Going home for the holidays is like going to the Upside Down, back in time to when the world still felt strange and new. Welcome to Stranger Thanksgiving, inspired by Netflix’s hit Stranger Things and the Thanksgivings of our childhoods.
Many of the things we love about the ’80s-inspired Duffer Brothers’ series Stranger Things are the same things we love about Thanksgiving: a longing for our old family traditions as we also embrace building new ones. For those of us who were children in the ’80s, there is a distinct sense of time and place deeply rooted in our memories that this television show taps into. It’s all strangely familiar in a way that makes it both comforting and scary at the same time.
At the center of both these stories is a Demogorgon. In Stranger Things we know this as the Monster from the Upside Down, often unseen as he looms in darkness. On our Thanksgiving table, the turkey is much the same, a monster to cook, which at once terrifies us and draws us in.
Instead of being intimidated by the monstrous bird, we must face it head-on as Eleven does her own demon, literally flipping the turkey upside down and enrobing it in a dark glaze that is both a nod to this series and to our own ’80s nostalgia.
Roasting a Turkey Upside Down
Flipping a turkey upside down is more than just an allusion to Stranger Things. While the monster in that series does live in the mysterious alternative dimension known only as the Upside Down, most cooks only roast their turkey right-side up. Roasting a turkey upside down protects the vulnerable breast meat, which is notorious for overcooking and becoming dry, while at the same time self-basting the whole turkey in drippings from the richer dark meat.
The one downside to roasting the turkey upside down is that this method doesn’t produce a picture-perfect turkey. The top of the bird, having been roasted directly against the roasting rack, will have a few pale spots. This is where a dark cola-based glaze will come in handy.
Making a Cola Glaze
The cola glaze will help darken the turkey during its final few minutes of roasting, but can also be basted onto the finished breast after the turkey has cooled and can be safely flipped back over. While cola and turkey might not seem like a natural pairing, the two work well together. This is something I learned during the holidays of my own youth, as they were the few times each year when soda was allowed. More often hams are given this sweet-meets-savory treatment, but this brown sugar-infused glaze is subtle enough to satisfy nostalgic cravings without being cloying.
One note on picking the cola: Do as our young friends in Stranger Things would and look for classic Coca-Cola, preferably sweetened with cane sugar.
Coke-Glazed Upside-Down Turkey
For the turkey:
1 (12- to 15-pound) turkey
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 small medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 small apple, quartered and core removed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the cola glaze (optional):
2 cups cane sugar cola (Classic Coke from the glass bottle)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Thaw the turkey, if frozen: Thaw the turkey in the fridge. For a 12- to 15-pound turkey, this will take about 3 days, estimating 5 hours of thaw time for each pound of turkey.
Day of roasting
Prepare the turkey: Remove the giblets and neck from inside the turkey’s cavity. Set the turkey on a v-roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Liberally season the turkey inside and out with the salt. Fill the turkey’s cavity with the onion, apple, and herbs. Position the bird breast-side down in the roasting rack. Let the turkey sit out at room temperature 2 hours before roasting.
Roast the bird: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven (remove racks above it) and heat to 400°F. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes to darken and crisp the skin. Reduce the heat to 325°F and roast the bird for an additional 2 hours.
Make the glaze: While the turkey roasts, place all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Glaze and finish the bird: Begin checking the temperature of the turkey after 2 hours of roasting at 325°F. Use a basting or pastry brush to liberally coat the turkey with the cola glaze, being sure to get under the wings and legs. Use a probe thermometer to check the turkey’s temperature in both the thighs and the breast, you want 165°F for the thighs and 160°F for the breasts.
Rest and carve: Remove the turkey from the oven and rest for 20 to 25 minutes before carving. Any pale spots on the breast can be brushed with additional glaze as needed.