Turkey Update: Giving them the Bird

by Dave Arnold

This Thanksgiving I cooked a Narragansett turkey from Heritage Foods.  I used the Bionic Turkey method, and it was the best damned turkey I’ve ever eaten — meatier and more turkey-tasting than its predecessors.  It was devoured so quickly that I didn’t get a picture of it.  It was moist and perfectly cooked throughout, as a bionic turkey should be –and it almost ruined Thanksgiving.

For more on the bionic turkey method, see here.  For more info on Narragansetts, see here.

I didn't get a picture of the turkey; but, if it's any consolation, I did get a shot of this lovely vintage port that finished off the night.

Flash-frying is the best way to finish a bionic turkey, but I have a history of ruining Thanksgiving with turkey-frying incidents and am thus forbidden from frying at my mom’s house. Instead, I decided to finish the bird in my mom’s convection oven cranked to 500 F.  I was confident there would be no problems.  My mom and step-father weren’t. They fretted about smoke and smoke detectors.

I detest smoke detectors near kitchens, where they operate more like cooking detectors.  My mom’s are more pernicious than most — if triggered, her detectors call the fire department.  If the sirens show up and there isn’t a fire, she gets smacked with a whopping bill (encouraging her to light a real fire to make the whole thing worthwhile). Detectors should work like anti-virus software, able to be shut off for a specific length of time and then reactivated automatically –but they don’t, so I had to put smoke-condoms over them.

To hold the bird I chose my mom’s unglazed ceramic baking dish. I figured I could pre-heat the dish, put the bird on it, and get the skin on the bottom nice and crispy. Flabby skin on the underside of oven-finished birds is something I can’t abide. The pre-heat was uneventful, as were the first 10 minutes of an anticipated 20 minute cook time. At the 11 minute-mark thick smoke started pouring out of the oven and quickly engulfed the kitchen where we were all gathered. Pandemonium ensued. My step father ranted about my inability to just cook a turkey in a civilized manner like everyone else. Doors were flung open and fans were turned on, sucking in fresh but freezing-cold air (the heating bills!). Smoke detectors were anxiously monitored.  I opened the oven to find that mom’s dish had cracked in two, spilling juices and fat onto the floor of the oven.  Crap.

Sad, sorry, broken dish.

After five minutes the house was clear of smoke but 20 degrees colder. Thankfully, people were so happy with the taste of the bird that all was forgiven.  After all, the detector had not gone off and the fire department had not crashed dinner.  As we were eating dessert, my mom mentioned that the dish I’d used was a replacement she’d demanded from the manufacturer after the original cracked in the oven — under much less intense circumstances.

Good looking out, ma.

23 thoughts on “Turkey Update: Giving them the Bird

  1. As a Foodie and Chemist who pays attention to details, this sounds like something I am capable of doing myself. including the comment of “My step father ranted about my inability to just cook a turkey in a civilized manner like everyone else.”


  2. Same thing happened to me. I had a pizza stone accidentally *soaked* with lard rendered from pork ribs. Since I like to include the pizza stone in my oven cleaning cycle, I always leave it in the oven.

    I started the cleaning cycle, went off to do other things, and came back 30 minutes later to a kitchen, living room, and family room so full of smoke, I couldn’t see more than four feet away. I am absolutely convinced that were it possible to open the oven door, there would have been ignition — it was that dense.

    Even though my initial reaction was utter disbelief, I had the wits about me to run out to main breaker panel and kill the oven. After that, I had to set up a couple of high speed fans to clear the house.

    Since I frequently high-temp roast stuff, I built a ghetto exhaust system for my oven for handling the resulting smoke. So once I purged the house, calmed down a bit, I set up the ghetto exhaust system and sparked everything back up. I guessed (correctly) that the worse was over, and that I may as well finish the job.

    Throughout all of this, none, NONE, of the five smoke detectors in the affected area went off; one of which was the ‘call the FD’ type.

    All in all that was a lucky day!

  3. Just as a heads up – there are smoke detectors with a snooze feature. I have one near my kitchen that I frequently manage to pre-snooze before it starts going off.
    It only lasts 10 minutes though so it’s still pretty obnoxious, but it’s better than most.

  4. Thanks, I thought I was the only one. My parents have a “cooking detector” that wakes up the whole apartment complex.

    It doesn’t call the fire department but I makes them angry and scared whenever I cook in their kitchen.

    I was thinking about maybe wrapping it in a plastic bag when I cook. Out of curiosity what are you using as a “smoke-condom”?

    1. My mom has a purpose built plastic thing that fits over the detector. I guess they know it is a pain in the behind.

      1. Sounds like it’s more of a smoke-diaphagm! :rimshot:

        I’d like to know more about the port; a growing favorite subject.

        1. Howdy Hex,
          That port was great. Not at all faded. Not even that much sediment. I don’t think it is a well known year so the prices aren’t as high as they should be. My stepfather bought it in the early 90’s so I don’t know how much it costs now.

      2. First Alert model SA302CN can be muted with any TV remote. They also claim it can differentiate between a real emergency and a false alarm.

        I can’t use it as my detectors are all inter-connected, when one goes they all go (building code).

    2. I was about to ask the same question: “what do you use as a smoke-condom and how can I get my hands on one?”, but it sounds like yours came with the smoke detector… I might have to experiment. Any suggestions on creating a better ventilation system? (I’m in a ground floor apartment, and all my windows are on one side.)

      I’ve named my smoke detector so that I have someone to yell at when it goes off. Very therapeutic, I can recommend it.

      1. Ventilation is the single biggest problem in home cooking today. Always for apartments and almost always for houses as well. I recommend a 7 inch pipe directly out of your kitchen window with a dryer type external flap (to fool the neighbors) and an internally mounted squirrel cage blower with a pro-style hood.

        1. Hi Dave,

          what I would reccomend is en externally mounted radial blower fan, and a sound prrof insulated 10 inch piping to the hood (swith on the hood of course).
          These fans are incredibly powerfull and made to last forever . At the same time you don´t have all the noise in the kitchen.
          The best manufactuere I know is a small German shop called Gutmann. They rock, good for snobs like me (LOL). I have my stove in the middle of the kitchen on an island and no problems with smells or smoke (or my smoke detector) whatsoever.
          Unfortunately I am not sure if the sell in the US but there must be others (Siemens makes a similar hood but it is far inferior).

          1. Happy New Year Schinderhannes,
            In my apartment in the city I have a large squirrel cage blower custom fit into my hood. It is internally mounted (cause I’m in an apartment building), but the cage is so big that it spins slowly enough not to sound like a jet engine.

  5. Good grief. I had one of those cooking detectors once. Lived for a bit in an apartment that was newly built; it was dreadful for several reasons, not least of which the effects of the building code.

    The first week we moved in, the “smoke” detector in the kitchen went off every day. Once, it went off when I preheated the (clean) oven – before I had done anything else at all.

    Well, that was as long as it lasted before I disconnected the worthless thing. Peace at last. Later, in the winter, we found all the rest of the ones in the apartment went off when you turned on the heat.

    I hear you about ventilation woes. After that apartment, I really lucked out. I live in Japan now, and while the kitchen is small, it came with an 11″ hole in the wall directly above the stove with a hell of a fan in it. The lights dim when I turn it on. I don’t know how I will ever go back to anything less. I keep banging my head on the hood, but it sure works.

      1. It’s typical! At least, in houses where it’s easy to provide one that big. The cramped apartments are dicey when it comes to that, but they usually have something better than what you would find in the US (aka “better than nothing”).

        I think I still lucked out, because mine is a little more beefy than what I’ve seen most places. Actually due to the very close placement it’s a little better than the hood we have where I work. The other day I seasoned a crepe pan on my stove and you couldn’t even smell the smoke a few feet away, which was just shocking.

        I think it has to do with the significance Japanese attach to smells and aromas (two concepts they regard as very different, and I’m learning to understand the nuances). For a good meal, they want absolute control over those, so having the kitchen contaminate the house before you eat is no good.

        I’m more than happy they feel that way if it means they equipped my kitchen to handle anything up to a bonfire.

Comments are closed.