How to Roast a Turkey in China in 15 Easy Steps

*This may or may not be based on a real story.  Your experiences may differ slightly.

Step 1:  Obtain an oven.  These appliances are not common in China, as many dishes can be cooked in a wok on a burner.  You’ll have to be prepared to shell out more than a few yuan, though, so save up.  Some stores do sell them, with incredible mark-ups, but your husband might be able to find one online for less than half of that price.  He’ll also have to have a little cupboard built to house the oven, which you’ll worry won’t fit through the kitchen doorway in your apartment if it is fully assembled, but eventually your oven will be installed and usable.  Cook a few things with it to familiarize yourself with how it works and so that you are aware of its tendency to blow out the extensions cords used to plug it in.

Necessary appliance. Note that it is not as "full-sized" as its western cousins!

Step 2:  Find whipping cream in your local supermarket.  Think to yourself, “Wow, we can never buy whipping cream here, so I should definitely buy it.  What can I make to use whipping cream?  Pumpkin pie.  Mmmm, I love pumpkin pie.  What goes with pumpkin pie?  Turkey.  Hey, I have an oven, I could make a turkey dinner!”  Realize later that, as with so many other things, these ideas are much harder to carry out in practice.

Step 3:  Barrage your mother with emails requesting recipes for her pies, stuffing, and turkey preparation (because your mother’s turkey always tastes better than anyone else’s, right?!).  Start making a list of ingredients and utensils you need to track down in order to successfully make this meal.

Step 4:  Send your husband on a wild turkey chase (it’s a lot like a wild goose chase but, you know, with turkeys) in China, land of pork, mutton, duck, and chicken.

Step 5:  Talk up your upcoming turkey dinner to a couple of friends and even invite them, despite not actually having confirmed that you can get a turkey (and, in fact, never having made a turkey dinner before…ever).

Step 6:  Have your wonderful mother supply you with some key items you require to actually pull off this feat.  This may include a roaster, rack, baster, skewers, a pie pastry mix, and a couple of spices.

Step 7:  Breathe a huge sigh of relief when your husband reports home that he has found someone with a turkey on their farm that they will sell to you for a good price.  Slap your forehead with your hand later when you discover that you can actually order frozen turkeys on Taobao (THE online shopping site in China).

Step 8:  Answer the following questions that your husband then asks you regarding the turkey:  Alive or dead?  (Dead.)  Male or female?  (Uh…not sure, but probably female because they are smaller.)  Any other requests?  (Um, yes.  No feathers, no head, no feet, and no insides. Oh, and please weigh it after all this is removed so I can establish a cooking time.)  Feel proud of yourself for remembering to specify those things because this is China and they eat everything!

Step 9:  Set the date for your dinner, tell the friends you’ve already invited that it is confirmed, and continue gathering the items you need for the dinner.  Make desserts, including pumpkin (which you’ve never made before and are worried won’t set properly or cook through because it is really runny) and apple pies (hey, a girl’s got to find some way to use up all those apples from her students for Christmas!), and chocolate fudge.  Feel relieved that even if the turkey is a failure, at least you can all gorge on desserts.

The dessert table. On the bottom - apple pie, pumpkin pie, and chocolate fudge. On top - the bowl of whipping cream that started the insanity!

Step 10:  Panic one day before your scheduled dinner when you receive the following text message from your husband, who has gone to the farm to pick up the turkey and take it to be slaughtered and prepared:  “I got the turkey done.  It is about 15kg or 33 pounds heavy.  Now I’m on the way home.”  Know that there is no way a 33 pound turkey will ever fit into your oven.

Step 11:  Return home at lunch to be greeted by two stiff, curled turkey feet sticking out of the bag holding said bird.  Decide to temporarily bypass asking why the feet are still attached when you had clearly asked for them to be removed in order to assess the size of the turkey.  Pick up the bag and try to get a feel for the weight.  Think to yourself that the bird doesn’t actually appear to be that large, but continue to worry nonetheless about just how long it is going to take to cook the thing.

Husband displaying one of the gigantic turkey feet post-removal.

Step 12:  After teaching classes all day and attending a friend’s birthday dinner, return home and begin cleaning the turkey.  Ask for your husband’s assistance to cut the feet and more of the neck off and shake your head a bit when he tells you that the man at the slaughterhouse thought you were nuts to not want such a “good, thick neck” and “big feet” for your dinner.  Tell your husband that if you ever decide to do this again, that the guy can keep the neck and feet for himself.  Your husband will just chuckle when you say this.  Watch as he puts the feet and neck into a bag into the freezer so he can eat them later.

Ick alert! The feet, neck & extras my husband is saving to eat (alone!) at a later date.

Place the turkey in your sink with cold water and clean it.  Call your husband for help again when you realize that the insides are still present.  Help him gut the turkey.  Finish thoroughly cleaning it and try to pat it dry with toilet paper (because you forgot to buy paper towels and don’t want to use a real towel on a raw turkey) but give up because the paper flakes off onto the skin.  Remember that you have nothing large enough to hold it until the following day, nor will it fit in your refrigerator, so help your husband wrap it in cling wrap and place it in an empty box to leave in your unheated kitchen overnight, hoping that the room will be cold enough to prevent you from giving anyone food poisoning the next day.  Continue wondering about the weight of the turkey the entire time you are cleaning it, since it doesn’t seem overly large or heavy, but know that you have no scale to verify the weight, so keep stressing.

Cleaning the bird. Sure doesn't seem like a 33-pounder...

D'oh! Insides still present, too! Guess I'm gutting a turkey tonight.

Step 13:  While researching turkey cooking times on the internet, begin to worry when the largest bird any site has listed is 24 pounds.  Start to wonder if you should be putting the bird in the oven immediately.  Panic internally, but say nothing to your husband, who has worked very hard to get you this turkey and you don’t want to seem ungrateful.

Step 14:  When your husband out of nowhere suddenly says, “Wait, not 15kg.  15 jin, 15 jin!  So that’s only about 8 or 8.5 kg, so maybe 15 pounds,” breathe a huge sigh of relief and calculate that you should be able to put the bird in the oven around noon the following day to have it ready for dinner.

Step 15:  The next day, get up and make the stuffing, stuff, close, and roast the turkey as you would in any other country, all the while worrying that your oven may short out the circuit and cause you to end up with a raw turkey at dinner time.  Relax as the day wears on, the bird starts smelling oh-so-good, and the oven continues to work.

For my mom, who demanded proof - the bird, ready to hop in the roaster and into the oven!

Cooking away...tight fit, eh?

Cooked! Now...who knows how to carve a turkey?

Dinner is served: turkey (light and dark), potatoes, veggies, stuffing, cranberry jelly and buns (gravy on the table)!

Prepare the other food, take out the turkey, make the gravy, and set the table.  Sit down with good friends and enjoy the first turkey dinner you’ve ever made, and your first in several years.  Bon apetit!

The baby didn't have any, but everyone else loved it!

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34 Responses to How to Roast a Turkey in China in 15 Easy Steps

  1. Selly says:

    With those bullet proof instructions, I think even I could try and make this but I wouldn’t try in a million years. I tried a big chicken for Christmas dinner one time years ago and it was edible but I practically lived in the kitchen for two days, won’t be doing that again. Fabulous post, Kelly, and I’m really pleased you got all done and ended up enjoying a lovely turkey dinner. It sure looks really yummy!

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  3. Alexandra says:

    I don’t know what to write first I love this post so much!!! First of all… You got a grown up oven!! That is amazing, congratulations! About to take your culinary adventures to a whole new level right? Second, THANK YOU for informing me that I can also find a turkey on taobao!! This will come in handy if you try and do a bird around Canadian Thanksgiving. Thirdly, I can’t believe this is your first Turkey and it’s in China!

    I can relate to so much of this, when we failed at Thanksgiving and were using Chickens instead, Fei and I had a GRAND time fishing out the little eggs and guts from inside the thing. Yep if these instructions apply to anyone its me! Soooooo…. when is Easter?

    • kjsandor says:

      Haha, yes, have had my big-girl oven for nearly a year now and love it so much! It just allows me to make so many more things than I could with just my stovetop and microwave. Turkeys were seen on Taobao (I’m not sure if it was just a Christmas-time thing, or if all year) and I also just saw some in a foreign food store in Beijing on our way home from my husband’s hometown (again, may just be leftover from Christmas rush). And yes, I was so stupid as to attempt my first turkey ever while living in China (I had helped my mother before, as she insisted that I should learn, but of course I didn’t pay attention, thinking there was no point, since she always threatens me that she’ll always be around, so I figured she’d always make the turkey!).

      Cleaning the guts out was not my favourite part, but at least I’m not squeamish. Heck, I was happy that it meant the bird would be a little lighter, since at the time, I still sort of believed it was 33 pounds!

      As for Easter, I may pass on another turkey…unless you’re planning on coming (I’d do it again, but just for you). :)

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  5. Lol – I recognise this, it really is this much work to get a turkey done here. Great post. :-)

  6. unbravegirl says:

    Omigosh. That turkey looks so good!
    On Thanksgiving last year I really wanted turkey, so I bought a big smoked turkey leg at the grocery store (imported I think from the States). I could barely cut the meat off that thing (who knew there were tendons in the legs? Weird.) I doubt I could handle a whole bird. Good for you for doing it, though! I’m totally flying to Hebei for your next holiday dinner. :)

    • kjsandor says:

      It was SO good (if you can’t tell, I’m pretty darned proud of myself for pulling it off)!! Not something I plan on doing every weekend, but it’s nice to know that with a bit lot of effort, we can have a nice, comforting, holiday meal to remind me of home. You’re welcome to come up for dinner sometime, but you have to let me know in advance (the wild turkey chase doesn’t just happen overnight, you know). :)

  7. Erica says:

    If turkeys weren’t so expensive in South America I totally would have splurged. We had a chicken Thanksgiving instead. LOVE this post! Made me giggle.

    • kjsandor says:

      I don’t think ours was all that cheap either – my husband never has told me the price he paid for it. But he was willing to do that so I could try, and we’ll do it again sometime, I hope. It also helps that we are settled, not living on a travelers’ budget like you are. And in the end, the tasty meal shared with good friends was worth the cost and the worrying that I wouldn’t be able to do it! Glad you enjoyed the story! :D

  8. Ryan says:

    Fantastic and hilarious post. I’m pretty jealous of that oven. I think I’ll be spending part of the afternoon hunting around Taobao for one. No idea where I’d put it, but am a bit tired of being limited to stove tops and steamers.

    • kjsandor says:

      Thanks! Hubby bought ours on Taobao, I believe. They aren’t cheap, but it was less than half of what the local department store wanted. I didn’t know where we would put it either, but we had the cupboad thingy built to house it and now I even have some counter space in my kitchen (and higher than knee-height to boot! No slouching, FTW!). It’s been really great to have – it allows me so many more options for cooking.

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  10. steve says:

    The food looks great!
    We’re the only people I know with an oven so I served up roast beef to a bunch of Chinese friends this year. Whilst everyone was very polite I think the general feeling was ‘Honestly, Why would you cook a huge lump of meat like that?!’ They loved the Yorkshire puddings and gravy though.

    • kjsandor says:

      Thanks, it was pretty good (not quite as good as mom’s, but close!). If I can ever track down a good cut of beef here, I’d love to cook a roast beef. I think the reaction you got might be regional, because my mother-in-law makes what is essentially roast beef (I think in a pressure cooker or something) and we slice it up and eat it when we visit, so maybe you’d find a better audience up in Inner Mongolia!
      My husband loved the turkey dinner, and my foreign friends did too, but I think the two Chinese girls were a bit perplexed – I think they were baffled by the lack of vegetables in the meal (just the one mixed veggie dish to eat). They seemed to enjoy it, although I suppose it isn’t something they would choose to eat very often. :)

  11. Jack says:

    Props for making the turkey dinner!
    But, man, are those plates small or are your friends and husband huge? :D
    I am kidding but i think it doesn’t do the turkey justice with those dessert plates!

    Also, i didn’t know they have turkey in China. Do they raise it there or are they all imports?

    • kjsandor says:

      The plates are small, unfortunately I haven’t been able to find “normal” sized dinner plates here, so we’re stuck with those. It made it a bit tricky to have a bit of everything on the plate, but we made due.

      The turkey we had was raised here – my husband had a contact with a poultry farm and they had some turkeys. The birds on Taobao may be imported, but ours was freshly killed! :)

  12. Jack says:

    BTW, it seems Chinese are getting a taste of turkey..
    “Turkey moves mainstream in China ”
    “According to the USDA FAS, China’s turkey consumption increased by 588% from 2004 to 2008, from 8,000 metric tons to 55,000!”

    http://www.wattagnet.com/Turkey_moves_mainstream_in_China.html

    I myself don’t have particular preference for turkey either, i am guessing it must be a North American tradition…..(Australia and New Zealand surely doesn’t)

  13. T says:

    Good job on the turkey feast!

    I would’ve gone for a toaster oven like the one in the following link, though, because a conventional oven is just too big for an Asian kitchen. But then, you were dealing with a turkey.

    http://www.shopping.com/Haier-RTC1700/info

    • kjsandor says:

      Thanks! I have a toaster oven, but I don’t like it and don’t like cooking in it. I wanted a real oven and my husband managed to find one for me (he’s super!). As for the size, it fits pretty well in my kitchen and the counter built to house it allows me to actually have some counter space to chop vegetables or put things on, so I think it works just fine.

  14. Know not a thing about cooking, let alone a turkey. But the finished bird looks delicious! And I do love roast turkey though. Very expensive here and mostly available around Christmas time. Here a roast turkey can set you back RM200-RM300 is which about 400-600 yuan! Hilarious post!

    • kjsandor says:

      But now, with my easy-to-follow instructions, you could tackle making a turkey, right?! ;)

      It was very yummy and worth all the trouble and stress. I suspect the turkey was at least a few hundred yuan, but again, it was worth it – it was my first turkey dinner in 3 or 4 years, and my colleagues had gone even longer without. The ultimate comfort food!!

  15. T says:

    BTW, I don’t know how receptive you are to organ meats but if your husband has the turkey heart in the freezer, you might want to give it a try when he cooks it up. I’ve never had turkey heart before, but if it’s anything like chicken heart, it should be quite agreeable to the taste buds (assuming, of course, that your husband is a capable cook). But yeah, give the feet a pass… heh.

    • kjsandor says:

      Um, organ meats don’t particularly appeal to me, so I probably won’t be partaking in any of it. And as for the feet, I have a really easily irritated gag reflex that kicks in when I chomp down on a piece of gristle tendon in my food, so I’m thinking that snacking on the bony, chewy feet would be about the worst thing I could do! He’s welcome to enjoy them – without me. :)

  16. Mitch Davis says:

    OMG you got an oven? How I envy you!

    Three years ago I was living in Dalian. International Day was coming, and my friend and I, both being Australians, decided to cook our national biscuit. We spent about two weeks scouring the city to find the ingredients, perhaps the hardest-to-find being golden syrup, which is like maple syrup, except made with cane sugar. Only after finding the ingredients did we realise that we were missing the most important thing of all – the oven!

    In the end, we resolved this problem by sweet-talking the local pizza shop owner, who thought the whole thing was a bit of a laugh. When you don’t have it, borrow it!

    (So impressed your turkey turned out so well, so far from home, on your first try. 佩服你!)

    • kjsandor says:

      Haha! Before we got it, I would frequently mention how I wished I had one because if I did, I would be able to cook ____ (whatever). And now that we have it, my husband is always looking at things he sees in restaurants, or in pictures and asking, “Can you make that?!”

      I was pretty impressed with myself – thanks! :)

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  18. -rachel says:

    My daughter is from Hebei and I was looking for recipes so G**gled hebei recipes… and I found turkey! :) Loving your blog.

    • kjsandor says:

      Haha! Well, turkey (in this form, at least) is certainly not traditional Hebei food and I am pretty sure that my post was not overly helpful for you…but I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your comment. :)

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