When you're a kid, Thanksgiving is something Mom or Grandma takes care of, and "dinner parties" in general are things fancy people on TV do. But sooner than you think, you will reach an age where you'll be expected to host meals for other people. And there is never more pressure to get this right than on Thanksgiving. If dinner parties are like group sex, Thanksgiving is like starring in porn. The lights are on, the camera is recording and everyone's good time rests entirely on your boner.
So the day has arrived. The food is bought. You've spent a full work day cleaning up empty beer cans and strategically placing furniture over wine-colored vomit stains. You are ready to eat and thank the shit out of some shit.
Or are you? Because ...
Maybe you're in your 20s and are having to throw your first Thanksgiving away from home. Maybe you're older, and Mom finally got taken to jail for dog fighting. Either way, you've laid down the turkey gauntlet and decided to throw everybody a Thanksgiving that will make your Mom's look like a big pile of shit.
So it's less than a week before the holiday, and before you read another word of this article, you need to have a frozen turkey in your possession. You don't need to be physically holding it right now while you're reading, though I'd prefer it if you were. At the very least, it needs to be in your freezer. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Don't get ahead of us, asshole.
The first is that people tend to procrastinate on the holidays. Two days before Thanksgiving, you won't be able to enter a grocery store without having to cancel your plans for the evening because every person in town will be making a last minute mad dash for the same core ingredients that make up every Thanksgiving dinner in the country. And it doesn't matter how small your list is. The 15 people in front of you with full carts dictate your time spent in line.
But more importantly, most stores carry frozen turkeys because they go bad really fast. If they sell you a bacteria-contaminated turkey, that can put a motherfucker in a hospital bed as fast as an escaped dog fighting champion, and that's generally frowned upon by most business owners. People in America consider it rude to sell poison meat. Turkeys are also pretty big, so they take a while to thaw. Setting it out on the counter at room temperature, thinking the warm air will help speed things along, is a pretty good way to make everyone at your party shoot liquid filth out of every orifice of their body for the next several days.
The challenge is what makes Thanksgiving special.
The safest way to thaw one out is to put it in the refrigerator about four days before cooking it. Yes. Four fucking days. That's how long you have to plan ahead for just that part. To be more precise, it's 24 hours in the fridge for every 4-5 lbs. of turkey.
You've done all of that. It's the night before, and you're now cooking your bird. Awesome. "Wait, what's that burning plastic smell," you ask? It's the fucking plastic bag full of guts they crammed inside the turkey. Yes, they do that. They bag up the extra parts like the neck, gizzards, livers, testicles, etc. and cram it back into the body cavity. Most even come with a bag of concentrated gravy made out of the bird's tortured soul. And unless you pull the legs apart and cram your hand up inside, you'd never know they were there. Note to editor: I have done the research, and there is no joke that can be made about that last line.
None at all.
Oh shit, did you take into account any vegetarian guests? Those people are all over the place now. It's not just a matter of, "Well, they can eat the sides and leave the turkey for us." Uh, you remember how the baked beans have bacon in them? And the noodles were made with chicken broth? And the green bean casserole has bacon in it? And how Grandma's cranberry sauce recipe has bacon fat in it? And how the bacon punch is nothing but ground up bacon? You're going to have to take a moment to make sure those guests aren't sitting there with a roll and some corn. And you have to plan all this ahead because you have to...
Let me give you a quick scenario. It's 8:00 p.m. Everyone is finished eating, and you're all gathered around the TV, screaming obscenities at a football game that doesn't involve your favorite team but that everyone watches out of tradition, because it's an excuse to not have to talk to each other.
Uncle Mitch walks into the room with an empty beer box, and he's pointing at it and crying. At the same time, four people stand outside of a closed bathroom door, clutching their stomachs and weighing the pros and cons of dropping a deuce into your sink. Grandma finally exits the bathroom and announces, "You're out of toilet paper. I had to wipe my ass on your shower curtain."
"Honestly, I was going to do that anyway."
"Fuck," you gasp. "Mitch drank the last beer."
If you're lucky enough to live in a town that has a store that stays open on Thanksgiving, then awesome -- you just have to deal with the other thousand people in line who all forgot to stock up on shit and then get back to your party. If you live in a small town like mine, it means driving 30 minutes to the next town that does have an open store, spending another 30 minutes getting the stuff and another 20 minutes waiting in line at the register, and then another 30 minutes back. Those people outside the bathroom needed to go 20 minutes ago. The beer drinkers are now cooking something with leftover cranberries, yeast and the copper pipes that they removed from your sink.
In a family of drinkers, things get ugly fast. At one of my family's gatherings years ago my uncles and I found ourselves organizing a trip to the next state because it had the only place that sold booze on Thanksgiving. And they were only open for another two hours. We were like Jack Bauer in 24 racing across town to defuse a nuclear sobriety bomb.
"ALCOHOLICS ... mount up."
What we learned that day is that you have to overstock everything. A case of beer in my family lasted about 40 minutes. Hell, back then, I could take care of a case all by myself. Plan out what you think you need and then triple that order.
Especially butter. Yeah, it turns out that pretty much everything you cook on Thanksgiving requires butter. So by the time the rolls are passed around, you have none to put on them because you've used it all in cooking.
And toilet paper. Have I mentioned that? If you're male and you're in charge of shopping, this is something you'll overlook. ("Ah, we're fine, there's most of a roll left there.") We're used to needing it once, maybe twice a day (depending on our levels of Tabasco use in the previous week). We forget that women need it every time they go. And that kids use 10 times too much. And that Uncle Mitch has chronic diarrhea from his constant drinking and from eating all that butter.
"Can I get another one of these except without all that toast?"
When you think of Thanksgiving, you always picture the eating part, not the preparation. So when you're going over the dishes situation you think, "OK, I have eight people coming over, so I'm going to need eight plates, eight forks and I have a dozen glasses if you count the collectible Shrek glasses I got from McDonald's eight years ago ..." Nope. The cooking and serving parts of the meal mean you're off by about 50 percent.
My first Thanksgiving dinner I ever cooked was pretty ambitious -- if you're going to do that shit, you do it right -- that is, until I got about halfway through the preparation and realized that I didn't have nearly enough bowls and dishes to serve the food in. Of course by the time I found that out, it was too late to go buy more, so I had to just start removing items from the menu instead. It was either that or piling green bean casserole and scalloped potatoes directly on the table.
Yeah, you probably have enough plates -- when you buy plates you get like eight of them and you probably have that many more odd mismatched ones you've wound up with on accident. But how many serving dishes do you have? This is something you literally never use in bachelor life because you're never going to serve an elaborate family-style dinner for yourself, I don't care how fat you are.
In a panic, you'll think, "Well, I can just serve the food out of the pots and pans I cooked them in, but there's a problem with that. Putting a shitload of hot pans on a table isn't wise. Especially if there are kids around. Not to mention that you'll probably be short on pans and have to reuse some of them to make different sides. After all, how many sauce pans do you own? Enough to hold five different side dishes that all have to be heated at the same time?
And you can't carve a turkey and just drop the meat back into the disgusting looking disposable pan. The bottom of that thing is filled with grease and nasty looking floaty things. So you'll need to find a big-ass plate to pile all of the meat up. No, you can't just leave the bird intact and let the guests carve their own. Ninety percent of humans can't take a piece of meat apart without either destroying the meat or their own hands. There's a reason Uncle Mitch drinks so much and only needs one and a half gloves in December.
He's the only guy in the family who can count to decimal places by using his fingers.
OK, so maybe you've taken care of all that. Once you have all of your food in its respective serving bowls/plates, you're going to find that you don't have enough big spoons to dip it all up. And before the meal is even served, you'll open your cabinet to find that every glass in the house is now dirty. People have been at your house for hours, the ones not pounding beers need something to drink, and they'll be damned if they'll actually keep track of their glass so they can use it at meal time. Kids especially have a tendency to use a glass once and then promptly lose it or put it in the dirty dishes pile.
The easy solution to this is to buy an assload of plastic cups. You can do the same with plates, but you have to be careful with what type you choose. Don't make the mistake of buying paper plates. Half of what you're eating is prepared in some sort of liquid, and that shit will soak right through. Styrofoam isn't much better because any pressure you put on those things will crack them -- and the time you saved by not doing dishes will instead be spent cleaning up the floor that is now covered in meat juice. This is the one area where you'll want to spend a little extra and buy the sturdy plastic disposables. It's Thanksgiving, people. Don't be afraid to get fancy.
"Holy shit, John, did you get a promotion?"
Oh, and you don't have enough chairs. What do you got? Four chairs around your dining room or kitchen table? A rolling office chair at your computer ... and then what? You don't have 10 goddamn dining room chairs -- why would you? But you better figure out something. You think people want to eat Thanksgiving dinner sitting ass-to-ass on your sofa, trying to balance that shit on their lap? What if all of the sofa people hate each other?
Speaking of which ...