Friday, December 19, 2008

The Two Hour Discrepancy

My wife and I have a deal: she cooks and I clean. This seems fair on the surface, but I grumble about the arrangement all the time. The reason for my discontent is that my wife and I have vastly different kitchen habits. I clean as I go, leaving very little mess. My wife cleans nothing, because that’s the deal. So when she’s finished cooking, I’m confronted by a mess that would challenge the EPA.

This arrangement has kept me out of the food-preparation business for about 24 years. It’s not that I’m a bad cook, but I don’t have a large repertoire. In my entire life, I’ve never cooked a chicken or a turkey. Yesterday my culinary skills and my marriage were put to the test.

My wife had purchased an 18.65 pound fresh (unfrozen) Butterball turkey. Because it was a fresh turkey, it wouldn’t keep in the refrigerator as long as a frozen turkey, so we decided that it should be cooked on Thursday night. This is normally a night my wife works late, so she left me in charge of cooking the bird. We weren’t going to eat it that night, just cook it. We’d use it for a variety of dishes for the next week or so. She gave me some brief instructions for making the stuffing, and a few suggestions about basting, and then she left.

I opened the package and discovered a little pamphlet provided by the Butterball company, which gave clear instructions for roasting their product. According to this timetable, the stuffed bird should take a little over four and half hours to cook in a 325-degree oven.


I washed and stuffed the carcass, closed it up with metal skewers, oiled it up with olive oil, and put it in the oven at 2:45 pm. According to the timetable, it should be done by 7:15 – 7:30.

A couple of hours later, my wife called to check on me. Swollen with pride, I told her how smoothly things had gone, and that I expected to be eating turkey by 7:30.

“That’s impossible!” she declared. “A turkey that size will take much longer to cook!”

“No,” I assured her, “the roasting timetable that came with the turkey was quite clear about it. Only about four and a half hours.”

“Get out my Good Housekeeping cookbook,” She demanded, “And look it up.” My wife’s Good Housekeeping cookbook was printed in 1955. The tattered and yellow pages are full of antique recipes that nobody has cooked since the 60’s.


I was a bit offended, and asked her, “Who would know better about cooking this turkey? Good Housekeeping, or the company that produced the turkey?”

“Look it up!” She insisted, and hung up.

I took out the cookbook, and found this roasting timetable:


There’s a TWO HOUR discrepancy between the Butterball timetable and the Good Housekeeping timetable. How is this possible? Determined to solve the mystery, I stuck a meat thermometer in the leg joint and waited.

At 7:15, I took a look. The thermometer was hovering at 160 degrees, which was far too low. Exactly two hours later, at 9:15, the thermometer read 180 degrees, which was perfect.



The turkey looks golden brown, succulent and delicious, and I’m secure in the knowledge that it’s cooked thoroughly. I feel very badly for anyone who cooked a fresh Butterball turkey for Thanksgiving according to the roasting timetable provided with the bird, because they’ll probably have diarrhea until Christmas.

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