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There are 30 people in my husband's immediate family, and I'm one of them. And when I say immediate, I really mean it: parents, siblings, their spouses and their children. No uncles, no cousins, no hangers-on, just close family. We alternate houses for Thanksgiving, which inevitably means that one day, it would come around to me.
How do you feed 30 people without a caterer? Delegate the side dishes and dessert, and after you've stopped crying, face the fact that you need a lot of turkey to feed that many people. I, unfortunately, have only one oven, and I needed to find an alternative to staying up all night laboriously roasting one turkey after another.
My solution was to relocate the bulk of the turkey cooking outside the kitchen and enlist my husband and a few family volunteers to do most of the work. While I roasted a traditional turkey in the oven, I sent my husband out Thanksgiving morning to fire up the grill and slowly smoke a turkey until it was so brown, it was almost black. Once the guests arrived, those who wanted to drink beer in the driveway and stare into a swirling vat of dangerously hot oil were sent out with the third turkey.
For all three turkeys, brining was essential. I bought three 5-gallon buckets at Lowes, added 2 cups of table salt, and filled them with 2 gallons of cold water and ice. Once the salt dissolved, I submerged the turkeys, snapped on the lids and put them out on the back porch (caution: This works only if the temperature remains 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below). My turkeys were between 12 to 14 pounds.
1. Say a silent prayer of gratitude that you wound up with the easiest job. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse turkey under cold water and pat dry. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings underneath the breast.
2. Place turkey in a V-rack in a roasting pan and add two or three cups of chopped-up aromatic vegetables, like celery, carrots and onion, along with a fresh bunch of herbs, including Italian parsley, sage and thyme. Add enough water to cover the vegetables halfway.
3. Generously brush the turkey with melted butter and slide into the oven. Baste every 15 minutes or so and check to make sure the vegetables haven't dried out (add water if necessary).
4. After two hours, test for doneness with an instant-read thermometer by placing it into the thickest part of the thigh. If it reads 170 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit, it's party time!
1. Pray it isn't raining. Soak a cup of wood chips in water for at least one hour, then drain. Once your charcoal is going, arrange a pile of coals on either side of the grill with a 9-by-13-inch aluminum pan in the middle to catch the flammable drips. Sprinkle both piles of coals with wood chips.
2. Generously brush the turkey with melted butter, and place on a clean, lightly oiled grill. Close the lid.
3. Check every 15 minutes or so, adding coals and wood chips as needed to keep the fire medium-low and smoky.
4. After two to three hours, test for doneness with an instant-read thermometer by placing it into the thickest part of the thigh. If it reads 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, bring that turkey inside!
1. Promise everyone you won't set your house on fire and then say a silent prayer you really won't. Open a beer. Have your brother set up the deep-fryer apparatus and fill it with about 5 gallons of peanut oil (or to the fill line marked on your fryer) and heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix up the marinade that came with the fryer or make a spicy one of your own:
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
Pinch of ground bay leaves
Combine all of the ingredients and simmer until the butter melts. Let cool. Fill the injector that came with the fryer, and inject marinade into each thigh and each breast, refilling each time.
3. Pat the turkey dry thoroughly, and place on a turkey stand, head down. Lower the turkey very slowly into the hot oil, raise the flame slightly to adjust the temperature back to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and don't forget to then lower the flame again once you're there.
4. Do not leave the turkey unattended at any time. Have your nephew get you another beer, or better yet, bring a cooler out. It should take about three minutes per pound for the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, just a mere 36 to 42 minutes later.
5. Remove turkey carefully from the hot oil and claim your bragging rights immediately.
Tips for Deep Frying Turkey
1. Make sure your fryer is on a flat, steady, nonflammable surface (no decks or porches).
2. Do not overfill your fryer with oil. To measure ahead of time, start by filling the pot with 4 gallons of water and submerge your turkey in it, adding more water if needed. If there isn't a fill line, draw one with a marker.
3. Remember: Oil and water don't mix. Frozen turkeys can cause a fire. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed and the marinade isn't dripping.
4. Use a deep-fryer thermometer. Even better, buy a fryer with a thermometer already installed and don't let it rise above 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Heavy-duty oven mitts or, better yet, welding gloves are recommended when putting in or taking out the turkey.
6. Never leave the fryer unattended. Frying turkeys is quick, so stay put and use the time to tell dirty jokes without children overhearing.
For video footage that will scare you straight about deep fryers, go to www.ul.com/consumers/turkeys.html