Why Didn’t My Roasting Turkey Smell? A Post-Thanksgiving Tell-All

published Dec 2, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I will be forever haunted by memories of Thanksgiving 2015. While so much of my Thanksgiving was just right — my grandmother’s china, a pecan pie from a hip bakery, carefully cooked Brussels sprouts and chestnuts — one major element was missing.

My turkey didn’t smell!

No, my guests were not greeted with the fragrance of perfect heritage turkey roasting with apples, onions, and sage. I would have forgiven my 12 guests for thinking I was baking tofu — not that there’s anything wrong with that. My roasting turkey was perfectly scentless.

Where did I go wrong? I cooked a perfect and perfectly expensive heritage turkey from a local Brooklyn butcher. Loosely following a recipe from the New York Times, I brined my bird, rubbed butter under the skin, and roasted for about three hours. As I welcomed guests and invited them to try the Colston Basset blue cheese, I waited for that signature scent of roast turkey to burst out of my oven. Never happened.

Why Was There No Delicious Turkey Smell?

I have a few hunches about what happened, and I’m hoping you can help me figure it out in the comments.

  1. This was my first time serving a heritage breed turkey. Are these fancy turkeys less fragrant? I knew there would be less white meat since these birds are older and have more muscle. Did I unwittingly sacrifice the smell as well?
  2. Against my mother’s sage advice, I didn’t cook the stuffing inside the bird. Perhaps that traditional roast turkey smell isn’t really turkey — it’s the smell of the stuffing roasting inside the bird?
  3. After cooking for 30 minutes at a high heat, I lowered the temperature and filled the bottom of the roasting pan with apple cider. Did I use too much cider, which stopped the caramelization that creates that perfect, signature scent of the day?
  4. Nerves! It could have just been me? Was I so focused on my guests that my nose was off?
  5. Our apartment has 10-foot ceilings — maybe we were sending all the good smells up or out the open windows?
  6. When we renovated, I bought a big oven with a convection roast setting, dreaming of the day I would finally get to host a Thanksgiving. This was my new oven’s big day — I even cleaned it the night before to make sure the blue enamel inside was sparkling when guests peeked inside at the roasting bird. Did the convection setting suck up the aroma?

I’ll think more about the smells of my cooking project the next time I host, especially since the sense of smell is closely tied to our long-term memory.

Have you ever served an eerily unscented meal? Tell me about it in the comments.