I say it every year, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In Novembers past these pages have offered recipes for cornbread dressing, tips on side dishes, and insight as to what an anti-Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving can be like at the MacDonald house.

This year I thought I’d give you some options for that centerpiece of your meal, the one that gets to see the “good china” for the first time of the year. Of course I am talking about Big Bird, Professor Gobblesworth, Ben Franklin’s first choice for our nation’s official avian representative, Tom Turkey.

Many of you will prepare your own. Others may fight the aggravation and seek solace on a platter by purchasing a previously cooked bird (usually smoked or fried) from a tax-deductible charity organization, more than likely affiliated with a church or social club. If you plan on taking the easy route there are plenty of options, and each is a gamble. But if you want to choose on reputation, I am hearing good things about our neighbors to the north at Conecuh Sausage.

I know anything north of Satsuma is considered Yankee territory, but we’ve enjoyed their sausage for years. Their turkey reputation is the talk of the town these days, and like their sausage it comes to you smoked. A fully cooked 9-11lb beast can be shipped to your doorstep as quickly as next day air.

The turkey itself will cost $57.99. Tax, tag, insurance and shipping the cheapest UPS route runs you close to $75. Folks are eating them up, so it sounds like it must be worth it. Conecuh also offers an assortment of gift boxes on their website if you feel like spreading the Alabama love to those less fortunate people who dine on inferior sausage due to their geographic station in life.

If you want to pick one up in person I would still recommend you visit the website before you make the trip to Evergreen. www.conecuhsausage.com

Butterball still the hotline of choice

Long before the Internet provided us with the sometimes correct answers to every question in the universe, the good folks at Butterball set up a hotline. Anyone with a telephone could call toll free during this season and ask any question he or she wished regarding all things turkey. There were legendary calls as you can imagine, and with something so free of charge and unpoliced, lots of questions bordered on absurd. There are collections of these inquiries scattered about that will make most of you doubt the intelligence of this great nation. If they don’t have you worried then you are one of them.

That hotline still exists, but the computer savvy crowd will find the website to be much more helpful and without the bother of having to interact with another human. There are how-to videos for topics from choosing, thawing, stuffing, marinating and brining (my favorite) to deep-frying, roasting, grilling and rotisserie cooking. Don’t be embarrassed by poor knife skills on this sacred day. Be sure and watch the video of carving the turkey. It is easier to screw up than you think. I should know. I’ve done it lots of times.

There are also plenty of recipes for non-turkey related items as well as a blog, so your question may be answered before you ask it. Be sure and check out the desserts. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I’d cut off a toe to have some of that sugary sweet stuff right now.

Of course you guessed the website is www.butterball.com, but if you want to go old school just come up with a humdinger of a question and call 1-800-288-8372. If you just punch in 1-800-BUTTERBALL it will get you there even though that’s too many numbers.

My way or the highway

When it comes to cooking our feathered friends I always preach safety first. I have a true stomach of iron, but I don’t tempt fate when I stumble out of the poultry department. First thing is first. Invest a couple of bucks in a decent oven-proof meat thermometer. I’m sure those plastic pop-out buttons are OK, but I just don’t trust them. Insert the thermometer into a thick piece of meat (perhaps the thigh) and don’t let the tip rest on a bone. You may get a false reading. That magic number is 180 degrees. Be sure you hit it and let it stay there a bit.

Chickens and turkeys are done the same way in my house. I cook them “upside down” with the legs in the roasting pan. In college my nickname was Dark Meat due to my fondness of legs and thighs. This is about the only way you can get me to eat breast. The juiciness from the bones seeps down into the usually drier white meat and renders it succulent.

Thanksgiving is all about the dressing for me, so we never stuff the bird. Not with stuffing anyway. I have on occasion filled the cavity with vegetables, and right now I am still apple crazy. I wouldn’t be scared of some Golden Delicious crammed in there. Twist those stems off and quarter those bad boys. Apples are so good this year.

Be sure and recycle those bones and make a good stock for leftover turkey soup. Have a happy Thanksgiving!