My First Thanksgiving Part 1: The Turkey

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And so it begins…

It may seem hard to believe but I, Lesley Suter, dine editor of Los Angeles Magazine, have never cooked my own Thanksgiving dinner. As is often the case, I ultimately blame my mother. Not only does she know just how I like my sweet potatoes, but also she’s quite particular about her holiday dishes. Show up with a new recipe you’re excited to try and by the end she’ll have transformed it into one of her old standbys:

“Oh you don’t need wild mushrooms—just use Campbell’s soup!”
“I mean, you could make cranberry sauce that way, but here, just let me put in a touch of orange zest.”
“Sausage in stuffing? Won’t that be a little…rich?”

Her power of persuasion is impressive, but it has kept me from ever cooking a Thanksgiving dish myself.  Until now.

I finally convinced my parents to spare me the holiday travel up north, and instead I would attend the annual “friends” thanksgiving held at the home of my pals Mark and Hilary. Every year they post photos of their delicious dinner party to Facebook, replete with stiff cocktails and a refreshing lack of familial drama. And every year, as I sit in Sacramento with a glass of mediocre red wine and plenty of familial drama, I’ve sworn to myself that, next time, I’d be at Friendsgiving.  So this year, finally free of my parental obligations, I paid a visit to Mark and Hilary and proudly proclaimed, “I can attend your Thanksgiving!” I was met with a blank stare. “We’re not doing it this year,” said Hilary. “Our families are coming.” How dare they! I was left with only one option: host my own Thanksgiving.

I’m thrilled, actually. Elated. It’s a hostess’s dream, especially in a new house with a kitchen I absolutely adore (thanks Ikea!). But now I have the task of gathering recipes, linens, cocktail ideas, and, of course, the turkey.  

Which brings us back to the start: And so it begins… with a turkey.  My mother would always pooh-pooh my fantasies of cooking a heritage bird—better for the species, the planet, the farmers, and my taste buds. We didn’t do Butterball, but close. So this year I set out to find the perfect Turkey—without blowing the entirety of my Thanksgiving meal budget. Heritage turkeys are often more than three-times the price of a standard breed. So, I called around and here’s what I found:

THE GREAT TURKEY ROUND-UP, 2011

Lindy & Grundy
The top gals of butchery set out to find the perfect turkeys to complement their good-for-everyone ethos. It took a while (you can read a fascinating account of their search here), but they finally decided on Rainbow Ranch heritage turkeys from Pinon Hills, California. They ordered 150 total, and from talking to them there are plenty left if you call soon. They also offer a two-day pre-brined turkey for $1 more per pound, which not only saves time, but fridge space.
Their Price: $16.99 ($17.99 pre-brined) Whoa nelly!
My Total: For a 12-pound turkey, that’s $203.88.
Preorder soon by calling: 323-951-0804

Harvey Guss
Harvey Gussman, butcher to the stars (and just about every restaurant in town), swears by his Willie Bird. This Sonoma-bred, free-range turkey is not heritage, but it is organic, and “tastes so much better than anything else,” says Gussman. Campanile already ordered 60.
His Price: $3.50 per pound
My Total: For a 12-pound turkey, that’s $42.
Preorder soon by calling:
  323-937-4622 (beween 7 a.m.-12 p.m.)

McCall’s’ Meat and Fish

Nate McCall emphasized several times during our phone conversation how close they were to running out of Turkeys. “I’m worried about all our regulars who haven’t ordered yet,” he says. They’re carrying two types: an organic turkey from local favorites the Kendor Farm and a heritage turkey from Pennsylvania.
Their Price: For organic: $5.99 per pound; heritage: $9.99 per pound.
My Price: For a 12-pound turkey, organic $71.88; heritage: $119.88
Preorder soon by calling: 323-667-0674

Farmers Market Poultry

I’ve had great luck with the Farmers Market Poultry stand at the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. They are offering two types: their standard bird, Golden Harvest, and a free-range, hormone-free Diestel Turkey.
Their Price: Golden Harvest: $2.59 per pound; Diestel: $3.59 per pound
My Price: For a 12-pound turkey, Golden Harvest: $31.08; Diestel: $43.08
Preorder soon by calling: 323-936-8158

Gilt Taste
I missed the gourmet website’s turkey sale by thiiiiis much. Gilt Taste is offering an Amish heritage turkey (oooooh) from Robinson’s Prime Reserve, shipped to your door on the 22nd. Well, maybe. I called because the site’s delivery explanation was a little tricky, and when I asked if they could guarantee delivery on November 22, they said, “Well, with delivery you can never guarantee anything. Things happen in the mail.” After hearing about friend Heather “the Foodinista” John’s turkey delivery trauma last year, I worry.
Their Price: For a 12-14 pound turkey, a flat $114.95
My Price: Add that to a delivery charge of around $30 and that’s $144.95
Preorder soon:  here.

So what did I decide? The clincher was when I remembered that I had a $50 gift certificate to McCall’s given to me by a friend as a birthday present. Add that to the $119.88 for a 12-pound heritage bird and it brings my grand total down to $69.88. Not a bad price for a heritage bird purchased fresh and locally from a butcher I know and like.

So there you have it. Now, how to cook this sucker is another story…

Stay tuned for that and more of my First Thanksgiving action.

I’m also taking any and all tips, recipes, and decorating ideas. Email them to [email protected]