Feb 232015
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A lot of Thanksgiving days have been ruined by not carving the turkey in the kitchen. 
Kin Hubbard 

Carving your first turkey is a rite of passage. 

Real men know how to carve a turkey

You grow up watching your father carve the turkey on Thanksgiving.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal because you’re a kid.  It’s just a grownup thing and you don’t pay any attention.  Your main priority is stuffing yourself silly and staying under the radar. It isn’t important to observe how that turkey meat gets sliced off the carcass.  That’s just a detail.  You don’t notice or appreciate the finer points of carving.  You don’t keep score about how even the slices are, how many times the knife slips or how artfully arranged the final serving platter might be because you are a spectator with no skin in the game.

This goes on for years. 

You move from grade school to high school and then on to college always staying on the sidelines and never considering the possibility that your turn is coming.  Then suddenly and with no warning the world shifts.

You get married. 

When Thanksgiving comes around again, your bride presents you with her first roasted turkey. She stands proudly at the table beaming expectantly at you- the man of the house.  She is obviously expecting you to carve it.  Not only that, she has invited her folks so you have an audience.  There is that beautiful golden bird, steaming and fragrant sitting on the dining room table.  There are your in-laws watching intently.  There is your lovely bride proud at pulling off her first Thanksgiving feast and gazing at you trustingly.  It’s your turn.  You pick up the carving knife and realize that you don’t know what to do.

Panicking, you realize that your father let you down. He never took the time to take you aside and explain the facts of life.  He failed to guide you through the mysteries of manhood by sharing the secrets of carving a turkey and you begin to sense a pattern.   You remember your wedding night and realize that it’s not the first time he left you unprepared and this time you have an audience.

Well with all the eyes watching, you forge ahead and it isn’t a pretty sight.  By the time you finish, the turkey might as well have been attacked by rabid wolves and the serving platter is a mess.  Instead of tidy slices of meat, it looks like pulled pork.  Meat clings in tatters to the carcass. Skin and drippings ornament the tablecloth.  Drumsticks hang precariously off the serving platter. It’s bad but there is nothing to do except plow on.

After an eternity it’s over.

Relieved, you pass the platter around and sit down.  You have avoided catastrophe.  Sighs of relief break out around the table and your mother in law tells your wife that her turkey is perfect.  Life goes on. You can’t look at your father in law.  He thought you were stupid before today. You don’t want to know what he’s thinking now.

Since my first turkey carving trauma, I have been an avid student of turkey carving.  I experimented with various techniques hoping to develop mastery.  I relived that day over and over in my mind trying to correct my errors.

In the end, however, turkey carving mastery eludes me.  My carving skills haven’t improved much since that first turkey.  Much as I might envy and emulate those master carvers at fine restaurants, my techniques remain flawed and my execution is messy.   I tell myself that if I carved two or three turkeys a day, I’d be good at it too but down deep I am convinced that it is just a reflection of my inadequacies.  Real men instinctively know how to carve a turkey.  I got dealt a bad hand.

Now I change the play.

They tell you when life gives your lemons, make lemonade. They say if you don’t have what it takes to play the game, then change the rules.  Who says that carving the turkey is part of the Thanksgiving dinner program?  Who decided that exposing the man of the house to ridicule and embarrassment contributes to the event?  No one!

So I’m playing by a new rulebook these days.  If the old rules make me look bad, it’s time to make up my own.  These days I carve the turkey in the kitchen.


Ralph is the inspiration for Cantankerous Old Coots and is our Grand Duke of Cantankerousness

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  4 Responses to “Thought about turkey carving on Thanksgiving.”

  1. Unfortunately, right of passage doesn’t factor into carving up the turkey in my house as my wife tells me that I don’t so much carbon turkey as I do mutilate it! Apparently there really is a technique to carving up the old bird.

    • Ken,
      There is, indeed, an art to carving turkeys. And for those of us who are unable to master the fine points of this art, the job is best left to others- or performed under cover back in the kitchen.

      • Ralph, I would think you had so many years of practice that it would be second nature to carve that bird at the table. But you would probably go and use an electric knife or something and ruin it all.

        • Justin,
          It’s not the years of practice. It’s the months between efforts. Each time might just as well be the first. And, yes, we did have an electric knife along the way. Now there is a useless device.

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