Friday, November 25, 2005


There are three things that make this the best turkey ever, and therefore our family tradition. The first is to get a fresh, free-range bird. We got a Diestel from the Town & Country. The second is to brine the turkey for 24 hours using Alice Waters' recipe. Harold McGee has famously pooh-poohed brining, but I think he's wrong. The third is to cook and smoke the turkey on the grill. I use applewood for smoking when I can, but all we could find around here was mesquite and hickory, so we used the latter. I use the "indirect" method where the coals are on the side of the grill, and the turkey is in the middle, dripping down into a drip pan set between the racks that hold the coals. One must be careful that coals or wood don't roll down into the drip pan, which ruins the drippings (I've done that before!) I use a lot of coals and run the vents wide open (with the cover on, of course), which gets it up to around 450 or 500 degrees. This is contrary to a lot of turkey wisdom, but it gives great results, and goes quite quickly. Unless you have a really big grill, you'll burn the wings ends like I did. I suppose I could trim them ahead of time. Every 1/2 hour or so I add wood chips that have been soaking in water to the coals. This generates quite a bit of smoke. If you cook it this way, the skin will turn very dark, and the turkey, especially the dark meat, will get a deep, smoky flavor. The pan drippings also get rather smoky. Cook it until the thick part of the thigh is 165 degF. Some recipes will tell you to cook it until 180 degF, but I think that makes it too dry. Let it stand for a while before carving and the temperature will continue to rise up to 10 degrees. The Diestel website suggests cooking the bird breast-side-down for the first half of cooking, which I might try next time.

This year we visited our friends the Rasmussens in Poulsbo. Debbie and our daughter Catherine joined the Rasmussens in volunteering to help cook and serve Thanksgiving for a community organization in the afternoon. I showed up at their house afterward with the fully-cooked turkey. Debbie made her traditional Apricot-Grand Marnier stuffing from the Silver Palate cookbook, whipped sweet potatoes with brown sugar-pecan topping, really yummy cranberry-orange relish, and cranberry sauce. Demi mashed some Bainbridge-grown organic heirloom potatoes, a traditional sage stuffing, some potato dinner rolls, brussels sprouts with a balsamic sauce, peas with pearl onions, and for dessert, pecan pie. The eldest Rasmussen daughter made a fabulous pumpkin cheesecake.

We've been drinking Navarro Gewurtztraminer with our Thanksgiving turkey every year for almost 20 years, and continued that tradition this year. It's dry but has that gewurtz-y flavor which goes really well with the smoked bird. We also had a bit of Navarro Zinfandel later in the meal.

It was a fine meal indeed, and everybody had a great time.