Turkey Crime Scene

By Bay Posted Saturday Nov 26, 2022

Filed under: Epilogue, Personal 49 comments

So, it’ll surprise no one that my entire family experiences textural issues with food: gristle, bits of fat, and bones. We were the kids who wouldn’t eat the bone-on chicken wings and legs, or we’d just take a single bite from the outside and proclaim it finished.

Dad’s autobiography was riddled with clear neurodivergence, which was only a peek into his real life. One of my favorite things was the fact he’d still be wandering around in shorts at this time of year. It wasn’t that he wasn’t cold, it was that he was so used to wearing them that the change felt wrong. It wouldn’t be until late January that he’d finally break and switch to sweatpants. He’d take a couple of weeks acclimating to the change, just in time to experience a month and a half of comfort. Then, come May, he wouldn’t switch back to shorts no matter how hot it was because he was used to the sweatpants, and the cycle continued.

Christmas morning in shorts, 4th of July in sweatpants, every single year. All this to say, it makes sense his kids are all neurospicy.

Turkey wasn’t really a thing in my house growing up, and when I moved out and got to experience my own holidays, I…didn’t love it. In fact, I didn’t love many traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Cranberry sauce has bits of berry skin in it, turkey has fat and bones, and people kept adding weird extras to the stuffing.

The stuffing was dads favorite food, without a doubt in my mind. Potatoes in all their forms might have been a close successor, but the stuffing was his favorite.  Celery, bread, broth, eggs, bake the damn thing and eat it, simple. Imagine my horror when I moved to west Texas and learned that people put raisins, craisins, walnuts, corn, and all other manners of special add-ons to God’s already perfect food. It was good, sure, but was it the stuffing I knew and loved? No!

So, when I got a [rental] house of my own, I had to figure out what was Thanksgiving dinner for MY family. Elliot has fond memories of all kinds of southern cooking, Charlie had dysfunctional holidays growing up and wants anything but many southern Thanksgiving dishes, and Peter and I hate textures, oh boy.

The first few years were rough, but we’ve landed in our own traditions pretty well.

Pictured: My only saving graces.
Pictured: My only saving graces.

Strain. Everything.

Turns out I’ll drink gravy right from a mug if you put it through a strainer. Strain the broth, strain the cranberry sauce, hell, strain the goddamned mashed potatoes.  I have to buy a new strainer almost every year because I use it more than I use the toaster. Why are these textures in my food when I can simply eradicate them?

This isn’t to say our food goes in the blender to be some sort of gross abomination to mankind. It’s not that everything has to be smooth, it has to be expected. For instance, if I were to put all of dinner in the blender to create that abomination to mankind, you bet your ass it’s going through a strainer because I don’t want any god damned surprises.

So, the turkey. You can’t put a turkey through a strainer, and I haven’t been demented enough to try, so, what the hell do I do?

Simply what any logical person would spend three hours doing every single Thanksgiving; cutting out all of the bones, of course.

Sorry, buddy.
Sorry, buddy.

The process is brutal and long, and stupid. Pictured above: my newly broken kitchen shears, bested by the beast this year. But the job also allows control over the texture. My mouth doesn’t risk an ambush by turkey fat, because my hands are able to feel around and check for anything unwanted before it ever hits the oven. Plus, a happy side effect, all those bones, and bits I don’t want to eat are suddenly not wasted because I can turn them into a broth, for the gravy, which might be my favorite food.


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49 thoughts on “Turkey Crime Scene

  1. Kieran says:

    Why not just buy a can of Cranberry Jelly? It’s completely uniform and it’s what my parents always insisted on eating at Thanksgiving. (They didn’t have any patience for fancy stuff – pretty much everything on the table came from a can.)

    As for stripping the bones from the turkey, have you considered buying a boneless turkey breast? It’s like 3 pounds of meat, plenty for a single night of feasting, and while there’s a bit of fat/gristle, it’s trivial to cut it out afterwards. (This is coming from someone who is also very picky about their meat.)

    1. Retsam says:

      Yeah, I don’t normally have texture issues, but my favorite dish this time of year is the jellied cranberry sauce, but I really can’t stand the textured stuff.

      1. Sleepyfoo says:

        My family loves the Canned Cranberry jelly. I think you are “supposed to” dilute it with water or boil it or something to get actual sauce out of it.

        However, we delight in dumping it right out of the can onto a serving plate and cutting pieces off as desired. It comes out of the can so well the ridges of the can are kept on the blob.

        1. Chuk says:

          I haven’t heard of anyone diluting it, the various times I’ve seen anyone using the canned (which I grew up with), it was just on the plate and got sliced up. (As an adult I prefer the made-from-berries one, it’s pretty quick to prepare too.)

        2. Chad Miller says:

          I’ve never heard of anyone diluting it either. The kind I used this year even shows it sliced on the label of the can: https://www.oceanspray.com/Products/Sauce/Jellied-Cranberry-Sauce

          (and I’ll also agree with all the recommendations to try it given the description in the blog post!)

      2. Taellosse says:

        Truly, I say this with no intention to offend, but you’re mad.

        The store-bought “cranberry sauce” (actually jelly) is an abomination against decency and justice, while homemade cranberry sauce (really more of a relish, and ideally should involve the inclusion of some grated orange rinds) is among the world’s most perfect foods.

        That said, I hope you enjoyed your portions of vile, gelatinous cranberry concentrate alongside a satisfying feast, accompanied by loved ones at this year’s festival to commemorate American colonialism. ;-)

  2. DrCapsaicin says:

    Just came here to say: those jalapenos look AMAZING…

    …and now I want jalapenos for lunch.

  3. Fizban says:

    This is one of those posts that makes me go “I wonder if I have a bit of that,” because I also hate eating meat off the bones and finding weird gristly bits, and the “expected” qualifier really hits home.

    I like the pliers in the picture- and hey, if you’re using pliers already, why not upgrade from flimsy kitchen shears to some sort of hardware aisle tool meant for cutting serious stuff? (Wash first of course)

    1. Jennifer Snow says:

      Pruning shears. Perfect tool for turkey deboning. Also, you can often just buy a frozen breast of turkey these days instead of a whole turkey with all the bones and stuff.

      We brined our turkey this year and it was fab. Highly recommend.

  4. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    > which was only a peak into his real life

    Did you mean a peek?

    1. Taellosse says:

      Maybe it was along the lines of the iceberg metaphor, meant to suggest that it displayed only the high points, while the full scope was far larger beneath the ocean’s surface?

      Probably not, though. ;-P

  5. Oh, I completely understand!

    I’ve been a vegetarian since I was about 10 years old because I could not tolerate the taste, texture, or smell of ANY meat!

    For many years, Thanksgiving was a holiday of low grade hell for me as I fought back the inevitable nausea from the smell of the cooking turkey. Thankfully, my omnivore partner of the past 20 years could not care less if we forego the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

    There’s no point in celebrating a holiday if you’re going to be miserable while doing it!

    1. djw says:

      I have also been a vegetarian since very young for pretty much exactly that reason. I was stubborn enough that my parents gave up on making me eat meat before I turned five. My mom still cooked a turkey on Thanksgiving, but I was not required to eat it, thankfully P.

  6. Wilson B. Wilson says:

    Thanksgiving used to be this odd personal challenge for my mother who would always brag about how early in the morning she had it all ready for reasons I’ve never understood. And so we always had a huge dinner + it’s leftovers every year for many years and being the anomalous atheistic southern family we are, that’s all the holiday was. A big meal. Over the last few years, it’s just become another on the list of holidays we celebrate even less traditionally, as I’m oddly the only one in my family who actually likes turkey and with it just being an early Christmas with no gifts for us. (Notably, Christmas is the only holiday left we ‘celebrate’, being a big dinner and a small gift to each member of the tiny family unit. Otherwise, holidays are just the free days we get off work.)

    Turkey horribly dry 95% of the time, don’t get me wrong, but I like the taste of it. This year we just had homemade burgers because money is tight and most of everyone is happy with that because it’s just not something we can afford regularly. (My brother has been interminably afraid of bread for the longest time but he’ll eat the “burger” without any bread). The leftovers of this will be what my father and I pretty much live off of for the next few days.

    Back to the topic at hand, I didn’t like meat off the bone until recently as gristle, fat, and bone marrow have always triggered a gag reflex in me no matter what, (likely sourced from my deeply rooted, unconquerable squeamishness regarding seeing or touching the insides/internal organs of any living thing.) Despite being more comfortable with it now, I still prefer options that have, well, more meat on them. Boned meats always end up with less actual meat on them compared to things like loins, bacon, and steaks.

    I still don’t like the taste of fish though, (most are utterly tasteless to me), despite being a hobby fisher. Don’t get me started on crustaceans, I’d rather kiss an anglerfish than be in the same room as one.

    Well, there’s my story regarding odd aversions and how my family (doesn’t) celebrate Thanksgiving.

    1. Joshua says:

      About a dozen or so years ago, after preparing the turkey dinner for my very small extended family, I asked the question, “Does anyone here actually like turkey that much?”, and everyone’s answer was along the lines of “meh”. Ever since then, we’ve switched to something that’s a lot less work or able to easily screw up by drying out.

    2. CrushU says:

      Dry turkey was very common until someone who actually knew how to cook saw me preparing it. Or rather, *not* preparing it.

      Dry brine with salt and herbs at *least* a day before, then rub an entire stick of butter into and under the skin before roasting.

      Turkey’s been juicy and delicious ever since, no problems.

    3. Heather says:

      You might want to look into ARFID. There are several types but what you describe is one of the types.

  7. BlueHorus says:

    I just don’t get tradition.

    Well, no, I do, but people go to such trouble over it and it seems pointless to me. If turkey’s such a bother, why buy it at all?* That picture of a deboned turkey is a) kind of horrible and b) makes me think of how many other things you could eat that wouldn’t take 3 hours to prepare…before you start cooking.
    I’m all for holidays, big family meals, time off work, celebrations and stuff like that, but doing something ‘just because it’s always been done that way’ is at best unimaginative and at worst a very predictable justification for…a lot of bad things that would violate the No Politics rule if I mentioned them.

    To each their own, of course. And yet…it’s one of those things that just makes me feel like an alien, sometimes.

    *I remember, a few years ago, overhearing an American woman who lived in London saying she’d bought an imported turkey from the US for Thanksgiving at the low, low price of over $100.
    I didn’t like her so I didn’t say it out loud, but…we do actually farm and sell turkeys here in the UK…

    1. Bay says:

      Well, I violently hate tradition for tradition’s sake. If my great-grandchildren are someday deboning a turkey because ‘that’s how grappy used to do it’ I will roll in my grave. However, deboning the turkey is an act of love in my household. We love turkey, and can’t have it most of the year for the reasons mentioned above. Thanksgiving is the one day a year that we get together and do this tedious, annoying job, so that we can all appreciate it, together. I think it’s important to note that there is no one ‘thankgiving cook’ in my house.

      We all work to prepare the turkey at some point or another, we all have a side we make. No one toils in the kitchen alone, and during cook times we play board games together. If it was stressful or not worth the time, we wouldn’t do it. I’m not ignorant to the many simpler products out there that are all the same texture, but there is a certain ‘I love you’ to take into account everyone at the table and make them something they love, from scratch.

      1. Joshua says:

        Well, I violently hate tradition for tradition’s sake.

        Well, you’d love this story then. I’ve used it in interviews, because surprisingly there are a lot of times in the workplace where someone creates a process to handle a particular situation and then mindlessly continues to follow that process after the situation changes.

        1. kincajou says:

          Nice story, Aslo reminds me of the “Chromium” chapter of Primo Levi’s “Periodic Table” (A fantastic book in and of itself) which brings up similar… Traditions!

        2. Heather says:

          I am sure the kids have heard that one many times, because I first heard it as a new wife and it resonated with me (was very disappointed when I found out the pastor who told it had lied that it was his mother to make a point.) Tradition irks me to no end and if it doesn’t make sense I drop it. So, I don’t do turkey (blech) or the rest of thanksgiving dinner- the only bits I eat are celery, cranberry sauce, olives, pickles, and pie (with gf crust). So the kids do their thing without me but I get to help prep.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I violently hate tradition for tradition’s sake.

        Huzzah, I feel less alone!

        Communally deboning a turkey doesn’t sound fun to me – but hey, if it works for you that’s great. Coming up with this kind of small-scale tradition is part of being a family. Like when family members have affectionate names for each other that sound like insults to oustiders.

  8. RCN says:

    As a non-American, happy Turkey day.

    We’ve copied black Friday though. For absolutely none of the reasons your dad carefully explained that one time about Black Friday and Christmas’ hostile takeover of other months. The only reason we copied it is because Americans do it, so… let’s make a completely artificial new shopping frenzy holiday.

    Doesn’t help that almost 100% of the time the discounts aren’t even real. Things like raising a $500 product to $800-1000 two weeks before Black Friday and then lowering it back to the original price, calling it a “discount”. Yes, it is illegal, but everyone does it, so it is kinda like the baby turtle survival tactic. Flood the beaches with enough of them that even if the Customer Protection Service takes a few of them out, most will get their grift on unscathed.

    Note that there IS people insisting we copy thanksgiving too. Yes, directly celebrate another country’s holiday.

    Well… that was a bit of a tangent. Again, happy turkey day. Hope there’s no family drama in yours. Besides the obvious missing person at the table, that is. Hope you’re coping better now that Halloween has passed. (Now, THAT’S a holiday worth copying. Though we already had a holiday close to it in the “give random kids candy just because” sense, but that’s the kind of thing I don’t care doing multiple times a year.)

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      I get it. Besides Black Friday and Cyber Monday they’ve copied Halloween here too, and it’s clearly been for commercial reasons. Thank God I live in an isolated place and I don’t have to deal with trick-or-treaters. There’s been some talk here and there about introducing Thanksgiving but so far it’s been majorly ignored, thankfully.

      1. PPX14 says:

        Here out in the middle of nowhere in a 5000 population village, you should have seen the Halloween decorations, I couldn’t believe it. The xmas decorations are positively tasteful by comparison, much more subdued. The trick or treaters were just some tiny children with parents and a random nerdy teen couple (which was odd, but nice).

  9. sheer_falacy says:

    Is there not a way to buy pre-deboned turkey? If nothing else you could get ground turkey, which is at least adjacent to the spirit of the thing and would give you more consistency (though good luck straining it).

    I definitely understand hating unexpected textures in food – my reaction is less extreme and takes more to trigger but it’s still unpleasant. It’s actually a pretty reasonable thing to understand from an evolutionary standpoint, if you’re eating something and it’s not what you thought it was you should probably stop eating it, but appropriate scale is important.

    1. Joshua says:

      At some point, my parents switched to turkey breast. A heck of a lot less work, more consistency, and a lot less leftovers for just the two of them.

  10. Moridin says:

    I don’t have it nearly as bad, but this is the reason I hate raisins in food. On their own they’re tasty enough, but bite into one while eating bread or cake and there’s the sudden change of texture followed by burst of raisin flavour that feels really unpleasant.

    1. Joshua says:

      I’m generally that way with nuts in desserts.

  11. Dreadjaws says:

    In my country people are exceedingly traditional towards food, to a fault. People just outright hate trying new things and they get mad at you if you do, even if all you do is change the way you eat something. My parents used to get angry at me for not wanting to eat the meat right off the bone (chicken, not turkey. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten turkey). Thankfully, as soon as I moved out of their house I started doing all these things they ridiculously didn’t want me to do for no other reason than tradition.

    My parents have softened out a bit with age, so they’re more willing to try new things, but in general the attitude in the country is of disdain and mockery if you show up to eat something that’s not traditional. It’s insane.

    1. Joshua says:

      Where is this?

  12. MaxEd says:

    I didn’t know it’s called that, but I also hate textures, e.g. bones and other pieces of food that can’t be eaten. “Take a bite of a chicken leg and declare it finished” is very, very “me”. I often joke that I’d like all food to be in sensibly-sized edible cubes. I long for the days when we can safely grow meat in labs without all the unnecessary bits (I dislike vegetables too much to be a vegetarian).

    My favourite way to eat meat is what’s called “cutlet” in our country. It’s not what’s called “cutlet” in the rest of the world as far as I know, because there it means exactly the thing I hate – “meat on a bone” – which I discovered while travelling, much to my displeasure. Here, it means food made from minced meat, chicken, turkey of fish, usually with a bit of milk-soaked bread and garlic mixed in. It’s different from “meatballs” in a way I can’t describe (at the very least, the form is different). They can be fried or steamed, and usually contain zero foreign textures. HOWEVER. They’re not considered “holiday food”. Ever. Common, everyday food? Yes. But for holidays, when guests came to our flat, my grandmother and mother would always cook something more fancy – which I almost universally disliked.

  13. Alan says:

    Putting mashed potatoes through a strainer isn’t that weird. If you use a specialized gizmo instead (a ricer), you’re into the realm of snooty cuisine. (If you’re interested in a ricer, I recommend not getting one that rotates to expose different patterns on the theory it makes different sizes; I’ve got one and it just isn’t very good )

  14. SomeGuyInABikini says:

    Jump on YouTube, search for “Will It Blend Thanksgiving Dinner”. That’s the abomination you’re missing out on. But I’m sure it’d be fine after a good straining.

  15. Fallonor says:

    So I have ADHD, my best friend has ADHD, my sister almost certainly has ADHD, her husband is diagnosed and I’ve long suspected my parents both have undiagnosed ADHD.

    It’s remarkable how complex our dinner plans are even though as the primary planner I’m just accustomed to covering it all.

    Extra meat in a stuffing sounds delicious and for most of us it is, but some of my circle would retch if they hit a chunk of turkey in their stuffing. I can gnaw the cartilage off the end of a turkey bone without anything like disgust, but God help me if there were nuts in my sweet potatoes.

    My best friend won’t even mess with mashed potatoes anymore, any texture other than smoot potato will reverse the process of eating and he honestly wasn’t crazy about them before. My mom will fully stop eating if a piece of meat presents her with anything she did not expect, she’s not hungry anymore.

    Mom and I refuse to have anything to do with margarine, my sister gets migraines from red #40, Dad likes to pile everything together and doesn’t seem to fixate on texture at all, my wife appears to be completely neurotypical but she finds that things like heavily toasted bread actually hurt her mouth by the time she gets done eating them.

    I will almost always skip desert for more turkey, other family members will skip items at dinner to try every pie available. My Brother-in-law will only eat dark meat from poultry if I prepare it because I cook dark meat to 200 so it comes apart like good barbecue, he gags on the springiness otherwise.

    My best friend brings his wife, she hates bread and insists on eating small portions over the course of several hours because she likes to graze. She also bites the fork when she eats and it makes the misophonic among the family flinch every time.

    Best friend has to pick every micron of identifiable fat out of any piece of meat and my Dad loves turkey skin pretty much regardless of what you do to it.

    We all watched too much Alton Brown to ever stuff a turkey and eat what comes out.

  16. SoldierHawk says:

    This was an unexpected, yet super fun, article.

    Also, “neurospicy” might be my new favorite descriptor.

    1. Benjamin Paul Hilton says:

      Agreed neurospicy is great XD

  17. William H says:

    This thanksgiving meal was cruelly murdered sending a chill through our community

  18. Philadelphus says:

    I can’t help being the tiniest bit envious that you had other people in the family with similar texture issues who could understand – I was the one weirdo in my family who can’t stand a bunch of various bog-standard/beloved ways of preparing meat (bone-in poultry, steak, etc.) and who hated going out to KFC. I couldn’t really articulate it very well as a kid, and it’s still a bit awkward explaining to neurotypical people even now that I know myself better; I’m too honest to say I have food allergies (I’m “blessed” with zero allergies to anything I’ve ever eaten), but at least as an adult I can better maneuver situations to keep it from coming up in the first place.

    (I remember trying Spam for the first time at the age of 20, and being like “Where has this been all my life? A delicious form of meat with a perfectly homogeneous texture!” [Which, thirteen years on, has yet to disappoint me.])

  19. Adamantyr says:

    Have you ever looked into the Jennie-O freezer to oven boneless turkey breasts? They are routinely available at grocery stores, have no bones whatsoever, and are literally “pop it in the roasting pan and stick it in the oven for a few hours” easy to do.

  20. WWWebb says:

    raisins, craisins, walnuts, corn

    I can understand the walnuts for texture and corn for flavor, but dried fruit (or anything sweet) sounds pretty odd to me.

    Here in south Texas, there’s usually sausage and it’s often fairly dry and crumbly. Why dry? It’s just another excuse for gravy. :)

    Personally, I prefer the savory bread-pudding style you described, but I have an in-law with a celery allergy so I rarely get it.

  21. MelTorefas says:

    “Neurospicy” is my new favorite term. I count myself lucky to have escaped texture issues; I’m hypersensitive to more than enough things as it is. I don’t envy you your processes but I’m glad you have found things that work!

  22. Patrick the mullet-ed says:

    I remember his favorite food being Chex mix. Which I suppose is just really, really crunchy stuffing. So yea….dude liked his seasoned carbs.

  23. Sig'unnr says:

    I really wish you’d tell us what each dish is named! :-O Intrigued!

  24. Zepher says:

    I admit that I am still warming up to the changes to the site and haven’t been as up to date as I would like, but “neurospicy” is quickly becoming my new favorite term for describing the challenges in my brain. Thank you for sharing such a fun, positive spin on it!

  25. Jonathan says:

    An immersion blender is pretty good for taking something with too much texture and turning into a more consistent form. My house has a bunch of food intolerances, and sweet potato quality has gone downhill over the last 4 years (lots of fibrous parts these days). Peel, cook, mash through a metal cone/sieve thing (don’t know the name, but it’s sturdy), then immersion blend and add raisins…. That’s about as close as we get to conventional breakfast cereal.

  26. PPX14 says:

    Celery, bread, broth, eggs, bake the damn thing and eat it, simple. Imagine my horror when I moved to west Texas and learned that people put raisins, craisins, walnuts, corn, and all other manners of special add-ons to God’s already perfect food. It was good, sure, but was it the stuffing I knew and loved? No!

    What on earth is going on?! There are two ingredients to stuffing – the powdery stuff in the box of sage and onion stuffing mix, and hot water! Or sausagemeat in pre-made balls from the supermarket. Real vegetables in stuffing?! Your aversion to a multitude textures may well be rather suited to the British way of food, I suspect the neurodivergence in this case would be viewed in the opposite direction, notable by wanting too many textures!! :D

  27. PPX14 says:

    Simply what any logical person would spend three hours doing every single Thanksgiving; cutting out all of the bones, of course.

    Fascinating. My preference in that regard is to remove the unwanted after cooking and before plating – not because I don’t want them in my mouth but because I can’t stand having them on the plate once revealed, they get in the way.

    At university when no one was looking I developed an efficient way to deal with cooking with chicken thighs. Cutting them into thigh fillets while raw is a nightmare (might as well just buy thigh fillets, and when they became commonplace, I did!) and want to cook with the bones and fat and skin anyway for all that flavour. So cook with them but once the meat is done, remove from the stew-type-food and remove the meat, to put back into the pan. But this is a bit of a faff even if easier for me than when raw. And so I realised that I was being held back by utensils, and even by hands. Teeth are so efficient at this stuff, if you happen to be cooking for yourself only, or anyone who doesn’t mind… or know.

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