Who cooked your bird?

Thanksgiving dinner is about so much more than the turkey.

Getting together — and cooking — with loved ones can be tricky, even if it’s not the biggest food holiday of the year. My family members here in Austin can’t seem to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table without a ridiculous amount of pressure to get the dishes exactly as they were last year. And the year before. And the year before that. These high expectations end up pulling the worst out of people. (I actually overheard one family member yelling, “What are you, stupid?” to a younger one during the height of this year’s chaos.)

But this year, the women who usually prepare the meal had one less dish to prepare: A friend of my uncle’s offered to fry the birds in giant vats of oil outside. As soon as the cooking left the kitchen, men were in charge. (Beers in hand, they might as well have been grilling burgers.) My other uncle, who didn’t have much to do with cooking the bird in the first place, was once again the male given the ceremonial task of carving the bird just before service.

I know we’re probably all turkey’d out already, but while the holiday is fresh in your mind, I want to know more about how gender plays (or has played) into your Thanksgiving.

Click here to take a quick survey to tell me who cooked your Thanksgiving turkey this year, and leave a comment about how your family (or friends, neighbors or whomever you share the day with) traditionally splits the tasks of the day.

Are women still doing the heavy lifting? Are men who don’t cook tasked by women to do their share by washing dishes? How many women were in charge of frying turkeys this year?

8 responses to “Who cooked your bird?

  1. My Thanksgiving is always a memorial time for me. My parents have both passed on. Oddly enough, I stopped having Thanksgiving with the family when I moved to SF in my early 20’s. Fast forward though and Thanksgiving Day was the last time I spent time with my Mom before she took a quick turn for the worse and passed away. She was an amazingly generous and kind woman and I always want to extend the table in her honor.

    Since then, I’ve always hosted an extended ‘Family of the Heart +’ meal and, by choice, cooked 90% of the food myself. When the numbers started topping a dozen people, we switched to fried turkeys. They taste great, take only 45 minutes each and free up the oven for everything else. After the first year, I prepped them and hand off to my brother for the frying while I orchestrated everything else in the kitchen.

    I do admit there was some weird thing where the guys would all gather around the vat of hot oil during the whole cooking time. Looked pretty funny watching out the window. Of course every year, some of them would do a little raid on the kitchen to see what else they could try to deep fry.

    After hitting 25-30 dinner guests in 08 & 09, I ratcheted back this year. Only 9 guests & one turkey brined and roasted. I did all the cooking (except sweet potatoes & cranberry sauce, which are not my favorites) and loved it.

    In the aftermath, my partner (male) and a few guests did most of the clean up (except packing up the leftovers). I’ve got no qualms about sitting and resting while that goes on!

  2. This was the first year in awhile that my mother and father in law spent with us instead of the other way around. There was only five of us, so it wasn’t terribly labor intensive.

    I did the stuffing, mashed potatoes, some appetizers, my own gravy and cranberry sauce. My husband and I basically split turkey duty. He did the heavy lifting and I told him what to do. My MIL did her own gravy, a hot sauce and my husband did a potato salad, a tradition they have from Belize. The only person that didn’t really do anything was my father in law, but honestly there wasn’t a lot of room in the kitchen anyway. I guess you could say I did 80% of the work, and my husband did about 20%. I also did all the dishes.

  3. This year we went to my husband’s parents’ home for Thanksgiving. My father-in-law smoked the turkey and ham out in his barbecue pit. My mother-in-law cooked the sides, and the sons/daughters-in-law brought a few dishes, too. Most of the cooking was done by women. And after the meal, my mother-in-law and I handwashed all the dishes. I’d say this is probably the norm. And if we had been with my family, my mom, sister, grandma and myself would have cooked and cleaned everything, no men involved. Very interesting, I didn’t even realize this until you asked.

  4. Every year my friends and I have a “Friendsgiving,” (i.e. no family). We’re a multiethinic and mostly single bunch of grad students in our 30s, with a few engineers and artists thrown in. This year we had 10 friends over to my friend Bindiya’s apartment. Bindiya and I have a system where I cook while she chops veggies, prepares the table, and cleans. We’ve done this a few times now – we’re an efficient Thanksgiving machine. This year I made the turkey, pumpkin pie (crust from scratch), a pumpkin gelatin mold, sweet potatoes, gravy, and pre and post dinner cocktails. We asked guests to bring a side dish. This year instead of rolls we had chapatis handmade by Mary from Kenya, and spicy stuffing made by Tricia from Trinidad.

    In the past our male friends/significant others would just bring a bottle of wine, but this year we had a lovely cranberry sauce and pecan pie made by men. (Still, most of the food was prepared by women). I usually carve the turkey, but since I had several stitches put in my hand the day before due to a cooking accident, I delegated the responsibility. Nathan, our male friend with the most cooking experience and a degree in women’s studies, reluctantly agreed to carve while Bindiya’s boyfriend Lynn read aloud carving instructions from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Needless to say, it was damn funny to watch.

    Mary from Kenya initiated the post-dinner cleaning. She dominated the sink and refused to let anyone help. The other guests (and myself) were content drinking spiced apple brandy sours and watching her clean. After everyone left the apartment, Bindiya and her boyfriend finished cleaning up. They let me go home early.

    It’s funny – but maybe not surprising – that among my progressive group of friends, the women still performed the majority of Thanksgiving work.

  5. I’m ready to just say “no” to Thanksgiving; however, this year we said “yes” to hosting. Bill, my husband, not only smoked the turkey, he brined it for three days, ordered it and bought it and all the brining ingredients. If we have to have turkey, it must be as juicy and flavorful as can be. It was. I got away with making orange ginger cranberries and baking Sister Shubert frozen rolls.

    Primarily, the women of the extended family prepared the other sides, my favorite being the dirty rice from the good-time mom of my nephew-in-law, hailing from Lafayette, LA. The rule when TG is at my house is, the non-cooks do dishwashing duty. Now, most of said non-cooks were men. And wash they did, and dry.

    With 20 for dinner this year (and twin infant grandnieces), I held my nose and used paper napkins alongside Bill’s parents’ china and silver. You know what? Not very many people used them. Which makes me think, washing and ironing all those linen napkins in past years was for naught. And I did not have to deal with red wine and lipstick smudges afterwards. My conscience is saved by all the recycling I do.

    For me, the least pleasing aspect of TG is the traditional menu that must replicate TG’s of generations past. Even my 20-something niece wants to bake the same pies that constituted dessert (why have dessert after all that food, much of which was semi-sweet) since before she was born. Last year, Bill and I escaped to New Orleans for our 30th anniversary. Now that was a true feast.

  6. My husband and I hosted a few friends for a small Thanksgiving gathering. I planned and cooked everything, including the turkey, delegating some chopping and other prep help to my husband. He set the table and did all the dishes, both during preparation and after the meal. Our guests (a married hetero couple) brought dessert, which was prepared by the husband. His wife chose the wine for the meal. It was one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve ever had.

  7. Despite being typically chauvanistic in every other matter, the men in my families (maternal and paternal extended families) usually do bird duty. The women are relegated to sides, pies, and dishes. If the hubby and I host, he does the majority of the meal and I do bread/desserts. We split the cleaning duties.

  8. We skipped the traditional meal because my husband is a vegetarian (pescatarian?) and I don’t much like turkey. We had a great meal with stuffed snapper and fresh, low maintenance sides. I had fun with the menu, and this was the least stressful Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever made. In our house, my husband is just as likely to get a meal going as I am. So, he handled our one laborious nod to tradition, sweet potato pies.

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