Planning the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner While Living Abroad – The Turkey

FOOD. It’s pretty much the main topic of conversation among expats and never more so than around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of the worst times to be away from home, so many Americans do their best to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for their new friends and family overseas. But cooking while living in a foreign country poses many challenges. Here are some tips and tricks for planning the perfect Thanksgiving dinner while living abroad. Today,I’ll talk about getting set up and the turkey. Be sure to come back over the next few days as I also talk about how to make stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and finally, finish with a homemade pumpkin pie!


Cooking Thanksgiving dinner requires some special kitchen utensils. You at least need a roasting pan. A baster is also good, as is aluminum foil. You will want to make sure you have enough serving plates, bakeware, flatware and a carving knife. The recipes will also require some special seasonings you probably don’t have in your spice rack such as cloves and rosemary. Sit down ahead of time and make a menu, a guest list and then a shopping list. Shop early. The import stores in Sea World have everything you need, but only a limited supply. Don’t wait until the last minute! If you don’t live in a major metropolitan area like Shenzhen, you can find many of these things on Taobao. Also, if you live in Shenzhen, Party Jumbo has some fun Turkey Day-themed plates and napkins

The Turkey

The turkey is the most important part of Thanksgiving dinner. It really isn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey. However, turkeys are a new world animal and, unlike other new world foods, have not grown in popularity in China. If you live in a large metropolitan area, they are getting easier to find. Metro import supermarket usually has a few in stock, but not many. It is a good idea to get your turkey at least a week early before they run out. Of course, then you have the problem of storing it until you are ready to thaw it, which can be difficult if you have a small freezer, so plan accordingly.

If you can’t get a turkey, roasted duck or goose is an acceptable substitute.

If you are planning on roasting a turkey, though, be cautious of the size of your turkey. In America, we tend to choose our turkey based on pounds because we all have large enough ovens to handle almost any turkey. But in China, if you have an oven, most likely it is an oversized toaster oven, which still isn’t very big. Hot tip — pick your turkey based on inches instead of pounds! Measure the inside of your oven. Then, measure the turkeys at the store and pick one that fits in your oven.

Cooking the Turkey

Your turkey will need to thaw for several hours. Place your turkey in a sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. It will need to thaw for 30 minutes for every pound.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Remove the turkey from the packaging. Reach into the turkey’s cavity and remove the giblet pack. Hot Tip — unlike American turkeys, Chinese turkeys also have their heads in the cavity, so just be prepared because it can be a shock the first time you pull one out.

Pat the turkey dry and place it breast side up in the roasting pan. Brush the turkey with a light layer of butter, oil, or mayonnaise. You can also season the turkey with garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, thyme, Italian seasonings or whatever you like. Place the turkey in the oven, but make sure you can see the pop-out thermometer.

Your turkey will take 3-4 hours to cook, depending on the size. At about the two-hour mark, the turkey’s juices should start escaping and it should start browning on the top. Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the turkey to keep it from browning too quickly. You can also start basting the turkey about every 30 minutes to redistribute the juices.

When the thermometer pops, your turkey is done. Remove it from the oven and let it set for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. Reserve the juices for the stuffing and the gravy.

Check back for more recipes to help you plan the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner!