How the turkey nearly cooked our goose

The flames shot 10 feet into the air out of the old, rusty barrel smoker in the backyard as we stood dumbfounded. What I'd expected was a nice, quiet first Thanksgiving. Now where was the turkey? I began to have doubts about my husband's cooking ability.

Matt, exhibits a joie de vivre and chiseled good looks, but the reason I fell in love with him was his cooking. He fulfilled my dream of the perfect mate: A man who can cook.

Before I met him, I felt cooking was something that was better left to the professionals. It's not that I didn't know how to cook; I just didn't enjoy doing it. (I believe that boiling water and making toast qualifies as cooking, and I'm capable of doing both, if I have to.)

My parents often expressed concern that my lack of culinary ability would hinder me in finding a husband. They would laugh saying, "You'd better find a man who will cook." They thought I had a better chance of finding Bigfoot. I'd reply, "I will!" And I did!

I fell in love with Matt not just because he could cook, but also because his cooking is so good. His dishes taste far better than anything at a restaurant. His expertise in the kitchen stems not from any formal training, but from pure passion and imagination. He possesses the ability to make any meal extraordinary.

Matt's favorite challenge is wild game. He claims that he concocts recipes in the field. His grilled duck reduces me to drooling and infantile noises.

For our first Thanksgiving, we were given a wild turkey. He cleaned it, but did not pluck it before putting it in the freezer.

Wednesday afternoon, my mother called to check on the progress of the turkey. "So how long has the turkey been thawing?"

I was taken aback. "Uh, thawing the turkey?" It was still wrapped in a big black garbage bag in the freezer.

"Sharon, you should have put it in the fridge to thaw a few days ago, to be ready for Thanksgiving." She paused for a second. "You do realize you have to pluck it?"

"Oh, Mom, we have it under control. I'm sure Matt knows what to do."

We hung up, and I put the frozen feathered creature in the fridge. A few minutes later my mom called back with the "Butterball Hotline" phone number and Web address.

"Just in case," she said. She just knew that we'd end up as one of those Thanksgiving disaster stories.

Plucking the turkey turned out to be a big problem. The feathers were tough. Matt needed a pair of pliers to pull out one feather.

He soon figured out that by dipping the turkey in boiling water, we could solve two problems at once: The feathers came out easily, and the turkey defrosted.

Matt's aunt had recently given us an old dilapidated smoker. It was an upright model with a water pan under the meat rack. Matt estimated that the turkey would take about six hours to cook. It was going to be a long night, we thought.

With the turkey in the smoker, we started watching TV. Two hours later, Matt went to check on the turkey, and I heard him yell.

While we were inside, the water in the pan had evaporated, and the drippings from the turkey had ignited. I ran out back to see Matt holding the lid of the smoker as a column of flames shot 10 feet in the air, looking like a rocket exhaust. The flames lit up the entire backyard. I couldn't see the turkey through the blaze. The fire was getting dangerously close to the large tree that hangs over our house.

"What do you want me to do?" I said, staring at this column of fire.

It's at this point in the story that Matt and I disagree on what was said and done. He says that I went for the garden hose, and he said, "You can't put out a grease fire with water." I remember that he told me to get some water.

We agree that he yelled, "dial 911!" The flames suddenly seemed to shoot up another 10 feet and their color went from yellow to orange to white. But before I could get to the phone - POOF! - the fire went out.

When everything had cooled down, we found the grills, the water pan, and a black turkey neatly stacked at the bottom of the smoker. Matt carefully retrieved the charred bird. He cut into it.

To our surprise, the meat was moist, tender, and perfectly done! It tasted absolutely wonderful. When our laughter subsided, we wondered if we could recreate this stunt to market it as a party trick or cooking exhibition. We could call it "Flash Turkey."

The next day my mother called. Giggling, she asked "So, how did the turkey turn out? How are your guests?"

"Would you believe everything came together in a flash?"

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