We think we have our game plan set for Thanksgiving: Roast the turkey, mash the potatoes, make the yams, bake the pies. Good to go, right? Except according to star chefs Michael Symon, Wolfgang Puck, and Top Chef's upcoming Season 14 cheftestants, much of what we're doing is a waste of time—or, worse, totally wrong. Check out their tips, and get ready for a much more delicious, and best of all much less stressful, holiday.
1. You can forget brining.
Star chef Michael Symon (pictured above), co-host of The Chew and owner of the upcoming Angeline at the Borgata in Atlantic City among other restaurants, is firmly in anti-brine territory: "Brines are great if you’re making only the breast,” Symon tells The Feast. A quick brine helps it stay moist, because the breast is such a lean cut and tends to be dry. Then just roast it or smoke it. “I don’t typically brine a whole bird, because there’s just so much and the bones and skin naturally help retain moisture. Just season it liberally with salt and pepper inside and out and then stuff the cavity with herbs,” says Symon. James (Jim) Whitfield Smith III, Season 14 rookie on Top Chef (pictured below), is anti-brining too: "I really like to cook the holiday turkey very simply: no brine, just seasoned well with salt and pepper and then roasted," he says.
But the brining debate rages on, and other chefs disagree. Amanda Baumgarten (pictured below), a Season 14 returning contestant on Top Chef, is all about the brine. "I brine the turkey for two days and then cover it with room temperature butter, salt, and pepper and put it back in the fridge until the butter hardens. Then I put it in a 550-degree oven for 30 minutes. Then I turn it down to 375 and cover it until it's done."
Katsuji Tanabe (pictured below), Season 14 returning contestant on Top Chef, is pro-brining too: He starts with a kosher turkey, brines it in advance, and puts "lots of butter and tons of sliced bacon between the skin and breast."
2. Consider cooking the turkey in pieces.
You may want to break things up in order to have more evenly cooked meat. “We have a turkey always—without that, it’s not Thanksgiving," celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck (pictured below) tells The Feast. "But I separate the breasts and the legs to cook. I cook them slowly with some rosemary, garlic, and red wine. I roast the breast separate. That way I don’t have to overcook the breasts, and everyone will have a nice piece of meat,” he adds.
3. Don't stuff the turkey.
Stuffing goes in the bird, dressing is cooked alongside it—and which way you go is pretty divisive. “I never put stuffing in the bird. There’s something I don’t like about putting fresh stuffing in a raw turkey….Instead, season the turkey with salt, pepper and herbs, and put some butter underneath the skin,” says Symon.
4. Don't sleep on that meat thermometer.
You don't want to overcook the bird and dry it out, but undercooked meat is dangerous. How high do you go? “Roast the turkey at an incredibly high temperature (450-475 degrees) until it gets completely golden and then cover it with foil and drop it down to 375 degrees, until it reaches a 160-degree internal temperature,” says Symon. A skilled chef like Symon can get a feel for the bird's temperature without using a thermometer, but the rest of us most likely can't. “Get a good thermometer and put it between the leg and the thigh, the thickest point, and the thickest part of the breast so you know when it’s done,” he says.
5. Make sure you let the turkey rest before and after cooking.
Let the bird come to room temperature outside the fridge before roasting it, says Symon. Also, he adds, "Build in enough time to let it rest for 30–45 minutes after it’s out of the oven, so the juices redistribute in the turkey."
6. Ignore those turkey cooking times.
“Most turkey times listed are almost twice as long as you would need to cook the turkey from start to finish, so remember that too," says Symon. "If you let it come to room temperature, then roast it, then let it rest, it’s typically going to cook in half as much time as you would see in a lot of the books,” he adds. Eight to ten minutes a pound is more than you would ever need.
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