Grilling Hawaiian Turkey in the Snow

December 20, 2016 / Category Tag, Grilling

It’s the closest thing my family has to a holiday tradition. While other people I know have annual get-togethers and crazy sweaters, cookie contests and popcorn strings, we’ve got Hawaiian turkey.

No, it’s not a turkey from Hawaii. It’s just a regular turkey. But it’s the thing we all look forward to when we know the family is gathering – my sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews. Mom makes the glaze, a simple mixture of crushed pineapple, orange juice, a little sugar and spice and other things nice. Dad thaws the bird the night before and gets up early the day of to take it out of the fridge.

“You want to get it closer to room temperature,” he says, the voice of authority in all things related to this particular meal.

 At 10, we pull on boots and coats and drag the old grill out of the garage, arranging the piles of charcoal off to the side. “You don’t want direct heat,” he says, “you just want it hot.”

Mom pours us a tall bourbon, lots of ice despite the cold and it tastes so much better than it would in a bar or on a plane or, even, inside.

We light the coals and wait for them to stop smoking. “You want them to get a little gray,” he says, “that’s how you know it’s hot enough.”

The turkey goes on around 10:45. We refill our glasses and watch the thermometer on the grill rise, checking the progress every twenty minutes or so for the next couple hours. And while we wait, we talk. No phones, no movies, no games. We stand in the snow and watch our dogs – his German Shorthair, my Golden Retriever – bound through the snow. He’s retired now, for the most part, but not ready to be done. He’s starting a business and wants my advice. I never thought this day would come.

When I was younger, Dad would stand outside and tend the turkey by himself. I’d go out and check on him, but get bored and come back in. For my sisters and I, he was a wizard, turning the ingredients into a meal, the grill was his cauldron, a match his wand.

He’s never asked for advice before, but he wants it now. We talk about his business and his plans. We talk about how even though he’s put in his years and earned his reward, he still wants to earn his keep. He talks, I listen. He listens when I talk. It’s a conversation we could never have had when I was a kid and one, I think, he’s probably never had with my sisters. We are two men talking things out, two men doing manly things.

We check the temperature at 2:30 and he likes what he sees. I pull the turkey off and we set to slicing, stealing pieces as we go and sneaking bits to the dogs before we go inside. Mom greets us with a hot coffee and asks us what we were talking about. We don’t spoil it by recounting it, but simply tell her we were talking about work. It seems to be enough for her.

The turkey is as good as I remember, the holiday is too.

In a family without a lot of traditions, it feels like Dad and I have created a new one around an old one. It might not be a crazy Christmas sweater, but it’s something better. Something, indeed, worth looking forward to throughout the year to come.

Grilled Hawaiian Turkey


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