Brisket for Thanksgiving?

For several years, my sister and I have been alternating hosting duties for our major holidays; Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, etc. The first year that I hosted Rosh Hashanah, my mom brought the cooked brisket to my house. I pretty much just set the table. The next year she brought the brisket, raw, and we prepared it together. We sat on my front porch and schmoozed away the hours it took to cook. Then came the year I was ready to solo. It was a success, with a brisket as good as Mom’s, if I do say so myself.

Through my years of brisket-training, I was able to avoid the Thanksgiving turkey—until this year, when it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. Knowing how much I did not want to make a turkey, my mother suggested she would cook it and bring it over. There was a precedent, the brisket, so without giving it any thought, I accepted. However, upon reflection, I realized that a turkey was not a brisket, and I had trouble envisioning how Mom would successfully transport the bird. A brisket, after all, is a flat slab of meat, easy to carry in a pan with a lid, a turkey, not so much.

My mother then suggested she would come to my house and we’d prepare the bird together. Since that had worked so well with the brisket, I acquiesced. But the evening before Thanksgiving I remembered my mother’s fatal flaw: She is not a morning person. I thought that asking her to get up early to come over and walk me through the preparation would be selfish. I told her I could manage on my own, if she told me what to do.

So the night before Thanksgiving, my mother gave me a turkey tutorial over the phone. I made notes, many of which I was, unfortunately, unable to decipher. A few elements were legible; brown (which I knew was for brown paper bag), backwards (which I think was how the bird was to go into the bag, unless it wasn’t), and figure eight (which had something to do with the string I never used).

With Andrew’s help I got the bird into the paper bag, but he was skeptical. He said people sometimes tented a bag over the turkey, but he’d never heard of encasing the bird in the bag. “How are you supposed to baste it?” he asked.

Baste it?

We got the bird tucked into the oven, and when I was reasonably certain my mother would be awake I called her. It turns out you don’t baste it. That’s the whole point of the paper bag.

I’m not a big fan of turkey, but this one was delicious. It could be because it was a ridiculously expensive bird, fresh and brined, sourced from a local farm stand because I didn’t know any better. Or it could be that turkeys are insanely simple to make. Whatever the reason was for my success, I conquered another holiday meal, and made my mother proud. And for that I am truly grateful.

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5 responses to “Brisket for Thanksgiving?

  1. Happy Judymas. May someone make you brisket or turkey to celebrate.

  2. I know I’m one day tardy for Judymas, but happy belated!

    The brisket and turkey stories caught my eye. I made my first brisket this year. In our family, it had been my mom’s mother who was the traditional provider, but she died a few years ago at the enviable age of 101. When I had an occasion that called out for brisket earlier this year, I was able to get my grandmother’s recipe from my mother, and with a few leaps of faith in the preparation, it came out well and was well received.

    We’ve hosted Thanksgiving in my family for many years, but it’s been traditional for my sister to make the turkey. She lives only a couple of miles from my house, and doesn’t have difficulties with mornings, so she brings the stuffed bird to our house early and pops it in the oven before returning to her house, and I periodically baste it ’til readiness when she and the other guests have arrived. This arrangement had worked very well for a long time, ’til the budding next generation swelled to the point where we had 25-30 for Thanksgiving, and needed two turkeys! The first such year, my sister-in-law made the second and brought it, but for a number of reasons, that hasn’t been repeated, so I’ve picked up the mantle of turkey chef. With this responsibility comes the extra challenge of needing to cook the second turkey without using the oven, because even with a double oven, we can’t have both ovens tied up for hours, lest it paralyze other cooking and reheating. So I cook the second turkey outside on the grill. With greater or lesser hiccups, this has yielded a very flavorful and different second turkey for the last several years, but it’s an extra challenge with snow or balky charcoal! Let me know if you want to try a grilled turkey one of these years and maybe I can save you a few tsuris. Congratulations on your successful first turkey — they are NOT insanely simple!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your Thanksgiving turkey machinations with us. I am fascinated by the image of a turkey in the grill. Rather than have you explain how you do it, I’ll just bring my whole family to your house to taste it next year!

  3. I am very impressed, thought you didnt like to cook, sounds like you are pretty accomplished!

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