Thanksgiving Disaster 2: The Bird’s Too Big for the Oven

An illustration of a cook attempting to fit a too-big turkey into a small oven.

It’s your turn to host Thanksgiving and everybody’s coming—even Aunt Jezebel and her new beau. And his home-health aide. You know the rule: one pound of turkey per guest, not including vegetarians or vegans. (You want leftovers, not politics.)

In doing the math, it seems you need a whopping 22-pounder.

Or do you?

Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis on that monster fowl.


  •  You’ll have drama—the quintessential Norman Rockwell moment with the groaning platter.


  • You’ll need a big roasting pan. A really big one. Probably bigger than anything you own. And forget those flimsy throw-away aluminum pans. They’ll never support a bird that big. You may need to tap into your IRA for this little investment.
  • You’ll need a big oven. Really big. Plan on using the rest of that IRA to remodel your kitchen.
  • You’ll need to start early—and not just on Thanksgiving day. A 22-pound bird can take five and a half days to thaw in the fridge, give or take a few hours, and up to eight hours to roast.
  • You’ll only have two legs and one wishbone. And don’t forget, much of that will be sacrificed because Aunt Jezzie must do her Henry VIII impersonation—year after year after year.
  • You’ll need a back brace because big birds are notoriously difficult to lift. With the IRA gone, you’ll need to take out a loan not just for the brace, but for a bigger serving platter.
  • You’ll need condiments besides the gravy. Lots of them. Because big birds dry out faster than small ones as they cook. (A 20-pounder doesn’t have double the interstitial fat and lovely collagen as a 10-pounder.)

Given such overwhelming cons, what should you do?

Easy. Skip the behemoth and buy two 10- to 12-pounders. They’ll roast more evenly, offer you twice as many legs and wings, and turn out significantly more succulent. You might even consider slathering each with different concoctions: make one a Frenchified, tarragon-chives-and-butter fandango, the other an Italian, oregano-rosemary-and-olive oil epiphany.

But before you do, be sure to measure your range as well as your roasting pans to make sure you can accommodate two birds side by side in your oven. If you’re out of luck—this probably means you live in a small apartment with a half-size stove—simply roast one turkey the day before, stick it in the fridge, then reheat it under foil on Thanksgiving day while the second bird rests and you serve the first course. If it’s still not hot, the hot-from-the-oven bird will take care of the first go-round; save the second for, well, seconds. Or you do the unthinkable and divvy up the bird, roasting part of it and braising the rest.

No matter what, make sure you have the right equipment before you start: roasting pans, racks, carving knives, cutting boards, fat separator. After all, would you go to war without a gun? Originally published November 19, 2011.

Click here for Thanksgiving Disaster 3: The Bird’s Roasted—But Still Raw



  1. Who wants to hear about the Thanksgiving morning when I awoke to find that raccoons had stripped the meat off a single drumstick of my brining turkey?

  2. And, besides roasting two smaller birds, spatchcock those babies and cook ’em on a rack over a sheet pan, and they’ll roast in half the time, and they won’t dry out as much. Happy cooking!

  3. Rather than worry about leftovers, roast one bird, say 15 lbs. and add whatever is the family favourite along side. Are they into dark meat? add a couple of leg/thigh combos 90 minutes before you expect them to be ready or a couple of breast halves if they are into white meat (or some of both if you are not sure). If it is leftovers you want, pick up a second bird to roast later when you are home alone, without all the drama.

    1. My grandmother would have insisted on roasting extra necks. But I fear I’ve said too much about my family with that comment.

    2. Inez, excellent idea. I, too, am a fan of extra parts–I do this often with roast chicken. We have a lot of dark meat eaters in our circle, so I toss in some extra thighs and legs.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Upload a picture of your dish