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Talking Turkey

We’re talking turkey and all the fixings – and all the family – with Thanksgiving guru Sam Sifton.

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving.

Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving.

Shopping list for this weekend:  butter, flour, sage, thyme, turkey.  Thanksgiving is coming on fast now.  A day to savor.  To gather.  To relax.  To give thanks.  To cook.  For some, that cooking is a joy.  For some, it’s nightmare.  For many, after all these years, it’s a shot in the dark.

A once-a-year encounter with a great big bird and dishes we might make no other time.  Sam Sifton is a Thanksgiving connoisseur and guru.  He likes it traditional.  He likes it tasty.  He rolls with the punches, the uncles, the craziness, the day.

This hour, On Point:  doing Thanksgiving.

-Tom Ashbrook


Sam Sifton, national editor at the New York Times, his new book is Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well.

C-Segment: Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg reads his latest article from Southern Living.

From Tom’s Reading List

Fort Worth Star Telegram “That sense of almost magisterial authority runs through Sam Sifton’s useful new book, Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well (Random House, $18). Once the Times’ restaurant critic, where he would spend T-Day answering calls from panicked readers, and now national editor, Sifton is not shy when it comes to telling you how to observe the holiday — and use his book.”

Forbes “Pretty much all aspects of the traditional meal are covered within: the turkey, the side dishes, the table-setting, the drinks, the clean-up and, yes, even the etiquette. The book is peppered with interesting vignettes about the holiday and the food. It is designed to make its readers chill out about what has become a very stressful cooking experience. It works better than a Xanax.”


Check out Sifton’s rules for turkey day.

Excerpt: Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well

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  • RolloMartins

    Oyster dressing, baby. Oyster dressing!

  • 1Brett1

    There isn’t anything I don’t like about dressing!

  • JGC

    My folks always made a delicious stuffing with turkey, ham AND smoked sausage. (I am starting to drool on my keyboard right now.)  It was a very intense operation, with annual arguments over how many eggs to add to the big pans of ingredients, and us kids rolling our eyes because Mom insisted we “destring” the celery, even though it was cut into a mince of 1/4 inch pieces. 

  • keltcrusader

    Brine your fresh turkey and cover with foil to keep it moist and prevent the breast meat from drying out. Roast an extra breast for extra white meat. Gravy is a sauce, not a cover up for dry, tasteless meat. Stuff the dang bird – no one I know has ever gotten sick if you are careful about it (sorry Alton) - stuffing baked separately just isn’t as good. Start off with a delicious corn chowder. Side dishes of whipped potatoes, fresh steamed green beans w/ thyme (not that disgusting casserole!!) and baked squash&apple slices w/a spiced maple dressing, oh, and fresh rolls. Dessert is always variety of pies w/ homemade whipped cream. My personal favorite is blueberry (I know, not traditional, but hey I love it). Good food  and laughter shared with family & loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving to all!   

    • Christa Dunn

      Ha Ha, Keltcrusader – I think I am the ONLY person in the whole world who actually PREFERS the stuffing baked outside the bird, because I don’t like it “soggy.” So the Alton Brown method works great for me. But my family agrees with you.

      • keltcrusader

        Hey Krista, I always make a separate pan for those who like it that way, but I don’t eat it. To each his own and I try to please all who come to my table.
        Do you do like Alton does and stuff it after it is out of the oven for presentation?

        • Christa Dunn

          No, I go to my in-laws house for Thanksgiving and they cook the stuffing in the bird, so I have to eat it that way. I am the baker in the family so I make the pies :)

  • Jasoturner

    Anybody out there ever had wild turkey?  And I don’t mean the booze…

    • keltcrusader

      I have – I used to date a guy who would go turkey hunting right before Thanksgiving. It was good – strong taste to it, but I never found it to be gamey - very similar to pheasant.  He said the best place to bag one was near a stand of oaks so they fed on acorns and he would smoke it. Haven’t had one in many years though.

      • Jasoturner

        Hmm.  If the chance arises, I think I’ll have to try it.  Thanks.

  • skeptic150

    ~47 million turkeys will be killed for Thanksgiving.  Seriously, is this necessary?
    Here’s a prayer for thanksgiving if you believe so:

    • http://www.facebook.com/otis.sockpuppet Otis Sock-Puppet

      But if I didn’t eat meat, I might mistake myself for a good man, and lose all humility in judging others.

      • skeptic150

        One need not judge others, just contemplate our actions.
        As Socrates supposedly said, an unexamined life is not worth living.  To me, it’s about examining the “need” to eat meat when we have the choice and ability not to.

        • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

          Cool story, bro.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

      Cool story, bro.

  • http://www.facebook.com/otis.sockpuppet Otis Sock-Puppet

    Stuffing the breast works really well at keeping the breast meat moist, and the herbs in the stuffing can flavour that meat well.

    One query: I like what brining does for the meat, but the skin never turns out as crisp as without the soak… a heat-gun helps, but that’s work.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

      Otis, try putting a little corn starch on the skin to help get that crispy texture that we all crave…

      • http://www.facebook.com/otis.sockpuppet Otis Sock-Puppet

        Thanks to both of you; actually have tried both, must investigate further.

        My own tip: salt and ground Sichuan peppercorn, that’s helped in the past , will try that with potato starch this year.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

        Some folks go with a bit of baking soda as well, because it’s an alkali. I can’t claim to know proportions. Try the Cooks Illustrated folks on that.

    • keltcrusader

      I find, after you remove from the brine & pat dry well with paper towels, if you leave it to air dry for @ an hour while it comes to room temp helps tremendously to help the skin to crisp up. 

      • keltcrusader

        hey, what did he just say?? lol

    • Christa Dunn

      Otis, if you start the bird at a high heat (450) for 30 minutes and then lower the temp, the skin does get nice and crisp. The short time at a high heat “seals” the bird.

  • http://www.facebook.com/otis.sockpuppet Otis Sock-Puppet

    My fantasy: an whole turkey done à la pi pau (pressed and hanged) duck.

    Another fantasy: geese cheap enough mot to bankrupt we of the 99%…a-hunting I shall go?

  • Adrian_in_Vermont

    Here in Vermont and Rhode Island, my brother and I have been cooking our turkey in the ground for ten years now!  The result varies from year to year but (almost) always renders the most tender, flavorful turkey.  The best part is adding some adventure to the holiday as we have to dig a pit, line it with stones and heat them with a large fire for 3 hours before we nestle our wrapped turkey in the nest of red hot stones and cover it with sod.  The kids love this! And the in laws tolerate it…

    • keltcrusader

      this sounds great!!!

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Boy you brushed the shopping on Thanksgiving off quick didn’t you? Black Thursday. Yes Tom, it is definitely an abomination.

    Ya’ll are killing me with all the Turkey Talk, I’m sooooo hungry. Guess I need to grab the 20 gauge and head out in hopes of having a Thanksgiving Dinner. Have a great weekend everyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    Paraphrase of Thanksgiving Food Snob Guest: “Those frozen turkeys from the back of a drug dealer’s truck or that you would get at a truck stop are fine; I’m not here to judge; it’s Thanksgiving.” Well, I guess my grandmother’s been down waiting for the drug dealer’s truck! Well, I guess you are here to judge! Well, I guess we’ll never be free of the food snobs, even on Thanksgiving. What a jerk. If you really understood Thanksgiving, you would be happy for people eating whatever they like or can afford, whether that’s a frozen turkey or a pan of lasagna. 

  • siskoe

    my husband insists on brining the bird and will only cook it on the webber grill…thoughts on brining?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1552749757 Travis Norvell

      i’m with your husband.  I love brining.  http://theobilly.blogspot.com/2008/11/grilled-turkey-third-installment.html

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    Hey, if you’re getting one thermometer into the bird, ask if your guests can bring another.

    One for the thigh meat, one for the breast meat. That way you can kajigger the foil (or whatever method used) for the separate temps and moisture content of the two.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=648761177 Meighan Matthews

    As important as the food, the setting and the people is the grace chosen.  Last time I hosted Thanksgiving I read Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.  Any suggestions for a fitting grace?  Thank you! Meighan Matthews, Bedford, MA

  • VTTiger

    Best mashed potatoes I ever made were from a recipe in Yankee Magazine last year I think that advocated boiling spuds gently for 15 minutes only, then letting them sit in the hot water off the heat for 45 minutes, and then add the good stuff; butter, cream etc.
    Can’t believe how creamy and “potatoes” they were. Everyone raved.
    Had requests for them again this year.
    I usually host 10-14 folks at my house

    • keltcrusader

      do you boil in jackets or cubed?

      • VTTiger

        Peel and quarter potatoes in 1-2″ chunks. You’d think they wouldn’t cook… But they were the creamiest potatoes I ever had! Good luck!

  • J__o__h__n

    I’m tempted to demand a Waldorf salad on Thanksgiving but only if they are out of packets of sliced hippopotamus in suitcase sauce.

  • VTTiger

    Best mashed potatoes I ever made were from a recipe in Yankee Magazine last year I think that advocated boiling spuds gently for 15 minutes only, then letting them sit in the hot water off the heat for 45 minutes, and then add the good stuff; butter, cream etc.
    Can’t believe how creamy and “potatoes” they were. Everyone raved.
    Had requests for them again this year.
    I usually host 10-14 folks at my house

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1552749757 Travis Norvell

    fresh cranberries in a pot with sugar, cooked down then a couple spoonfuls poured of this chunky syrup into wine glasses then topped with champagne.  wonderful pre dinner cocktail.

  • LauraHD

    Totally agree about green salad being completely out of place on the Thanksgiving table!

  • SuziVt

    Your guest doesn’t want to “judge” on Thanksgiving, but I wonder if he or Tom have ever seen the hideous videos of the vile conditions these turkey farms provide for the turkeys. Besides the unhealthy meat that people will be eating, those animals do feel discomfort. I know, no one wants to think about that. Tom, will you please do at least ONE show on animal abuse and vegetarian holidays? It is possible to have a delicious feast without exploiting or killing animals.  

    • JGC

      You gave me flashbacks of Sarah Palin at the turkey farm, with turkeys being whacked and stuffed in the defeathering machine just behind her.

      • SuziVt

        I would imagine that Sarah Palin would not find anything objectionable with that backdrop, lacking any sensitivity toward animal rights.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=745185020 Cory Heaton

    I can’t listen anymore. I’m too hungry!!! 

  • J__o__h__n

    He is insane.  Stuffing is so much better than dressing.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    Why no (traditional summertime) salad at Thanksgiving?

    Because here in Norman Rockwell country, this is not the time of year for good tomatos, and lettuce is a crapshoot. After all the attention made for everything else to be at its best, why put a warm-weather salad out there which simply isn’t gonna be that good?

    That’s why the earth gave us the hardy goods: Squash, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes. If you need something warm-weatherish, roast some onions and peppers and serve them alongside the dressing or potatoes. And warn the aunts and uncles and grandparents if you put anything as hot as a poblano in there.

    (That’s from a northeasterner. Those from warmer climes may have other tales which I’d enjoy hearing.)

  • Valerie5081

    My favorite part is the pies.
    I make the pastry crust from scratch — even though it can look a bit messy.
    What does Sam Sifton think about store-bought crust?

  • mayentes

    We have been hosting Thanksgiving for nearly 30 years.  This year we are down a few – only 26.  Besides the food and family, our tradition is the children join us at noon for the annual singing of “Alice’s Restaurant”.  We tell everyone to come at 1:00 unless they are prepared to join us for Alice.  A few have joined us, but my husband, my children (and now grandchildren) and I would never miss our visit with Arlo and Alice.  Cheryle Reidel, Wrentham

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1552749757 Travis Norvell

    the psalm for thanksgiving sunday is psalm 126 but it doesn’t add itself to a cheerful blessing http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=220084294 but you could take it as a model to write your own psalm turned into a blessing/grace for the meal.  

  • AjaxC

    One Thanksgiving I ordered a turkey from Whole Foods.  It was the toughest turkey we ever had.  After the fact, I think it may have been “free range.”  Are free range turkeys usually tough or should I have cooked it differently.

    • skeptic150

      I don’t eat meat (including turkey) anymore, but when I did I was responsible for cooking our turkeys. In the last few years, we ate free range turkeys – I always used a cooking bag and they always turned out fine.  Also, the cooking time is less so make sure to go by the recommended times for the bag cooking (and possibly a little less based on your thermometer). When you carve it, make sure you baste each piece as well as the body as you cut it.

  • Lisa Townsend

    My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving! Love to cook for it and host a big family! Wondering where I could find the titles of the musical interludes that have been played during the show? Thanks!

  • cookindad

    Anyone ever split the turkey and  cook the halves on the grill?  Specifics?  Hints?

  • Emilio Santini

    There is no problem in keeping your Turkey tender. They all come from genetically engineered  birds. Plus they do not move so the flesh is tender, plus they are full of steroids that make them retain huge amount of water.

    • agavegirl

      How right you are!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=743272848 Rob Stowell

    Turkey Skin!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/otis.sockpuppet Otis Sock-Puppet

      Agreed; if I cheaply could, I would start on high heat, with the breast covered with more skin, remove that when crisped, and then let the underlying skin crisp… and to repeat myself: Sichuan peppercorn salt.

  • Duh

    Who is the guitarist in this segment?   Wonderful picking – anyone know?

  • PatHeefner

    I listened to the podcast of this show on my iPod this morning at 5:00 am. I sometimes do that when I awake too early and can’t get back to sleep. Needless to say I arose absolutely famished!
    BTW, we here in Waynesboro PA have been doing dressing in the crockpot for decades. The recipe was in the little recipe book that came with it. The stuffing (we all call it that) is always the best part of Thanksgiving as far as I’m concerned, and the family doesn’t want it any other way.

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