Some fowl Thanksgiving gaffes … and how to avoid them!

By Catharine Kaufman

The Kitchen Shrink

Thanksgiving is the quintessential day of culinary faux pas, time for Murphy’s Law in the kitchen, especially when neophyte cooks come out of the pantry to try their hand at preparing a homemade feast. Here are some timeless disaster stories to provide a teachable moment. Gobble, gobble!

Cavity Protection

Many of us, even this Kitchen Shrink have inadvertently left the plastic giblet bag in the cavity while roasting. No harm, no fowl. Just toss it before any of your guests get wind of it.

And so nobody gets food poisoning or a broken tooth, it’s best to at least partially cook the ingredients before filling the cavity. A word of warning: certain grains, especially wild rice, remain uncooked even after several hours of roasting — raw in, raw out. Sauté carrots, celery, oysters and sausages, and boil or parboil rice, quinoa, pastas, potatoes etc. before stuffing the cavity.

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

A woman was hosting a family Thanksgiving dinner at her new custom home, excited to inaugurate her gourmet kitchen, fully loaded with stainless steel appliances and double oven. She inadvertently turned on the bottom oven, while gingerly placing the 20-pound turkey in the cold, top one.

Soon after, her mom-in-law placed some casseroles in the preheated bottom oven. Enticed by the heavenly aromas wafting from the side dishes, she was lulled into a false sense of turkey security. After four hours, the hostess was horrified as she removed the raw hen from the top oven, and the incinerated sides from the bottom one. Chinese take-out anyone?

Bird Bath

A socialite couple was entertaining their business associates for the holidays. The personal chef had been secretly imbibing on aperitifs during dinner preparation. A little tipsy as she carried the heavy platter into the dining room, she stumbled over her own feet, and plopped the 25-pound turkey on the Persian rug.

The hostess gracefully scooped up the lint-covered bird, loudly blurting in earshot of her guests, “Don’t worry Anna-Maria, let’s just bring this turkey back to the kitchen, and serve the extra one warming in the convection oven.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge …

Yam Bam, Thank you Ma’am

In a hurry to make twice-baked sweet potatoes before her family arrived for Turkey Day dinner, a woman experienced some spice confusion. She inadvertently grabbed cumin instead of cinnamon (both powdery, dark brown spices) and Chinese Mustard instead of Chinese Ginger. Luckily, she tasted the ghastly concoction before serving and her 5-star tastebuds alerted her to yank the yams from the menu.

To avoid or minimize these embarrassing and wasteful disasters, here are some cardinal tips for Thanksgiving and all year.

  1. Never put a frozen Thanksgiving turkey in any oven, unless you plan on serving it for Christmas dinner. Unthaw the bird in the refrigerator, breast side up in a shallow pan in its original wrapper, allowing 24 hours for every four pounds. So a 20-pounder will take roughly 5 days to unthaw.
  2. For a stuffed turkey allow 30 minutes per pound, an unstuffed one 20 minutes per pound, no lower than 325 º Fahrenheit. To check for doneness, stick a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. At 180º the bird is done. Also the stuffing temperature should reach 165º.
  3. If you must deep-fry your turkey, then do the dirty work outside. In any event, make sure your smoke detectors are functioning, and keep a fire extinguisher and cholesterol test on hand.
  4. So the bird doesn’t get over-browned, make a tent with a damp piece of parchment paper.
  5. After removing the turkey from the oven, let it take a 20-minute nap, so the juices settle in, and it’s easier to carve.
  6. If you really don’t know what the hay you’re doing a day before Thanksgiving, make reservations!

If you’d like to talk turkey, email For additional holiday recipes check out