My First Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving turkey garnished with lemons and pomegranatesGuess what, guys? I roasted my first turkey this year. I was SUPER nervous about it. Do you ever get nervous about random things? I do! I'm an over thinker sometimes. But also consider this:

1.) I'm a pescatarian. I do, however, usually eat turkey every Thanksgiving. It's kind of my cheat day since it's a holiday. (Feel free to leave your strongly worded opinion about that if you like. Wink.) But I am NOT experienced with cooking meat. I've been a pescatarian since 2007, and I didn't really get into cooking until maybe 2009? No overlap. Cooking meat scares me.

2.) Undercooked meat can make you sick. And the last thing I would ever want to do is invite a bunch of friends and family over for a food poisoning party. Cooking meat scares me. (Did I already mention this?)

3.) Turkey is supposed to be the show stopper. I had bought a giant platter to serve the turkey on (see above). What was I going to put on this platter if I burnt the turkey? Or dropped it? Or barfed on it while I was removing the…uh…insides. (Yeah, I used the word "barfed", everyone. I'm 26.)Friendsgiving TableIt was also really important to me that I purchased an ethically raised turkey. Or (at the very least) the closest thing I could find. The reason I'm a pescatarian is because I do not like many of the practices used in the factory farming meat industry (that produces most of the meat sold in my country). I don't think it's good for the animals. I don't think it's good for the environment. And I don't think it's good for humans. (If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book.)

So I called around and found that since I was needing my turkey two weeks before Thanksgiving, I had only one option. And that option was 20 lbs. and cost right around $75. I wasn't planning on needing a turkey quite that large. And although I think the price was worth it (can you imagine all the work that must go into raising and, well, getting a turkey to market?), it was easily the most expensive food item purchased for our feast. That added to my roasting anxiety because I knew if I messed up the turkey, I basically wasted $100 (thinking about everything else I had to purchase to prepare the turkey).Emma's first thanksgiving turkeyI stressed myself out about this turkey for close to two weeks. I even had a dream about it. I was REALLY nervous, guys. When I get scared, I try to break things down into steps. First, buy the turkey. A 20lb frozen bird is a funny thing to carry out of a store. I let it thaw for a few days in the refrigerator. The night before, I removed the innards. I couldn't tell if I got them all because it turned out not to be that hard. I always thought this step would be super gross. I googled, but sure enough it was just a few things you needed to remove. No biggie.

Next, I brined my turkey. (I basically followed this recipe exactly for the whole process.) When you brine, you have to soak the turkey in a broth solution overnight. Where in the world do you find a pot large enough for a 20lb turkey?! Am I supposed to use a bucket? Thank goodness I discovered brining bags. 

The day of, I got my turkey in the oven with plenty of time to roast, given its size. The first 30 minutes my instructions recommended I roast the turkey at 500Β°F and then turn the heat down. Cooking at this high of temperature usually causes some smoke, no big surprise there. But I was cooking at my sister's house and realized I didn't know how to use her overhead fan. And I didn't want to open all her windows because the heat was on. So I smoked up the kitchen while frantically texting Elsie about how to use her fan.

After the first 30 minutes though, things cooled down (ha!). I just watched as my turkey turned deep amber brown. (Is it too brown? Is it burning? I don't know!) When the recommended roast time had passed, I carefully inserted my instant read thermometer into the turkey to check if it was done (and safe to eat). It was! Hooray! I pulled it out, and my gosh it was heavy. I apparently do not have arm muscles. I thought for sure I'd do something smooth like drop it on the way to the table. That's really all I was thinking in the above photo (DON'T DROP IT. DON'T DROP IT. DON'T DROP IT.) I didn't. I made gravy from the turkey drippings. Is there really no better word for it than "drippings"? Ugh. But it was tasty anyway. And I felt proud. I did something new. I did something that kind of scared me. And I didn't mess it up!

So if you're roasting your very first turkey this year, my heart goes out to you. Be brave! Don't drop it. And above all, enjoy yourself. It's a holiday.

And if you are making your 50th turkey this year and you're laughing at my rookie ways…well, yeah. What can I say? πŸ™‚

Happy Turkey Day Everyone! xo. Emma

  • Haha,your description kinda reminds me of Julia,in the movie “Julia and Julia” (haven’t seen it? Oh please do,you will love it Emma!) πŸ™‚ well congats on your turkey achievement,it looks enormous!

  • Emma, can i just say you are the freakin cutest! Everytime you write a post i find myself cracking up, i love your sense of humor. And congrats on not dropping that big bird! It looks yummy πŸ™‚ Happy Thanksgiving to you and all of the beauties at RV. xo

  • Totally laughing, but in a sympathetic way. We’ve all cooked a first turkey, going thru the same panic, and I daresay we’ve all messed up at least one turkey in our lifetimes. I’ve been cooking the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys in our family for over 20 years now and even so, I messed one up a few years ago when I tried to be all creative and trendy. Luckily it was salvageable, but still … it happens to all of us.

    Congrats on your first successful turkey! It looks beautiful.

  • It looks like it was amazing! And anyone that tells you off for having a little turkey but calling yourself pescetarian should likely worry about what they put into their own mouth, and not what you put in yours. Happy (American) Thanksgiving from a girl up north.

  • No one out there… everybody’s celebrating Thanksgiving! πŸ˜€
    Happy day to you all, from Italy πŸ™‚

    Claudia

  • I did my first turkey for Cristhmas four years ago when I was 20, in my country (PerΓΊ) we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
    My mom usually does it but that year, she would not be at home until that evening so she told me that I had to do it. I’m the youngest of three sisters but I like to cook. As I was nervous I called her so she could give me the instructions step by step, she was at the phone with me the entire time, hahaha. Once the turkey was in the oven, I call her every hour until the turkey was golden brown and she told me “ok now it’s done”. It was fun, stressful, but fun.
    P.s. My oldest sister pulled the turkey out of the oven (She also put it in). I have butter fingers.

  • The sweetest thing I have read today was this!
    P.S. I talk to my food while I cook it…I think it adds “love” to it when you do that!

  • Yay, congrats! I love the book Eating Animals. It has changed my perspective in so many ways. Happy Thanksgiving! πŸ™‚

  • So happy to hear I’m not the only pescatarian who’ll eat meat during the holidays! (Although, if I’m being entirely honest, the odd drive-thru burger makes it’s way in too. That’s definitely a source of personal shame…)

    Also, I’m sure everyone who’s making their 50th turkey is nodding in agreement with your post and reflecting on how they felt the same with turkey #1.

    Way to go!

  • I cooked my very first turkey last year. I brined it as well.
    It was 17 lbs. I have a tiny apartment fridge and tiny apartment oven. You do the math.
    In the end, it turned out great.(Those brine bags are a life saver!) That being said, I don’t think I will brine and cook a turkey that large ever again. (Until I get larger appliances!)
    Happy thanksgiving!

  • Congrats on your first turkey! I have the same exact food beliefs as you! Glad to see I’m not alone in my thinking. “Eating Animals” changed my life. Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

  • We don’t have Thanksgiving Day over here but I think it is a nice day to show thanks to people and things. It is also great to such a day to gather with family or friends. Except that part, cooking must be a real challenge. A 20lb turkey is tough. Seriously I wouldn’t dare to cook it. The failure possibility is quite high for me πŸ™‚ But you did it great. Your story is cute to read! Cheers and Happy thanksgiving Day to all

    http://www.feminine23.com

  • The turkey looks wonderful! You’ve done a great job!
    Haha, I also read the book some years ago.. it’s a really good one! After reading it, I decided to become a vegetarian. Like you because of the cruel practices used by meat industry and mass fishery.. but I also thought from the day i’ve started it that i wont give up meat & fish for a lifetime. I may start again eating it, when I have enough money to spend on the “right” food! So glad to see you thinking in a similar way, Emma!!
    Greetings!

  • I read it as ‘Next I brained my turkey.’ and I was like ewwww. lol. Fail by me….Glad it was a success though.

  • So impressed, cooking xmas dinner for all my family is a life list target for me … we’re away this year so it will have to wait for at least another year – phew!

  • I was pescartarian for 10 years and would always treat myself to a little ham and turkey on Christmas Day. I love your story about cooking your first ever turkey!

  • AWESOME! Here in Austria we don’t celebrate thanksgiving like oversea. And I’ve never roasted a turkey before (I even don’t know if i would get one if Id like to roast one) but reading your process totally makes me wanna try it! Thanks for sharing and happy thanksgiving out there!!!

  • Well done Emma! I’m totally jealous of your newbie skillz because I’ve been doing this for 6 years but never so well. You deserved every morsel of that non-pescetarian poultry.

  • Juices! I always call it the meats juices not drippings … although the more i say juices in my head that sounds gross too!

  • I fell in love with ABM because of Elsie back in 2009, but Emma, I love how much new life and humor you are giving ABM with your features! You are such a star in my book πŸ˜‰ The turkey looks great! You did a wonderful job πŸ™‚ Happy Thanksgiving!

  • I am impressed. I was also vegetarian for quite a while and have only fairly recently gone back to meat-but I learned all my cooking skills when I was veggie, so it’s like learning all over again. I roasted my first chicken last weekend and I was high fiving myself all over the place:) Congrats on the turkey!

  • Congratulations!! It’s so rewarding when something you’ve been stressing about turns out perfectly fine – I’m glad this is also the case for you πŸ™‚

  • It made me really happy to hear another veggie, of sorts, to admit that they don’t think it’s wrong to occasionally indulge in a little turkey. I’ve been a veggie of some sort since ’05 and it thrilled me to hear someone else say the same thing.
    Stay Awesome!

  • Congratulations on your first turkey Emma! You are such an inspiration.
    Happy thanksgiving to you and Elsie and all your loved ones.
    Ronnie xo

  • Wowzers! Congratulations Emma!! That is quite an achievement!

    I’m with you on the whole ethically raised animals thing. I am so thankful to live in New Zealand where the only animals that aren’t looked after properly are some chickens and piggies. But even then there are a whole lot of movements to make the laws more ethical! And you can always buy free range versions of products for not that much more seeing as they are so common.

    Have a happy holiday!
    Ngaio May xx

  • I made my first (and only) thanksgiving turkey when I was about 17, with a friend who was on exchange from the US and wanted to celebrate thanksgiving in Australia. so, we went to the supermarket and pooled our money to buy a turkey! When we got home my mum was like.. ‘uhh, girls, do you really think you can handle that? cooking a whole turkey is really hard!’ we rolled our eyes and pointed out that it had instructions on the packaging. We then proceeded to follow the instructions and it was totally delicious! no fear = no stress.
    (I’d be pretty intimidated doing one now though! fear of cooking failures must come with age!)

  • Hahaha! I feel the same anxiety I am planning a friends xmas dinner a little before the holidays begin, and it will be the first time I make my own turkey! Thanks for this post, it made me realize that I am not the only one to make a ”first turkey”! Looks like you managed just fine!

  • Hey Emma, I dropped my first turkey. I sort of caught it between my knees and the oven – that was not fun. But if pretty much fell apart and somewhere around here we have a picture with a very mangled bird that says, “Pat’s first turkey”. You did great! It looked perfect!

  • I never ate roasts growing up (my mum didn’t like making them) so the first one I ever did I was very nervous! I have never done a turkey before. I think you did great!

  • Emma, you’re so funny! πŸ™‚ We (me and my bf) eat everything but most of our meals are vegetarian. It’s primarily since I also think raising animals in horrible conditions for our pleasure is wrong. Also it’s better for the environment and our health. Yesterday we had some friends over for dinner and had red meat. My stomach did not agree lol. Thank you for this post, I hope this can make people view meat a bit differently!

  • I’m the exact same way. I don’t like eating much meat, and so hardly never cook it. When I actually do I get really scared about over or under cooking the meat. And I don’t like cutting it up so I try to avoid it!!!
    XO Samantha

  • I relate to this SO much. I’ve been vegetarian for 12 years, for a lot of reasons and only occasionally cook meat for my boyfriend. I was hoping the book you linked to was Eating Animals, such a good one. I wrote about it on my blog when it came out. Jonathan Safran Foer is just a great author in general. Last year I made my first turkey for my boyfriend and his best friend. It was just the 3 of us. I found just a turkey breast and brined it overnight in my big canning pot. After watching my mom baste a turkey every year for 26 years, I really think brining is the way to go. It cooks up so quickly, is beautiful and juicy. Your turkey turned out lovely.

  • Oh Emma. I so enjoyed this post because I too felt the nerves and anxiety that you felt. I am roasting my first turkey ever….IN AUSTRALIA! In the tiniest oven I have ever laid eyes on. But yes, it turned out wonderful, yes it was enjoyed by all, and the gravy was delicious! Cheers to us rookies!

  • Great story! Congrats for tour first turkey πŸ™‚ I’m happy you didn’t drop it πŸ™‚ cooking something that big, for a special ocasion is always challenging.

  • It looks amazing! never heard “pescatarian” before, vegetarian who eats meat I guess!

  • That is a huge bird, I can see why you were scared! You should be really proud of yourself, it’s SO hard to get a full turkey to cook the way you like it. (I assume so anyway, that’s what I find when I make chicken)

    x

  • Just in case you don’t already know – the only meat that can make you sick when it’s undercooked is the meat from birds and pigs! Lamb and beef can always be served bloody.
    Meat being cooked does not, however, mean being served dry… πŸ™‚

  • Way to go! The food poisoning party comment cracked me up. I worry about that when making clam chowder from clams I dug up. πŸ™‚ “Food poisoning party” sounds like it should be in a funny movie. Your bird looks awesome. You should take the picture of yourself with the turkey and make it look like it’s from the ’70’s with photoshop and hang it up. It would look great! πŸ™‚

  • Good Job, I didn’t have time to try to make a turkey yesterday, but I really want to try my cooking skills in a turkey someday haha

  • I cooked my first turkey this year too, and every single one of my family members, colleagues and facebook friends knew how nervous I was, to the point of some of them calling their Mums and getting advice for me!!! Like you, I was so nervous about getting it fully defrosted in time, and then cooking it so it wasn’t underdone. But at the end of all that stress, it turned out perfect! My husband liked it so much, he requested I do it again at Christmas! Now I have the timing and tips down, I think Christmas will be a breeze πŸ˜‰ I enjoyed reading your post, turkey solidarity my friend!

  • Way to go!!! And THANK YOU for linking to “Eating Animals” – that book is incredible. My husband and I actually killed our own turkey this Thanksgiving – knowing that our turkey lived a good life and died humanely made us able to enjoy it all the more! Hooray for knowing where your food comes from!

  • My best friend and I started to do a Thanksgiving with friends during our freshman year of college. She informed me the day we were supposed to cook that she refused to touch raw meat, and it was on me to cook it. I called my mother in a panic, but somehow the turkey came out quite good!
    This year was our senior year, and she still refused to touch the bird, but fortunately I’ve grown much more confident in my turkey skills, and we marveled at how much faster and easier everything seemed to go.
    So no one is allowed to laugh at your rookie ways, because no one comes out of the womb knowing how to make turkey (I hope!)

  • Turkey is supposed to be the showstopper, but I still don’t think most people really like turkey that much. It’s all about the sides. πŸ™‚ And that makes you brilliant to have served up your bird with lemons and pomegranates. Yum.

  • Congrats Emma! That looks amazing (and I’m a vegetarian). Bravo!! πŸ™‚

    P.S. I think here in Australia we just say “pan juices” instead of “drippings”….ewwww. Haha.

  • I’ve had food poisoning once. It was from undercooked quail at a really nice restaurant and I was too shy to say something. I didn’t really know the parents of the friend I was with and I certainly wasn’t prepared to complain to the waiter. I also hate touching raw meat, if I have to touch the meat I usually don’t want to eat it after it’s cooked…and I generally overcook all meat to avoid food poisoning myself/others.

  • Oh Emma, this made me laugh! I’m so glad that your first turkey was a success, but I enjoy the human element of apprehension behind the beautiful, finished blog photos! I think that even the best cooks/bakers etc have had moments like that!

  • Well done Emma! You look really pleased on the photo! As someone who gets a bit too nervous about screwing things up herself, I find this post really inspiring. And it also makes me wish that we had thanksgiving in England / it was Christmas already. Bring on the turkey!
    Katie x
    http://Www.katiescreative.blogspot.com

  • Just wanted to tell you about something I recently saw, because you guys can appreciate it. I saw this on the Cooking Channel. You put the turkey in the oven at 500Β° for and hour then turn the oven OFF and make sure noone opens it for 8 hours. and after that eight hours apparently the heat from the oven being so high cooks the turkey COMPLETELY through, and it gets cooked very slow so its super tender. BUT you can’t put stuffing in or it won’t cook right. No one wants salmonella stuffing…:(!I saw this on the Cooking Chanel, it was Trisha Yearwood’s show. Just thought it was interesting, you might think so too…

  • I’m a pescatarian as well, and my parents always ask me to “make an exception, just once?” I would never, because of how inhumanely animals for meat are raised. I’m glad you made this exception out of your own will though, and that you did your homework on finding a humanely raised turkey. Congrats!

  • I love that you linked to “Eating Animals”. It was that book that so eloquently put words to what i felt about… well eating animals, that I stopped right then and there. And even though I love meat, it is not a sacrifice at all. I wonder if JSF knows what kind of impact he has made?
    Anyway, thanks for an awesome site!
    That turkey looks awesome, and I bet it tasted that way too.

  • I love this story! Reminds me of my first turkey roasting at Thanksgiving. My house’s oven was broken so my (little) cousin and I went to my grandparents’ apartment to roast the bad boy. Turns out 500Β°F really does smoke A LOT. So much so that it set of the fire alarm. Multiple times.

    In the end I added some water to the pan and I guess “par-roasted” the turkey. First turkey-roasting stories are always lots of fun to tell. Thanks for sharing yours! :]

  • Brine your turkey in a cooler! I cut back the water in my brining solution and add ice to make the ratio’s about even. Then just check it every 6 hours to make sure there is still ice in the cooler and rotate it a few times so it gets evenly brined. Cooler brining is the BEST way to go. Your turkey looks lovely, nice work.

  • Holy cow, I just laughed my way through this post…not at you, but in relation to my own turkey-cooking fears. Mom and I were terrified! Thanks for this…and it turned out amazing!

    Brooke

  • I absolutely love your apron, but don’t know how you manage to eat turkey every year. I think I’d turn inside out in shock. Eating Animals is a fantastic book though, anyone inspired to turn pesci or veggie from Emma’s recipes should just buy it now and thank her later! x

  • I must say I’m pretty proud of you, it looks delicious! I go through the same anxiety when I make a turkey…

  • Congratulations on your turkey success. I can relate to all the worrying you did. Earlier this year I cooked my first holiday meal – Easter – for my family. I made a giant ham, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, rolls, and gluten free stuffing. It was a huge undertaking and I perma-smiled for about a week after because I didn’t burn anything or drop the ham.

    Good job, I hope you’re perma-smiling.

  • Congrats Emma! I really enjoyed reading this post and experiencing it all with you. πŸ™‚

    I’m a pescatarian, too. I do occasionally make exceptions–but most of them are accidents (i.e. ate some pizza that was in the fridge, oops there was turkey hiding under the cheese). But I don’t judge other people for what they eat; I think it’s a personal decision. (I am, however, always willing to share my views if people are open to it. :). I’m pescatarian for the animals, the environment, my health, and even my tastebuds (I’m not a big fan of the taste of seared mammal flesh). My main reasons are health and compassion. I am going to try veganism this December… for the mothers whose calves are stolen away so that they can be milked beyond the point of pain… I consider that cruelty too. I hope that you follow along my journey and maybe get inspired! Going vegan is going to be a big leap for me… but I want to make as much of a difference as possible. and feel good doing it too! πŸ™‚
    Much pescatarian love,
    ~Monica

    p.s. my friends claim that my label comes from being a “pesky vegetarian”. XD

  • I love that you love to cook! I wish I loved it. I find it’s so hard sometimes. Especially when you have battle scars from Thanksgiving (thank you oven for branding me!).
    You’re turkey looks amazing! Thanks for sharing your adventure πŸ™‚

  • I roasted my very first turkey this year too! I used Gordon Ramseys CHristmas turkey recipe (he wraps the bird in bacon which helps keep the breast juicy, then the bacon goes into the gravy. Mmmmm.) and it turned out great! πŸ˜€ I was super nervous of too but it paid off.

  • Emma, I totally understand your anxiety because I don’t eat any red meat, and rarely cook my own chicken, let alone a turkey. I think I’d even panic trying to make a hamburger.
    I have a friend who is completely vegetarian and she had a funny first year of marriage trying to cook meat for her husband. Glad it turned out wonderfully!

  • Your article sparked much interest at my office. All my colleagues were debating as I listened. I liked your article more than the big debate.