try your best to remove the neck and giblets from the cavity after a day or so.  You might want some rubber dish gloves for this to avoid frozen hands.  After your bird is thawed in the ice bath and the Thanksgiving day is at hand you will want to remove it and dry it off as much as possible ahead of cooking.

Put your oven on about 325 at least 4-5 hours before you plan on eating to pre-heat and turn on the convection if that’s an option.  You’ll want to save a shelf below where you’ll roast the turkey where you will cook the squash and rutabaga later on.  I cook the bird near the middle rack.  You want to season the thing with salt and pepper and Bell’s Seasoning.  Grandma used this in the turkey and the stuffing and you can trust me that it’s Thanksgiving flavor in a box…and it’s cheap.  I usually put a half an onion and some garden herbs like more rosemary of parsley into the cavity too with a busted up celery stalk.  I don’t stuff the bird with stuffing any more as it’s a pain in the ass and the turkey takes longer to cook that way.  Truss your turkey, which means to tie it up with the legs and wings pinned to the body and you’ll be glad you took this extra step.  Put the thing in a roasting pan with our without a rack and pop it into your oven with the breast side down at first.  I usually let it go for an hour before turning it to the breast side up for the remainder.  I know you have a meat thermometer so you should use it after the first couple of hours and you’re looking for a minimum temp of about 165 in the thigh to check for it being done.  Pour yourself a wine and relax because it’s going to be a long afternoon.  When the bird reaches the temperature of done (cook it a little higher if you’re paranoid about food borne illness) take it out and put it on a platter to rest at least 30 minutes.  You’ll want to do your best to separate the fat from the stock in the pan in order to make gravy.  I don’t have the space or will here to cover gravy making.  You’re on your own.

More Thanksgiving wisdom nuggets

  • Bell’s Seasoning will make your stuffing fantastic.  You can do this a day ahead and butter the bottom of your stuffing cooking vessel.  You want some if it crusty and brown as that’s all anyone really showed up for.
  • Making your own cranberry sauce is easy.  The recipe is right on the package of whole berries and takes 10 minutes.  Some folks really like the canned stuff that is served in the shape of the can, though.
  • Pecan pie isn’t as hard as it sounds, but takes a bit of work.  Call Mrs. Smidlap for help on this if you need it.  Her number is 555-1212.
  • If you’ve never had rutabaga it’s time you tried it.  The fresh kind is best but you might lose a limb or digit trying to cut it up.  If you get the frozen package just boil it and drain and add butter, salt, and pepper.  My white trash upbringing included mixing in some squash with the mashed up rutabaga.  It’s good either way.
  • Make your mashed potatoes with half and half instead of milk.  Calories be damned.
  • White wines from Alsace in France are great with Thanksgiving.  Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, or Riesling will do the job.  I like pinot noir from the US west coast if you like red.
  • Do most of your knife work before you drink too much and end up needing stitches.
  • It’s all about friends and family so even if you mess something up enjoy the company.

How about you Smidlappers?  Do you think I have it all wrong about how to roast a turkey?  Have you ever cut or burned yourself on Thanksgiving or made some other disaster?  Let it fly in the comments and Happy Thanksgiving!

p.s.  I almost forgot this next day delight from one of my favorite readers, Megan.  The Thanksgiving waffle is leftover stuffing jammed into your waffle maker and cooked just like a regular waffle.  Top with mashed potatoes and leftover turkey and gravy when you’re hung over on Friday morning.  she didn’t say to do it but I add a little cranberry sauce to these kind of things and there you have it.  Waffles on Wednesday are sure to love it as they love all things waffle related.

15 Replies to “Good Eats for Cheap #6 – Thanksgiving”

  1. Any tricks for turning the bird from breast side down to up after the first hour cooking? We do ours almost exactly as you describe but the flipping part is always dicey.

    I haven’t tried the Bell’s seasoning. Need to add that to the grocery list.

    Rutabagas are nasty. My mom tried to mix them in our mashed potatoes without us knowing but there’s no disguising that bitter rutabaga flavor.

    1. i can’t believe you don’t like rutabaga. i guess that’s a thing you either love or hate with not much in between. we have those two huge forks somewhere in the house for turning over the bird. or just put on some rubber gloves and manhandle the beast. bell’s seasoning is definitely a yankee new england-y ingredient but i love the stuff. you and the other saver family members enjoy the feast! have a macro brew or three as you deserve it.

  2. Why you’re asking the wrong guy, I don’t know how to roast a turkey. My mom always did it, and made the best turkey ever. But she’s a bit too old now so we just buy one from the grocery store pre roasted. Cuz no one wants me doing that, I would screw it up for sure!

  3. Back in 1987, my husband and I had just bought our house and hosted our very first Thanksgiving. Luckily, we had not yet added on to the house (a task we FI types did ourselves of course), so our kitchen was separated from the living room. Because of that luck, none of our 20 guests saw us take the turkey out of the oven. It was totally buttered up, and it accidentally slipped and slid onto the floor. We both were horrified, except we were cracking up as quietly as possible, while we did the frugal FI thing and picked it up, wiped it off and prepared to serve it as our secret. So, yes, I need this article for help! I’ll be calling 555-1212 for sure.

  4. I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for the past few years. I use Alton Brown’s recipe for the bird. This involves brining for 8 hours. It always turns out good. A few other key elements are covering the breast with a tin foil breast plate to prevent drying out, and filling the cavity with aromatic herbs and some loose carrots and onions, but not stuffing. Only bad part is you can’t make your own gravy because the drippings are too salty.

    1. do you rinse off the brine? salty gravy is better than no gravy at all. i usually make some ahead because we always have poultry stock in the freezer throughout the year. that’s just in case we get too loaded and mess up the pan gravy. happy thanksgiving, man.

  5. I use Martha Stewart’s turkey recipe and it’s never failed me. It involves covering the turkey breast in cheese cloth soaked in melted butter and wine or broth for the first half of cooking and then uncovering it for the second. No flipping involved. And the thought of flipping a hot, buttered, 20 lb bird over without dropping it on the floor is a little more risk than I’d like to take when cooking for 30 people. I have no idea how Susan got away with picking a bird up off the floor and nobody seeing. A childhood holiday refrain was my mother yelling at people to please get out of the kitchen, which of course they never did. The same thing happens at our house now, but we have more room so there’s less yelling but still the same amount of people hanging in the kitchen.

    We use a 5 gallon bucket and a brining bag to brine the bird. The bucket holds up to a 22 lb turkey, 22 lb 1 oz will not fit. I generally go with a 20 lb bird and roast an extra breast. Anyway, the 5 gallon bucket fits in the beer fridge overnight and we restock the beer in the morning when we pull the bird out.

    Definitely warm the half and half before mashing the potatoes. It keeps the potatoes from cooling rapidly and makes them fluffier.

    I use regular white bread from the store for my stuffing. I’d love to make bread solely for stuffing but I think I’d need to make too much of it and it would therefore take forever. Maybe when I’m retired. 😉 Anyway, the store bought stuff gets cubed on Sunday and put to dry in the giant aluminum trays where it’ll be cooked. We make two huge aluminum trays full of stuffing, because you need to have leftovers in order to have stuffing waffles.

    Definitely have containers for your guests to take leftovers, aside from the company, leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving.

    And I’m pretty sure the over under on how much butter you think you need for Thanksgiving and how much you actually need is +2.

    Worst Thanksgiving disaster was having to make a pecan pie last minute because the one that I had made refused to set.

    Worst Thanksgiving was the first one I spent in CA. I decided to only have the stuff I really liked, not cook, and spend the day watching football. Store bought prepared foods suck, and you kind of really need the rest of the stuff to tie the whole meal together. I found a place to go the rest of the time I lived there.

    Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving. May the turkey be moist, the potatoes fluffy, and the wine free-flowing.

    1. you really can’t go wrong with anything martha says, including any stock tips. i like the 5 gallon bucket idea in a cool climate. regular white bread works great. this year i ordered a bunch of cajun boudin sausage and they threw in some cajun “dressing mix” as an extra i guess. i’ll try it as an extra pan. we’re travelling to ohio so if we come home without much leftover i’ll make the same dinner over on the weekend. you sure do need a lot of butter. i hate when pies don’t cooperate because they’re so much work. i think my worst thanksgiving was when i was a little late travelling to visit my folks who ate without me like a bunch of peckerheads.

      my best one was my best buddy and i blowing off our families and i went and ran a 10k in 1993 in the freezing cold. it was the cardiac classic in schenectady, ny. then we spent the 75 bucks of credit my employer gave me on a case of beer and all the food for the whole meal and it was just the two of us. i gotta look for that picture of the table because we made every dish and probably could have fed 10 people. we ate and drank beer and that was the year it snowed in texas stadium in dallas and leon lett messed up the game and miami won. happy thanksgiving to you and yours, megan g! you’re the best.

  6. Got the wine! All good:)
    This post will go nicely with my (gluten free) rice stuffing recipe post I have coming up tomorrow:) I also make a tangy cranberry sauce to die for! None of it takes very long.
    I tried rutabaga but I am really not a fan.
    Happy thanksgiving Freddy! And to the Mrs too:)

    1. thank you, caroline, and to you and yours too. i’ll probably make some cranberry sauce to bring to ohio as i think they like the canned stuff over there. none of it is awfully hard if you work steady and wash pans as you go. you got the wine and that’s half the battle. cheers.

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