Talking Turkey

No, not these goofballs again…the kind that goes on a Thanksgiving table!

Not a recipe, either – Lord knows there are plenty of those out there already. I’m talking about the before part; the actual acquisition of The Bird. A few hints and tips, from someone who spent the major portion of her adult life on the other side of the meat counter…

You knew that part, right? That, in the days before I was Queen of the Garlic, and Sovereign of Mt. Squashmore, I toiled in the trenches of retail food, bringing the freshest, tastiest meat and seafood possible to my customers…and compiling mental lists of The Things Your Meat Clerk Wishes You’d Do That Would Make Life Simpler For All of Us.

It’s a long list. Book-sized, even…with special chapters devoted to Food Holidays, and wonderful examples of what NOT to do. Some of them are pretty funny now that they’re in the rear-view mirror, but at the time had staff and customers alike caught somewhere between bursting into tears and committing murder…

Let’s try to avoid that this year, shall we? After all, it’s so much nicer to sit down to a holiday meal calm and dressed in your Sunday Best than to sip strained cranberries through a straw in a padded room…

So, what’s the first, best way to avoid some of the stress?

Order. Your. Turkey. Now.

Yes, even if you shop at a Big Chain, like Safeway or Stop and Shop, there is someone in the meat department that can order a specific size bird, put your name on it, and hold it until you get there…There’s nothing sadder than watching someone walk up and down the case on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, looking for something that isn’t there. It happens more than you’d think…Big Birds – over 20 pounds –  are always in high demand, and short supply. Do yourself a favor and reserve one, if you need it.

Oh, and a reminder: these are birds. They grow. They’re not stamped-out with an industrial die to weigh exactly what you ordered. I bring this up (though it seems like common sense) because of a particular incident…A customer had ordered a 28 pound turkey. The we gave her the largest bird we could get our hands on that year: 27.75 pounds. She pitched a wall-eyed fit in the middle of the store over four ounces, and left without the bird. Her husband called back an hour later, to see if we still had it….

The Best way to order, as with most everything else, is in-person, at the meat counter, from the staff. That way, you can read-over all the details of the written order, and make corrections if necessary. If you have to call in, there are a few simple things that can save a lot of hassle on pick-up day…

Be sure you are talking to a meat department employee

“Hey, you couldn’t get to that phone call, so I took the order for you…here.”

“This says ‘Tim’ and ’18 pounds’.”

“Yeah. Put it in the book.”

“Fresh or frozen?”


“Tim who?”


“Did you at least get a phone number, so I can find out?”

“Gotta go – they need me back on register!”

It’s worth waiting on hold, or calling back at a less-busy time. Most of the really big mistakes I saw were made when well-meaning front-end staff would take orders. Poor Tim… at least 18 pounds is a common size.

Speak slowly and clearly on the phone.

Ever walk past the meat room of the grocery store when the saw and wrapping machine are both on? Sounds like highway construction. Not the best place to have a phone conversation, but it is what it is. Sorry if I had to ask you to spell your name, but it’s better than the alternative. Yes, I DO need your phone number, so that I can get in touch with you if there’s a problem AND so that if more than one Mary Smith orders, we know who gets what…WAIT! Don’t hang up yet! Let me read it back to you…I might have missed something…

They’re not trying to get your information so they can stalk you. Promise.

You’re not that cute.

Changing an order

Repeat after me:

“If something changes, and I no longer need this order, I will call and cancel it.”

See, that way, when someone comes in at the last minute because their College-age son decided to surprise Mom and Dad two days before Thanksgiving by bringing home a girlfriend and 4 very large football players (“But, you always said, ‘the more, the merrier!’ They didn’t have anywhere else to go!”) the store can help save the day. Otherwise, your-ordered-but-not-needed bird will sit on a rack in the cooler and wait, right up until closing time.

Too late to be any good then…which is sad.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Picking Up Your Order, And What Does That Label Even Mean? If there’s anything you want to ask about the inner-workings of Turkey Day in the Meat department, leave it in the comments…


27 thoughts on “Talking Turkey

  1. lol! Hilarious. I have similar stories and notes from when I worked retail (in a pharmacy). It’s a funny business, especially in hindsight. (Not so much at the time, though.)

    I always had a problem finding a small turkey (10-12 lbs.). But I never thought about asking to order one. Great advice. I’ll pass it on (since I’m not eating meat).

    • Small ones are difficult, too…if you go back to meat next year, it’s something to think about.
      Have you seen the site ‘Not Always Right’? It’s full of retail disaster stories…I was oddly pleased to learn that other countries have just as much eye-rollin fun as we do here.

  2. This is a perfect, timely post!! You definitely know what you are talking about having first hand experience! And this is really so funny… and true at the same time!! I’m so very spoiled with my butcher that I never think he won’t come thru for me!!

    • You’re really lucky to have a butcher shop like that…they’re getting rare. The new meat manager at my old store is a less-than-honest guy, so I’ve been getting most of my meat on-line for the last few years.
      As for customer stories – just wait til the next batch! 😉

  3. Great ideas. If I ever have to cook a turkey again, I’ll remember to order it rather than just going to get one…… or I’ll just call you for advice!!!

  4. A great post! Some people seem to thrive on confrontations, no matter the reason. Throw a fit over 4 oz of a 28 lb bird? Really? There’s a live poultry shop about 3/4 mile from here. I’ve been getting my turkey from them for years. They prefer that you pick the bird from the “flock” and watch it slaughtered. It’s not for the faint-hearted. I brought a friend one year and he literally turned green, skipped the lunch we’d planned, and went home to bed.

    • The worst thing about that lady? She was a regular who was in the store at least twice a week…next time she came in, we all just had to act like nothing ever happened.
      That poultry shop sounds great…I spent so many years elbow-deep in what most folk think of as ‘gross’ that it wouldn’t bother me.
      Show me a rotten potato – or give me a whiff of it – and my lunch is in jeapordy!

      • Had to laugh at your post (brilliant) and John´s comment about his friend! At least there was more turkey for the rest of them. We´re fattening cockerels here for Christmas – although one year I´d love to raise a couple of turkeys 🙂

  5. Sooo funny! I bought a turkey for a friend last year… she asked for another this year. Her mother griped the whole time about how large it was and that she wouldn’t have a big enough roaster. I think there might be a Thanksgiving Scrooge:)

  6. We don’t do thanks giving here, but sometimes for Christmas I get a Turkey, so I will have to remember all this, I’m sure much of what you said would be relevant here.Thanks

  7. Well, your Highness, I respect all of your expertise(s?), so this is terrific food-for-thought right before a seriously food-tastic holiday. It’s astonishing to me how little people think through planning a get-together, period, let alone one that they *know* 9/10ths of the rest of the country is going to cook virtually identical meals for at exactly the same time! There aren’t enough U’s to spell THAT *duuuuuuh*! One can only hope that some dear young innocent who has not yet braved those trenches will learn from your post before it’s too late and spare the butcher, baker and co. any needless grief first time in! Not that we all can’t use a reminder from time to time.

  8. hey this is a great post. You know i don’t do turkey because they are just so big they make me nervous and i only have a small oven and The Matriarch does the holiday meals and don’t interfere! but I loved this post especially as it says to me that i can go and ask the nice people at the meat counter to order something for me! who knew! love it! c

    • And, you know…if more people talk to the meat manager about buying humanely-raised meats, we’d see more of it in the stores!
      Hang on to the Matriarch as long as possible – sounds like she’s got this DOWN!

  9. When my mother and I go turkey shopping (not very often anymore since they live in far away and do not come in for Thanksgiving anymore), it is a wonderful challenge to find the right turkey. Then the day after Thanksgiving we force them to go with us to find a Christmas tree. Holidays, gotta love them.

  10. Pingback: Artichoke, Sausage and Parmesan Stuffing « Savoring Every Bite

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