Don't Ruin Thanksgiving Dinner
Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian, and the Butterball team are here to help
Thanksgiving is only a week away and Hallmark movies and social media influencers may paint a picture of family and friends gathered around a gorgeous feast. While you probably won’t have a secret prince at your dining table, you can avoid a dry turkey or other Thanksgiving Day disasters with tips from some of the country’s most expert chefs.
Alex Guarnaschelli (Food Network’s Alex vs. America)
Alex Guarnaschelli’s tip for the perfect turkey is to use butter. First, melt several sticks of butter and brush the rack on which the turkey will bake. Then, place any vegetables you’re roasting with the turkey under the rack on the pan. Take a piece of cheesecloth, fold it in half, and soak it in the melted butter. Place the cheesecloth over just the breast meat and tuck it around the turkey. This will protect the breast meat from overcooking while the rest of the bird cooks. After about an hour and a half, gently peel the cheesecloth off and allow the turkey to continue to cook, for about another 45 minutes. Guarnaschelli is quick to give credit for this method to her mom who, in turn, got it from Julia Child.
Guarnaschelli has a treasure trove of more Thanksgiving tips on her Instagram.
Geoffrey Zakarian (Food Network’s The Kitchen)
Geoffrey Zakarian wants you to do prep work in advance so you can enjoy Thanksgiving Day. “Do all of the stuffings, pies, and gravy two days ahead,” says the chef. Zakarian gets his turkey ready for the oven a day in advance. Season the turkey with plenty of salt and pepper, then let sit in a cold place for 24 hours uncovered. “It will help the skin crisp up,” says Zakarian.
Wrap breadsticks in prosciutto for a perfect make-ahead snack as guests arrive, and batch a welcome cocktail. Negronis and Manhattans are perfect for the occasion.
Cesar Zapata (Executive Chef, Phuc Yea in Miami)
Cesar Zapata has an unusual, yet effective, way of making sure your turkey is moist on the inside, and crisp on the outside. “Blow dry your turkey! The drier your turkey is before you cook it, the crispier the skin will be.” Two to three days before Thanksgiving, place a rack on top of a sheet pan or aluminum foil pan and place the turkey on top. Cover it loosely with aluminum foil and place it inside the refrigerator and let the turkey air dry for two to three days prior to cooking.”
Jacqueline Kleis (Corporate Chef, Wild Fork)
Jacqueline Kleis says the most important thing to remember during Thanksgiving is the safe handling of your food. Most turkeys are purchased frozen. “It is important to follow proper food safety for avoiding illness by mishandling from thawing to critical temperatures,” says the corporate chef of Wild Fork, a retailer that’s known for its frozen quality meats. “When cooking with a bone-in or whole bird that is anywhere between four and eight pounds, always thaw in the original packaging or in a tray at the lowest part of your refrigerator. Never thaw at room temperature or over the counter because it creates a risk of harmful growing bacteria that is sure to ruin Thanksgiving dinner.”
Kleis says to make sure to clean your sink, surfaces, utensils, and hands thoroughly, and use a non-porous cutting board when handling your turkey. “Always store your turkey and stuffing separately to avoid cross-contamination, never reuse marinades, and never refrigerate the turkey with stuffing inside of it. Cook immediately after stuffing poultry.”
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line
If you have any last-minute questions, there’s always the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. This hotline, now in its 41st year, will connect you with a friendly person who will help you with recipes, cooking tips, and how-to suggestions. The talk line is open now through Thanksgiving Day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Time.
I actually called the line and was connected to a lovely woman within one minute (Thanksgiving wait times are sure to be longer), who said that I was free to call back with any cooking-related questions, tips, or even emotional support.
Call 1-800-BUTTERBALL, or visit butterball.com if you need last-minute advice or support.
How to pour your drunk uncle into an Uber is probably best handled by the family.