Dave Barry

Dead or alive, turkeys can fowl up your life

This Dave Barry column was originally published in The Miami Herald on November 19, 2000

It's almost Thanksgiving, a time for us to pause in our busy lives and remember, as the Pilgrims did so long ago, that an improperly cooked turkey can kill us.

Even a live turkey can be dangerous. I base this statement on an article that I am not making up from the March 14 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, sent in by alert reader Dan Broucek, which begins as follows:

"A tom turkey crashed through the windshield of a dump truck early Monday in Butler County and struck a fighting posture with the surprised driver."

I didn't know that turkeys had a fighting posture. What do they do? Put up their dukes? But if they put up BOTH dukes, they'd topple over, right? Maybe they put up just one duke, and hop around on the other duke in a threatening fashion. Whatever they do, I'm sure it would be terrifying to see one of them doing it next to you in a dump truck.

Fortunately, the driver was able to escape and call the police, who responded swiftly, as they do whenever they hear the dreaded radio code 10-84 ("Turkey In Fighting Posture"). The turkey, which weighed 25 pounds, was apprehended by a state game official who, incredibly, let it go without pressing charges.

Now here is where our story gets alarming: According to articles (also sent in by Dan Broucek) from the March 16 and 17 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just two days after the dump-truck incident, a woman was getting out of her car-pool van in downtown Pittsburgh when something came plummeting out of the sky, missing her by inches, and splatted on the sidewalk. Can you guess what that something was? That's correct: a Pilgrim.

No, seriously, it was a turkey. Specifically, it was a 25-pound tom turkey, which had apparently crashed into a skyscraper 20 floors above. We do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened. I mean, how many 25-pound turkeys could there be in the Pittsburgh area answering to the name "tom"? Clearly this was the same turkey that went after the dump truck, and when all it received was a slap on the wrist (I am assuming here that turkeys have wrists), it developed a fatal blood lust, as wild animals so often do, for things with windows, and it decided to attack a skyscraper. Remember that there was a time in this nation, centuries ago, when giant herds of these vicious predatory birds roamed the forests, duking it out with whatever dared to get in their way, and shaking their mighty wattles in triumph, knowing that they were the Masters of the Forest, and that "The Mighty Shaking Wattles" would be a good name for a rock band (specifically, the Rolling Stones).

This is why the American Poultry Manufacturers of America stress that, in selecting a Thanksgiving turkey, the No. 1 rule is, quote, "it should be a dead turkey." Look for one that has been frozen solid enough to deflect a .38-caliber bullet; if it doesn't, put it right back into the freezer and fire into the supermarket ceiling until the Poultry Manager brings you something more acceptable.

PREPARING THE TURKEY: Proper turkey preparation is critical. according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more Americans die every year from eating improperly cooked turkey than were killed in the entire Peloponnesian War. This is because turkey can contain salmonella, which are tiny bacteria that, if they get in your bloodstream, develop into full-grown salmon, which could come leaping out of your mouth during an important business presentation.

This does NOT mean you can't serve turkey this Thanksgiving! It just means that you, personally, should not eat it.

Step one in preparing the turkey is to let it thaw (allow six to eight years). Step two is to reach your hand inside the slimy, dark chest cavity of the turkey and remove the giblets. Be careful, because you are intruding upon the territory of the deadly North American giblet snake, which can grow, coiled inside an innocent-looking 12-pound turkey, to a length of 55 feet. In one of the most horrifying moments in cooking history, one of these monsters attacked Julia Child during her live 1978 Thanksgiving TV special; it would have strangled her if she had not known exactly where to insert her baster. Few people who have seen this chilling footage have failed to order the videotape from PBS.

Assuming you get the giblets out safely, Step Three is to cook the turkey until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 7,500 degrees centigrade (check by feeling the turkey's wrist). You're all done! It's time to enjoy a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, just like the one enjoyed by the Pilgrims. None of whom are alive today.