I was 20 when I attempted to cook my first Thanksgiving turkey. A newly-married Army wife, I not only had no idea what I was doing, but was doing so in a foreign country.
I suppose everything could have gone well. I called my mom and asked her how long to cook it. But I did not consider the fatal flaw that is common in many a turkey disaster story - defrosting the turkey. It's the night before the big day, every single soldier within a mile (it seemed) was coming to our house and the bird was frozen solid.
Two starry-eyed 20-somethings decided to defrost the turkey in the oven. Which would have been fine ... had we not fallen asleep before turning that oven off. We awoke to a home filled with smoke and when we opened the oven, there sat a black Cornish-hen sized turkey where a giant, frozen bird once was.
We found another turkey (on the day of Thanksgiving, in a foreign country), paid way too much for it, defrosted it the right way and fed many a single soldier who was far from home.
Karen Sorensen, my Patch co-editor, has a story that's not much different. She, too, was one-upped by a frozen bird.
"I had a small Thanksgiving for like four people," she said. "I was thawing (the turkey) out in the sink, which my mother always did and I've since found out you're not supposed to do."
Much like my story, tired from a full week of work, she forgot to put the bird in the fridge for the night before she fell asleep. Awaking in a panic the next morning, not only was the turkey defrosted, it was warm.
"I was afraid to touch the water, which was pretty much salmonella soup," she said. "The whole centerpiece of meal was gone."
In a panic, she rushed to the grocery store only to find more frozen birds. In desperation, she opted for a turkey breast and spent what felt like hours defrosting it in the microwave.
Here's a tip: Microwaves might be good for frozen meals but they're not so good for turkeys. The bird was rubbery on the outside, dry on the inside and pretty much inedible.
"All I can say is thank god for the side dishes or we'd have ended up at McDonald's," Sorensen said.
We asked you, our readers, to tell us your stories through our Facebook page. Here is what you said:
- Robyn Mccord-Dominguez: I was 22 when I cooked my first turkey. I knew nothing about pulling the extras from the cavity. The extras were in a plastic bag, which melted to the inside of the bird. The entire thing was indelible as it totally tasted like plastic.
- Melissa Trinidad: I was born on Thanksgiving. My grandma had got the call that I was born and as she got the call she was taking the turkey out of the oven and dropped it on the floor. So for 28 years, my family tells the story every year.
- Heather Frelichowski: I had to work one Thanksgiving morning and told my friend that was living with me to put the turkey in the bag and put it in the oven to cook. It seems I was not clear in my instructions. She took the turkey, removed the "net" and put the entire thing in the oven. She left it in the original plastic wrapper with everything inside of it. I got a call at work that there the firefighters were at my house. The plastic started to melt as it all heated up and dripped in my oven and caught fire. Then the stove caught fire and burned the wall in the kitchen. The stove was a total loss. ... I haven't worked on Thanksgiving since.
- Shannon Bean: One year when I lived down in Texas I decided to try something different and deep fry the turkey, which I had heard was supposed to be really good. ... SOMEONE should have told me to thaw the damn thing out first but didn't. I dropped it in the deep fryer fully frozen and the thing burst out of the fryer and flew right through my car window as, thankfully, I was smart enough to try it outside. I'm really glad I did but that was one damn expensive turkey -- $200 and a new window (technically windshield). Later, I said screw it and took the family out to dinner at the local steakhouse.
- Lorraine Swanson (Oak Lawn Patch editor): I left the plastic bag of innards inside the turkey but didn't realize it until after my guests and I finished dinner. Nobody got sick and the dog ate the innards.
There are places that can help first-time cooks or turkey fryers to avoid disaster. Every year, Butterball hosts a hotline (1-800-BUTTERBALL) for turkey questions. They are available by phone between 8 a.m and 6 p.m. weekdays and on Thanksgiving Day, the experts will be fielding calls from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You can read more about that resource, including the ability to ask questions via Twitter or the Web, by clicking here.
Interestingly, the hot line operators are based in Naperville. Here's a story Naperville Patch ran last year on the most common calls they receive, naperville.patch.com/articles/avoid-turkey-trauma.
Do you have a turkey horror story? Share it with us! Use the comment box below to tell your tale.