This classic DAVE BARRY column was originally published on Nov. 15, 1998.
So this year, you agreed to host the big family Thanksgiving dinner. Congratulations! You moron!
No, seriously, hosting Thanksgiving dinner does NOT have to be traumatic. The key is planning. For example, every year my family spends Thanksgiving at the home of a friend named Arlene Reidy, who prepares dinner for a huge number of people. I can't give an exact figure, because my eyeballs become fogged with gravy. But I'm pretty sure that Arlene is feeding several branches of the armed forces.
And Arlene is not slapping just any old food on the table, either. She's a gourmet cook who can make anything. I bet she has a recipe for cold fusion.
She serves moist, tender turkeys the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger, accompanied by a vast array of exotic hors d'oeuvres and 350 kinds of sweet potatoes made from scratch. I'm pretty sure Arlene threshes her own wheat. If you were to look into Arlene's dining room at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, it would at first appear to be empty. Then you'd hear groans and burps coming from under the table, and you'd realize that the guests, no longer able to cope with the food and gravity at the same time, were lying on the floor. Every now and then you'd see a hand snake up over the edge of the table, grab a handful of stuffing, then dart back under the table again, after which you'd hear chewing, then swallowing, then the sound of digestive organs rupturing. Some guests have to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital, receiving pumpkin pie intravenously en route.
The question is: How is Arlene able to prepare such an amazing feast for so many people? The answer is simple: I have no idea. I'm always watching football when it happens. But my point is that, if you want to provide your Thanksgiving guests with a delicious home-cooked meal, one approach would be to go to Arlene's house and steal some of her food when she's busy churning the butter. She'd never notice. She has enough leftovers to make turkey sandwiches for everybody in Belgium.
If you prefer to do your own cooking this Thanksgiving, your first step is to calculate how much turkey you need. Home economists tell us that the average 155-pound person consumes 1.5 pounds of turkey, so if you're planning to have 14 relatives for dinner, you'd simply multiply 14 times 1.5 times 155, which means your turkey should weigh, let's see, carry the two . . . 3,255 pounds. If you can't find a turkey that size, you should call up selected relatives and explain to them, in a sensitive and diplomatic manner, that they can't come because they weigh too much.
In selecting a turkey, remember that the fresher it is, the better it will taste. That's why, if you go into the kitchen of top professional homemaker Martha Stewart on Thanksgiving morning, you'll find her whacking a live turkey with a hatchet. In fact, you'll find Martha doing this every morning.
"It just relaxes me," she reports.
Your other option is to get a frozen turkey at the supermarket. The Turkey Manufacturers Association recommends that, before you purchase a frozen bird, you check it for firmness by test-dropping it on the supermarket floor — it should bounce three vertical inches per pound — and then take a core sample of the breast by drilling into it with a 3/8-inch masonry bit until you strike the giblets. If supermarket employees attempt to question you, the Turkey Manufacturers Association recommends that you "gesture at them with the drill in a reassuring manner."
When you get the turkey home, you should thaw it completely by letting it sit on a standard kitchen counter at room temperature for one half of the turkey's weight in hours, or roughly 19 weeks. "If you see spiders nesting in your turkey," states the Turkey Manufacturers Association, "you waited too long."
Once the turkey is defrosted, you simply cook it in a standard household oven at 138.4 degrees centimeter for 27 minutes per pound (29 minutes for married taxpayers filing jointly). Add four minutes for each 100 feet of your home's elevation above sea level, which you should determine using a standard household sextant. Inspect the turkey regularly as it cooks; when you notice that the skin has started to blister, the time has come for you to give your guests the message they've been eagerly awaiting: "Run!"
Because you left the plastic wrapper on the turkey, and it's about to explode, spewing out flaming salmonella units at the speed of sound. As you stand outside waiting for the firetrucks, you should take a moment to count your blessings. The main one, of course, is that you will definitely NOT be asked to host the big family Thanksgiving dinner next year. But it's also important to remember — as our Pilgrim foreparents remembered on the very first Thanksgiving — that two excellent names for rock bands would be "The Turkey Spiders" and "The Flaming Salmonella Units."
Dave Barry is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He is taking a leave of absence from writing his weekly humor column. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132.