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Men are taking over the cooking of Thanksgiving turkeys, and putting their own spins on it

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  • Turkey refresher course

    • How much do you need? Smaller turkeys have lower meat-to-bone ratios than large ones. If the turkey is smaller than 16 pounds, figure on 11/2 pounds per person to allow for leftovers. For a turkey above 16 pounds, expect 1 pound per person.

    • Thawing: Frozen turkeys take 24 hours per 5 pounds in the refrigerator (3 days for 15 pounds). If the turkey is in a refrigerator that isn’t opened often, such as an extra refrigerator in a garage, it may take longer to thaw. To thaw in cold water, completely submerge the wrapped turkey for 1 hour per pound. Don’t refrigerate a fresh, raw turkey longer than 3 days before cooking.

    • Very large turkeys are more challenging to handle. Instead of a 20-pound turkey, it may be easier to cook two 12-pound turkeys, or a whole turkey and a turkey breast.

    • If you truss, truss loosely. Tying the legs too close to the body can make the legs and thighs cook more slowly.

    • If you stuff, stuff loosely so the stuffing has room to expand, and use a thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing and all parts of the turkey reach 165 degrees.

    • Position a meat thermometer this way: With the body cavity facing you, slide it in the thickest part at the bottom of the thigh, below and to the inside of the leg. Wiggle the tip to make sure it isn’t hitting bone.

    • Watch the time: Let the turkey stand at least 20 minutes before carving so the juices settle back into the meat. After that, don’t let leftovers stand at room temperature for longer than two hours, including the time it’s on the table.

    Kathleen Purvis

  • Trash Can Turkey

    John Hansen modified his directions from


    2 tablespoons poultry seasoning

    2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)

    1 tablespoon dry mustard

    1 tablespoon black pepper

    11/2 teaspoons garlic powder

    1 (12 - to 15-pound) turkey, thawed if frozen

    1 tablespoon olive oil


    1 clean 30-gallon metal trash can

    1 wood or metal stake, at least 1-by-2-inches thick and 20 inches long

    1 roll heavy-duty aluminum foil

    30 pounds of charcoal briquets (1 20-pound and 1 10-pound bag)

    5 feet of butcher's twine

    BEFORE the cooking day, prepare the trash can and cooking area: Wash the can thoroughly and then heat it over hot coals for 30 minutes to “season” it and burn out any contaminants. I reuse the same can and do the burn-out each year.

    CLEAR a 4-foot circle on the ground, using a shovel (on dirt, not grass). Make sure the area is safe and there is no danger of starting a brush fire.

    COVER the circle with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drive the stake into the ground in the center of the circle, so it sticks up about 16 inches.

    TAKE a 1-foot sheet of foil, fold it in half and then in half again. Form the foil around the top of the stake.

    PLACE a Bundt cake pan over the stake so it sits on the foil to catch turkey juices. Form a 1-foot sheet of foil around the gap between the stake and pan to catch all the juices. Cover the area with a tarp until you’re ready to cook.

    PREPARE the turkey the night before or on the cooking day: Mix the poultry seasoning, salt, mustard, pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl. Remove giblets from neck or body cavity of the turkey and discard or set aside for gravy. Remove and discard the fat just inside the cavities of the turkey.

    RUB 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mix into the neck cavity and 2 tablespoons in the body cavity. Rub the outside of the turkey all over with the olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining rub, patting it to make it stick to the turkey.

    USE butcher’s twine to bind the wings to the turkey so they don’t flop out and get singed. Cover the turkey and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

    LIGHT 20 pounds of charcoal in a grill. Holding the turkey with the neck at the top, lower it onto the stake. The tail end should be about 6 inches above the ground over the Bundt pan.

    PLACE the inverted trash can over the turkey, keeping the bird in the center and resting the trash can on the aluminum foil. When the coals are hot, shovel 1/3 on top of the trash can and the remainder around the outside, 3 to 4 inches up the sides of the can.

    COOK the turkey until cooked through (11/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the turkey and the weather. A cold, breezy day will take longer.) About halfway through, light the remaining 10 pounds of charcoal and add it to the top and around the sides of the can.

    WEARING heavy-duty leather gloves, use a shovel to remove the coals and ash from the sides and top of the can. Lift the can off the turkey wearing gloves. (Be careful – the can will be hot.)

    TRANSFER the turkey to a platter and cover loosely with foil. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then carve and serve.

  • Maple-Brined Grilled Turkey

    Adapted from “Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook,” from the editors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton, 2012). Moving the turkey to the grill allows you to add smoke flavor and frees the oven for other dishes.

    1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey

    Olive oil for brushing

    20 pounds charcoal briquets (if using a charcoal grill)

    Hickory chunks or chips


    2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

    1 cup pure maple syrup

    3/4 cup kosher salt

    1 head garlic, cloves separated and smashed but not peeled

    1 cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger, unpeeled

    2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

    11/2 cups soy sauce

    3 quarts water

    1 cup fresh thyme sprigs

    COMBINE the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and cool completely. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, rinse well and place in the brine. Add water if needed to completely cover the bird. Refrigerate 18 to 24 hours. (Or combine two turkey-roasting bags, one inside the other, and add the cooled brine and turkey. Place in a roasting pan and refrigerate, or place in a cooler with ice and water.)

    REMOVE the turkey from the brine and rinse it well, discarding the brine. Pat dry with paper towels and brush lightly with olive oil. Cover the hickory chunks with water and let stand for 30 minutes before using.

    PREPARE the grill: If using a charcoal grill, light about 30 briquettes in a charcoal chimney. Place a disposable aluminum pan in the middle of the grill and place the hot coals around the pan. If using a gas grill, turn off half the jets for indirect grilling. Place the turkey over the drip pan and add a chunk of soaked wood to the coals. Cover the grill and adjust the vents for a low, steady fire.

    CONTINUE grilling, adding hot coals about every hour, aiming to keep the heat between 275 and 325 degrees. Keep adding soaked wood for about 90 minutes, and then continue grilling without smoke until the turkey is done, a total of 3 to 31/2 hours. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, away from bone, should reach 170 degrees.

    REMOVE from grill and let stand at least 20 minutes before carving.

    Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

  • Basic Deep-Fried Turkey

    Turkey frying doesn’t have to involve large amounts of hot oil anymore. Oil-free infrared turkey fryers are now available for $100-$120. If you still want to do it with a fryer, here are the basic steps.

    1 (13- to 14-pound) turkey, giblets and neck removed

    Prepared marinade (see note) and injector

    4 to 41/2 gallons peanut or vegetable oil

    THAW turkey if frozen. Unwrap and remove the neck and the bag of giblets. Pat turkey dry with paper towels.

    USE a syringe-style turkey injector to inject marinade into the breast, legs and thighs. Wrap turkey and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator and let stand at least 30 minutes before cooking.

    SET up turkey fryer following safety instructions. Make sure it is on level ground and well away from any structures, including houses, wooden decks or docks. To check the level of oil, place the wrapped turkey in the pot and fill with water until it barely covers the top of the turkey and is at least 4 to 5 inches from the top of the pot. Remove the turkey and mark the level of the water. Empty the water and add oil to the same point.

    PLACE the pot of oil over high heat on a propane burner and use a thermometer to heat the oil to 250 degrees. Using a hook and chain, slowly lower the turkey into the hot oil and let the heat climb to 350 degrees. Lower the heat to maintain that temperature.

    COOK for 35 to 40 minutes, then use a thermometer probe to check the turkey breast. When the internal temperature of the breast reaches 155 degrees, carefully lift the turkey from the oil and place on a platter or cutting board to rest for 30 minutes before carving. The temperature should climb to 165 degrees in the breast.

    NOTE: Many fried-turkey fans prefer to use prepared marinades, such as Creole Butter, available at Bass Pro Shop. To make your own marinade, combine vinegar, white wine, lemon juice, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

    Yield: 8 servings.

We may remember 2013 as the year that made American holiday history.

Is that because Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will overlap for the last time in 79,000 years?

Nope, although that’s certainly big. Actually, 2013 should go down in history as the year the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line finally added men to the staff of 50 women who spend weeks answering 100,000 calls about how to cook a turkey.

A Butterball survey earlier this year confirmed something that many of us already knew: One in four Thanksgiving turkeys is cooked by a man.

“Over 80 percent of men told us they helped in some way on Thanksgiving,” said Carol Miller, a supervisor for the Talk-Line, which debuted in 1981. “Now, some are bringing in the folding chairs, but some are doing all the cooking.

“It was time for us to embrace this.”

While Butterball’s survey didn’t look into the actual turkey-cooking methods, we have noticed over the years that men don’t always cook turkeys the same way women do.

Sure, some men cook them inside, in ovens. But many others seem to prefer doing it outside, in ways that involve the most amount of hardware: Grills, fryers, trash cans.

Trash cans?

It’s in the can

“Pretty much everybody I’ve ever told has never heard of it.” John Hansen is a photographer for The News & Observer, and this will be the ninth year he’s cooked a trash-can turkey for Thanksgiving.

Hansen’s trash-can turkey started in 2004, when he shot the pictures for a story Andrea Weigl wrote on alternative turkey methods, including deep-frying.

The trash-can turkey involves putting a turkey on a wooden stake in the ground, covering it with a (very clean) metal trash can and putting hot coals on top and around the sides, turning the can into a giant Dutch oven.

“I was there when they unveiled it,” Hansen says. “It was just the most beautiful, appetizing turkey you’ve ever seen and the taste was phenomenal. I’ve done it every year since.”

He admits, though, the turkey itself wasn’t the draw. “The outdoors has always been a place I love to be,” he says. “Another part is, I just like to tinker with things.”

Like a junkyard junkie, Hansen found after a couple of years that just sticking a turkey on a stake and covering it with a trash can wasn’t enough of a thrill any more. He started making modifications.

He added a Bundt cake pan, sliding it over the stake before adding the turkey, to catch the turkey juices for gravy. (“The gravy is outstanding,” he says.) He added a 40-inch rod and fork from a rotisserie to hold the turkey in place.

He put the whole thing in an elevated fire pit and added a round grate underneath to hold it all. He drilled a hole in the can to run a long grilling thermometer into the turkey, to take out the guesswork on when it’s done.

Finally, he added a ball bearing at the top of the trash can, so the turkey can be turned.

“I try to add a little more every year. I think I’ve taken it about as far as I can.”

This year, he’s actually taking it farther: His daughter is in a master’s program at Tulane University in New Orleans. He going there for Thanksgiving, taking a simpler version of his trash-turkey rig.

Since Louisiana started the deep-fried turkey, we do wonder what will happen when New Orleans gets a load of Hansen. If a new turkey craze sweeps the nation, we’ll know where to look for Patient Zero.

Out of the fryer

Speaking of deep-fried turkey, we wouldn’t be doing a service to men if we didn’t consider the role it plays in the increase of men cooking turkeys.

Dennis Teague works for Renfrow’s Hardware in Matthews, and as a hardware guy, he spends every Thanksgiving doing the same thing: Standing with his brothers-in-law in the backyard, drinking beer and lowering a turkey into a big vat of hot oil.

What’s the attraction?

“I think it’s the danger aspect,” he admits. “You’re talking about a lot of hot oil, fire and a 15-pound, 16-pound turkey swinging from a hook.”

He does help inside the house, he says, where his wife stays to make the side dishes and desserts.

“She likes it when I help her in the kitchen. I make the cornbread dressing, because…uh, I made the mistake one time of saying, ‘I wish you could make it like my mom does.’” Now he makes it every year.

His cornbread dressing is a secret recipe and he refused to share. But his turkey is simple, he says. He makes it the way every man he knows makes it: He injects it with Cajun Injector Creole Butter, a popular marinade from Bass Pro Shop in Concord. Yes, for some men, turkey shopping involves a trip to Bass Pro Shop.

Other than that, the trick is to dry the turkey well so it doesn’t spatter, and to use a thermometer so the oil doesn’t get too hot.

“I did it one time and didn’t do a thing, just salt and pepper and just deep-fried it,” he says. “And it was still good.”

So if you get into trouble cooking your turkey next week, remember that no matter what kind of cook you are, male or female, novice or experienced cook, there is someone waiting to help you.

“The old myth that men don’t ask for directions?” says Carol Miller. “They do, because they’re calling us. They are asking for directions.”

Purvis: 704-358-5236
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