PullThatCork Thanksgiving

We usually host Thanksgiving at our house but one of my sisters wanted to host it this year so we all went to her place in Soquel. This allowed some of our other relatives who don’t usually make it to attend since it wasn’t so far to drive. However, it made it impossible for Nancy’s mom to go because it is difficult for her to make multi-day trips. We made up for that by having a second Thanksgiving dinner when we returned from Soquel.

It’s only about a two hour drive to Soquel and we take the back roads once we get into the Santa Cruz mountains. Many times we will stop and taste wine on the way, but didn’t do so this time as we were meeting my sister Marie for lunch at Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria, a popular sandwich shop in Capitola. We arrived at her house a little before she did and started unpacking the car. We had pretty much finished when Marie called and said she was just getting off the freeway and was going straight to Gayle’s. We jumped back in the car and met her and her son Clem for a very good lunch.

After lunch we went back to the house and started getting things ready for our Thanksgiving meal the next day. Clem and I cleaned up the BBQ while Nancy and Marie went shopping for groceries. We already had the main courses but needed all the trimmings. I was going to BBQ the turkey and Marie was baking a ham.

Also, it was my sister Alice’s birthday this month so we bought fresh crab to take to Tom and Alice’s house Wednesday evening to celebrate. We also brought some wine, of course, a 2008 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay and a 2003 Provenance Las Amigas Merlot. I didn’t know we were going to have crab when I selected the wines to take to Soquel but, sometimes you just need to drink the wine you have rather than worry about pairing it. Actually, the Chardonnay is a lighter style and we also had a Sauvignon Blanc to go with dinner. We had a pear tart Nancy had made for dessert.

For the whole trip we decided ahead of time to just enjoy whatever wines we had and not seriously critique them. Sort of “I like this one” or “I don’t care for that one” without really analyzing why. Sometimes you just don’t want to be that serious about the wine and do more socializing with friends and family. Otherwise a social occasion can start to feel like work. Also, in social settings it is difficult to really critique a wine because your taste buds are affected by the ambiance around you. Have you ever found a wine you really liked and bought when you wine tasted in a social group and then a few months later when you open it at home you think “why did I buy this wine”?

We weren’t planning on eating until about 3:00 pm on Thanksgiving, so we planned on sleeping in until a reasonable hour. Unfortunately, my cell phone started ringing at 4:00 am. The first thing I thought of was the alarm system back home. That’s what it was, the fire alarm had gone off. All we could do was wait until the alarm company called back to let us know the fire department had been there and it was a false alarm, whew! Since it had never happened before, I assumed the batteries in the alarm were probably low and had the alarm company disable it. That’s a problem with wireless alarm systems, when the batteries die they often set off the alarm. I couldn’t get back to sleep at that point but stayed in bed since nobody else was up 🙂 About six we decided to get up and start making coffee.

Eventually it was time to BBQ the turkey. It sounds difficult but it is really quite easy. We had a 14.5 pound turkey that had been brined. I actually prefer a little smaller, 12 pounds is nice. Do not stuff the turkey or put anything large in it (large citrus or apple chunks). You want hot air to circulate inside the turkey. I use a Weber kettle and charcoal with indirect heat. I also used some Mangrove and Hickory wood for smoke. I used to try to keep the temperature at 350 degrees but you are always adding charcoal and then fiddling with the vents and it’s a real pain. Eventually, I figured out an easier way. First get 4 red bricks (or similar) and place them in the center of the bottom grill, two stacks of two, where the charcoal will go. They serve two purposes: first they keep the charcoal over to the sides and secondly hold an rectangular aluminum pan just below the turkey to catch the juices for gravy. You could just put the pan on the bottom grate but you’ll end up getting a lot of ash in your gravy 🙂

Fill a large chimney starter with charcoal and get it going. When the charcoal is ready put one half of it on each side of the bricks. Cover the grill with foil wherever necessary so the turkey will not get any direct exposure to the charcoal. Put the pan on the bricks, place some Hickory or other wood of your choice on the charcoal (no need to soak it ahead of time) and put the grill on. Place the turkey on the grill and the lid on the BBQ. Leave the bottom vents wide open and close the top about half way so the smoke builds up in the BBQ. I don’t know how hot it gets, probably 500 degrees or so at first. After that DO NOT OPEN THE BBQ! Tell everyone they can look at it when it’s done. Everybody wants to look at the turkey but it will never get done if the lid keeps coming off the BBQ. Figure on adding 15 minutes for every time the lid is lifted. If you are concerned about the internal temperature of the BBQ use an instant read thermometer and hold it in the top vent. Unless it drops to 350, don’t worry about adding charcoal. The turkey will take about 12 minutes per pound but some cook faster and some slower.

It’s best to have a thermometer with a remote probe that you place in the usual place in the thigh. When it gets to 175 degrees the turkey should be done. Double check in a couple of places, should be at least 165 in the breast and 175 in the thigh. The turkey will be very dark from the charcoal and the smoke. It may be almost black but don’t worry, it will taste great. Once the turkey is done, set it on a cutting board and cover tightly with foil. Let it rest at least 30 minutes. Even an hour later it can still be too hot to touch, so there is a lot of flexibility here.

Marie and Nancy started preparing side dishes in the morning. They had a great time cooking together. Several guests brought side dishes and desserts as well. Every thing was great.

As guests started arriving, we began opening wine. Everyone brought wine with them. Later, after all the guests had arrived, we carved the turkey and the ham. We had way too much to eat and a fair amount to drink. We had Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa, Eastern Washington and the Santa Cruz mountains, Pinot Noir from Oregon and Zinfandels from Napa and Sonoma. There was also a Rhone style (Grenache, Mouvedre, etc.) blend and a couple of Syrahs. We had a great variety of wine and there wasn’t one I could say I did not like. Some were better than others but none were bad. In addition, we made Champagne cocktails. We had something for everyone! It was a great day, filled with good food, good drink and lively conversation.

We packed-up and headed home on Friday. After grocery shopping, Nancy made a pumpkin pie and began preparations for our next Thanksgiving feast on Saturday. We picked-up Nancy’s mom in the morning, then roasted a small turkey and had all of the usual fixings later in the day Once again, a great meal accompanied by a great wine. We opened a 2002 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon for ourselves while Nancy’s mom preferred some prosecco. After dinner and pumpkin pie we enjoyed a 2002 Doisy Vedrines Sauternes. On Sunday we had turkey sandwiches and other leftovers. We sent a turkey meal home with Nancy’s mom on Sunday, which she enjoyed the next day.

We are “turkeyed-out”. The turkey carcass is in the freezer along with left-over meat and dressing. I will make turkey soup in a couple of weeks. Until then, no more turkey please!

We had two wonderful Thanksgivings and truly have many things for which we are thankful!


  1. And we STILL haven’t drunk the white that I stole from you (was it the Montevina pinot grigio?) on T-day by magnetizing it to my refrigerator. But we’ll have it tonight with some fish stew. Good to see you guys!

    • I think you may have brought it over to Mimi’s on Thanksgiving. I saw a Rodney Strong Chardonnay in Mimi’s refrigerator. I know we didn’t bring the Pinot Grigio over to your place. It was nice to see you too!