Frozen turkeys cause chills


November 28, 1990|By ROB KASPER

In the vast majority of homes, cooking a turkey for the family holiday meal is a simple, harmonious experience. But there are exceptions; here are two of them:

The first occurred in Midwest City, Okla., where a man was jailed on charges of assault with a frozen turkey. According to police reports, the man got so angry when his wife told him that their turkey was not defrosted that he threw the bird into the parking lot of their apartment complex.

When the wife tried to flee the scene, the guy responsed by picking up the frozen bird and hurling it at her car, shattering the windshield.

The wife signed a complaint accusing the husband of assault.

The husband spent part of Thanksgiving Day in jail.

The second instance of turkey trauma occurred in Wellesley, Mass., outside Boston, when I, as visiting chef, failed to completely cook the 25-pound bird for our family feast. I cooked it, or most of it, in a barbecue kettle grill.

Parts of the bird were cooked perfectly. Those were the parts I sliced up and sent out on the serving platter to feed the crowd of 15. But the other turkey parts that didn't make it to the table still had a lot of "gobble" left in them.

I don't remember exactly what I said when I sliced deep into the turkey breast and hit rare meat. But I think it was, "More wine all around."

I was stalling for time -- about 45 minutes at 450 degrees by the looks of the bird -- and I figured that the easiest way to buy time was to pour more wine. Wine is simple to prepare, you just uncork it.

Working in the kitchen out of sight of the diners, I was able to carve off a second platter full of edible turkey meat, mostly from the legs. They had been cooked separately in the oven.

Then I popped the remaining bird in the oven, returned to the dining room, and ate a lot of vegetables. Right in front of me was a big dish of Brussels sprouts. I was hungry, but I wasn't desperate. I ate more stuffing and a hominy, pepper and cheese casserole, and I drank some more wine.

As I ate I tried to figure out what had gone wrong with the bird. My fellow family members and guests all said the turkey meat was fine. A few even had second helpings. Proof, I surmised, that my wine strategy had worked.

Still, I was disappointed. I had cooked the bird for four hours, allowing 11 minutes per pound. That is what the barbecue-kettle instruction book suggested. But that obviously wasn't long enough.

I went over my math. With the legs off, I figured the bird weighed 20 pounds. Allowing 11 minutes a pound that was 220 minutes, or just short of four hours I had cooked it.

I had made sure that the fire was hot. I used a portable metal chimney to start the charcoal. When I put the turkey on the grill, it began cooking over hot ashy coals, the kind of fire backyard cooks dream about.

Moreover, I had done all the detail work. I had fed the fire corn-cob and maple wood chips, checked for wind direction, temperature, even the dew point. I had put a drip pan under the bird to prevent flare-ups. That was at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Midway through the morning, I even fired up two more servings of coals and put them on the fire. The fire was born again. The bird was bubbling. Things looked good.

That is when I decided to play basketball.

Come to think of it, the problem with the bird was probably the ball game. Instead of playing basketball across the street, I should have been tending the bird on the barbecue. I couldn't do both, so I took the bird off the fire at 1 p.m. and wrapped it in foil. The meat thermometer we had didn't work. So I went with my instincts.

And my instincts told me the turkey was done and that this was an important basketball game. It was a contest between the old guys -- namely, my older brother and me -- against the whippersnappers, my 18-year-old cousin and his 17-year-old friend.

We won, on a dramatic shot my brother latter admitted he threw up without actually seeing the basket.

But a victory is a victory.

My instincts and my joints also tell me that this victory was probably our last one. Next year, the kids will want a rematch. I will decline. I will have to devote all my energy to cooking the turkey.

I am willing to try, once again, to cook the turkey on the barbecue grill. But the next time, before I cook the turkey, I am going to threaten it. I'm going to tell that bird that if, after hours of smoky labor, it still isn't cooked, I'm going to grab it and use it as a basketball. I'll hurl it at the hoop.

It is a dramatic approach to tenderizing turkey meat, and not entirely original. But a guy in Oklahoma says it works great.

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