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Giving the Guys the Bird This Thanksgiving

Ways to Get Men Involved in the Meal - Besides Eating

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Giving the Guys the Bird This Thanksgiving

Adam Byrd of "Men in Aprons"

Courtesy Adam Byrd
Originally published November 19, 2008

For most women, Thanksgiving may feel like a misnamed 'holiday.'

That's because we rise at the crack of dawn, wrestle a high-maintenance bird into a roasting pan, then wear oven mitts the size of Rhode Island to move baking dishes in an all-day game of oven chess so we can time the cooking of 167 separate side dishes.

When it comes to helming a kitchen, women are the air traffic controllers every Thanksgiving. And the men? They're crashed out in the family room, watching football.

How do we change the family dynamic and get men involved in Thanksgiving? We asked the Big Byrd - no, not the Sesame Street character but Adam Byrd, a proponent of gender equity in the kitchen and the creator of Men In Aprons. Not only did he give us advice, but he graciously shared the 'method behind the madness' of his own family's Thanksgiving preparations (Spoiler alert: Reading further may cause you to swoon in envy.)

You split the Thanksgiving duties with your wife. I like that in a man. In fact, I bet most women like that in a man. But few men do it. Why do you think that's so? And what kind of man-to-man pep talk would you deliver to encourage guys to get off the couch and into the kitchen this Thanksgiving?

I get asked this all the time, and I just don't know why more men don't cook on Thanksgiving. I supposed it's partially tradition, as sexist as that may sound. When I grew up, the women cooked the Thanksgiving meal and the men watched football and scratched themselves. That was early on, though. As I grew older, my father became more involved as my mother's health declined. By default, he became the cook of the household, and I naturally picked it up.

My pep talk is to just do it. Get in there and help out, if they'll let you. Sometimes the female presence in the kitchen can be a bit overwhelming. Kind of like a really loud and hateful chicken coop. Offer to do the meat, and do it outside. This accomplishes two things: it gets the man involved and it frees up the oven for casseroles and pies.

You tackle the meaty (pun intended) parts of the meal - the turkey, ham, gravy, etc. Your wife handles the grainy aspects - dressing, pies and breads. I'm seeing a gendered division of labor here - the traditional hunter vs. gatherer, men vs. women thing. Or am I making too much of it?

It may be a little of gender stereotyping going on, but I won't complain about it. You could consider that the turkey is a gateway food. It might bridge the gap to another Thanksgiving food. Or cooking in general.

My wife does the pies and the desserts because she's better at them than I am. Pies are my Everest. She also cooks the dressing, because it is a tradition that the women of her family make the dressing. I suppose it just kind of worked out that way in my house.

But I won't let her touch the bird, nor will I let her near a pan of hot gravy. (She's accident prone). Not only that, but I make giblet gravy, and I think she's allergic to touching giblets and any other internal organs.

A trend in recent years has men doing turkey in complex ways like barbecuing or deep-frying. (Boys and their toys.) How do you cook your turkey? And should women just simply be grateful that men are getting involved, even if it's more gadget-based than what women do?

Yes, I have noticed the trend as well. But can you complain? I don't think that grateful is the right word. I think "glad' is just fine. You see, getting the men to do the turkey outdoors gets the turkey outside, which of course frees up the oven for everything else. Plus, the men get to do some of their favorite things: play with fire and cook meat on it.

Smoked turkey is how we do it at our house, and it is the most wonderful thing. One of my fondest memories was the first year we hosted Thanksgiving at our house. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to start the smoker and prep the bird. I sat outside in the cool crisp autumn air and listened to the world go by as the wisps of smoke drifted across my patio. It was one of the most peaceful times I've ever encountered. And the turkey was delicious.

Most men who cook the turkey do so because it's a family tradition. Their dads did it. How about you? When did you first take on this role? How can women get their men to not just talk turkey but actually cook turkey?

In my family my mother or grandmother was the person that cooked the turkey. I was thrust into the role when we first decided to host Thanksgiving. I had just bought a New Braunfels Offset smoker with firebox and I wanted to use it for the bird. I think that giving men an alternate way to cook a turkey can excite them into taking on the task. Even though I feel the turkey fryers are totally dangerous and a money pit, they certainly do get the men interested in the job.

Your website is MenInAprons.net. Do you really wear one to cook? What apron will you be wearing on Thanksgiving Day?

I absolutely do wear an apron! I've even got one with "Men in Aprons" embroidered on the front. In a manly way, of course. I will be wearing my MIA apron on Thanksgiving day. It's not really all that functional, though. It just helps me get into into character. Like Superman's cape.

This year, I'll be cooking the turkey in my brand new Char-Broil Infrared Oil-less turkey fryer. Also, I'll be smoking a ham and possibly some sausage. The wife will be handling the dressing, candied sweet potatoes, and all the pies. I will probably get roped into making my Harvest Corn Pudding, which is a pain, but a great side dish. I don't know where we're going to put it all, but I have high hopes.

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