Thanksgiving Tales: When the Turkey Tanks

By Mary Jo Bowling of Houzz

We asked readers to chime in with their most memorable Thanksgiving missteps, and more than 200 brave souls stepped up to the plate. Apparently, making Thanksgiving dinner in a new home, while pregnant or for the first time tempts disaster. Not everyone knows what giblets are — or how to find them. Houzzers, be careful, oh so careful, when using a disposable aluminum cooking pan. And let’s face it, our pets simply can’t be trusted around a holiday feast. Finally, it seems many of us subscribe wholeheartedly to the Five-Second Rule, especially when it comes to turkey.

Illustrations by Molly Brandenburg

Confounding Pans, Collapsing Tables and an Unexpected Trip

Bye-bye, birdie. Roasting pans have put readers in hot water. Case in point: spookyjimjams’ first Thanksgiving after moving out of her parents’ home. “We did everything traditionally, including … carving the turkey at the table,” she writes. “My husband (then boyfriend) carried the turkey pan to the table since we were too broke to have a nice platter. Well, the disposable pan buckled just as he made it to the table and everything, the turkey and about half a gallon of drippings, went straight on the carpeted dining room floor. Let me tell you that getting turkey fat out of carpet is how you lose your security deposit.”

This woman is not even close to alone. We received several tales of disposable pans collapsing at the critical moment. But disposable pans are not the only culprits. Pie pans and platters tend to jump and shatter at inopportune times too.

How to Prepare for a Holiday Party in One Day

Pie toss. Take, for instance, what reader mmacintyre1 calls an epic holiday fail: “One Thanksgiving, I prepared my first homemade apple pie with a fancy, woven lattice-top crust. It looked perfect. My father-in-law, who had a very strong personality, admired my handiwork. Before I even picked up the pie to carry it to the oven, he started saying, ‘You’re going to drop it. Be careful. You’re going to drop it.’ He went over and opened the oven door for me, and continued the same insistent warning. Just as I started to put it into the oven, the PIE LEAPT OUT OF MY HANDS! It turned itself upside down in midair and splattered on the oven door. To this day, I believe that my father-in-law’s powerful words flipped that pie.”

A heavy meal. It’s not just pans that give out on Thanksgiving. Crystal Swanson writes, “One Thanksgiving we had a gigantic meal prepared. I set up an old metal folding table in the kitchen to serve the feast. The term ‘groaning board’ was apt in this case because, before my very horrified eyes, as we were starting to dish up buffet-style, the entire table collapsed with the weight of the food and dishes and sent everything cascading to the floor. We salvaged what we could, but that folding table got thrown out!”

Table that motion. Then there was that table in zeebee’s extended family. “A relative leaned heavily on the dining table extension, which made the legs buckle at one end of the loooong table,” she relates. “Everything that couldn’t be grabbed went cascading onto the floor, and my MIL lost all of her wedding china in the crash.”

In short, to put a mod spin on a traditional sentiment, haters gonna hate and turkeys are going to fall on the floor. When they do, Houzzers seem to be in agreement that it doesn’t hurt the taste if you just pick it up and dust it off.

Roll with it. Look at loraleemacpike and her first Thanksgiving after getting married (which, judging from our reader responses, is a time prone to holiday blunders). “We were going to a potluck, and I got to do the turkey,” she says. “I stuffed it, noting that the cavity was remarkably small. As I was carrying it to the car, I tripped on the stairs and the turkey flew off its pan and rolled down the street. I sat down and cried, but my husband picked up the turkey, dusted off the gravel and leaves, and put both the turkey and me into the car. No one seemed to notice at the hostess’ house, but when she went to make gravy, she commented on how sparse the drippings were. But the best was yet to come: When she went to scoop out the dressing, her spoon hit something hard, and she pulled out a bag of giblets!”

While We’re Talking Turkey

Her story illuminates another fact: Many of you discovered giblets (that funny little bag found in frozen turkeys that contains the liver, heart, gizzard and neck of the fowl) the hard way.

Hot potato. Reader NPSM’s giblet goof haunts her decades after it happened. Upon discovering the bag, she thought: “Oh, look! The turkey comes stuffed with a potato, how nice!” She then put her potato-stuffed bird in the oven to roast for her first Thanksgiving with her husband. “When I took it out of the oven, I realized my ‘potato’ was actually the bag of giblets. I have thought of that potato every Thanksgiving for the last 25 years,” she writes.

Find a Sturdy Dining Table for Thanksgiving Dinner

Another glass of wine? Many readers made the same mistake. Another common holiday flub was messing up the cooking times. Several readers write of carving a bird at the table and having very pink juices pour forth. Others, such as athompson18, pull a chair up to the table much later than they planned. “I had everything ready to go, but [the turkey] needed another hour,” she writes. “Everything was cold, but we drank so much, no one cared when we finally sat down.”

The Missing Piece

“So the night before Thanksgiving we took the turkey out and put it outside” where it was cool enough to defrost “because there wasn’t enough space in the refrigerator,” writes reader Sarah Peterson. “The problem was that we needed a spot where the dogs could not get it. So we put it in the horse trailer. The next morning we were preparing everything and moving vehicles so that there was enough space for parking. Mom was making stuffing, my brother was moving vehicles and Dad was in charge of the turkey.

“My dad was ready to put the turkey on but couldn’t find it anywhere. It turns out my brother had hooked up the horse trailer and parked it where we board the horses across town. My dad didn’t think it was very funny but we did.”

The Unplanned Visitors

Smoked turkey.
A few readers had to call 911. Says brigmax: “Ages ago, my boyfriend and his two roommates put a turkey on a pan and threw [it] in the oven on Thanksgiving morning. They set the oven to some crazy high temperature and headed out skiing for the day. When they got home eight HOURS later, there was a note on the door that read ‘Turkey is done.’ It was signed by the Denver fire department! It was smoking so badly that the neighbor called the fire department. The [building] superintendent let the firemen in to shut off the oven and open windows. The turkey skin was charred, but the guys said it was cooked perfectly so they ate it anyway.”

An alarming day. Reader jacksmommy1977 attempted to treat firefighters after they showed up at the last minute. “When we bought our home, I wanted to have a proper Thanksgiving,” she says. “I opened the oven to baste the turkey and the juices dripped down onto the oven, causing lots of smoke. Our alarm system is connected to the fire department, so when the alarm went off, [they] came! The alarm continued, despite disarming it, and the fire department made three more trips to our home. I was mortified. As a thank-you, I offered some freshly baked dinner rolls to the firefighters, and they replied, ‘No way, we don’t want any burnt food!’”

Our Best Friends? Maybe Not

Doggone it. Several of you uploaded funny photos, but my favorite is the one here, from agardnerdesign. The caption simply says, “Guess who got the turkey?” My guess is the canine who is seen here licking his chops in anticipation. I’m also guessing this couple wasn’t smiling when it happened.

Please help yourself. Other legends of pets gone wild include this memory from halleycomet: “My mother — no cook she — decided to leave the turkey to cool on the counter with the Irish setter — a known THIEF — in the same room. We discovered that the dog had gently eaten one side of the thing to the bones, as neat as a surgeon! I just sliced the other side and put it all on a platter.”

Clean getaway. Thank goodness for user names, otherwise relatives of goatpro would know the truth. “Went to get the pumpkin pies to cut and serve only to find little lick marks and partial paw prints,” this Houzzer writes. “[We] followed the trail of pumpkin on the floor and carpet to the culprit, who was found cleaning himself in his cat bed. I didn’t know what to do, as they were the only dessert I had to serve. Sooooo, [I] smoothed out the marks and served with a smile!”

Keeping It in Perspective

The main dish. You also shared stories of resilience and reminders of what the day is truly about. Reader wendygrows relates a funny story that begins late on Thanksgiving eve with the arrival of 28 guests and the discovery that her turkey had been recalled, and ends with her great-grandmother traveling 75 miles with a partially cooked bird for the save. “The turkey was great, but the day [was] filled with love and laughter fantastic,” she writes. “In reality no turkey will ever make or break a Thanksgiving. We are just thankful for the love and memories we have and the people that make Thanksgiving what it truly is: a celebration of thanks.”

If you want to smile some more, check out the rest of the stories here. And, as Houzzer goodewyfe says, “I hope everyone has a wonderful, disaster-free Thanksgiving this year.”

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