8 easy Thanksgiving cooking hacks to stave off disaster

thanksgiving cooking

It doesn’t have to be this way! Photo by Flickr user Alessandro Valli

Congratulations! If you are reading this article, brave and noble Brooklynite, it means that you have decided to take on the Goliath task of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner whether in your New York City apartment kitchen or in the house of the family member hosting it. At the very least, you’re helping cook.

Great fortune awaits you if you are able to pull of this incredible feat, but griping from long-forgotten family members is waiting just around the corner for those unable to complete the task. We here at Brokelyn believe in you, though, and as the resident chef of our financially-challenged website, I felt it was my duty to share with you some easy Thanksgiving cooking wisdom I’ve gained while surviving the chaos that is making your own dinner on November 27.

THE TURKEY

1. Don’t cook a turkey. Or at least if you do, don’t cook it whole. Seriously, you’re best off cooking the bird in sections. The most difficult part of a Thanksgiving meal is cooking a roasted whole turkey and setting on the table all Rockwell-esque. The challenge of it has driven countless Michelin-starred chefs insane. The main problem is that turkey breast is cooked to perfection at 150 degrees, and dries out insanely quickly for every degree over. This wouldn’t be a problem EXCEPT that the thigh meat needs to reach a warm 165 degrees or else it might murder your family. So you’re left with a choice: either overcook the breast meat or give Uncle Phil salmonella.

The solution here lies in cooking the turkey in separate batches, or at the very least, spatchcocking that mofo (scroll down that link for pictures of what you should be doing). The down-and-dirty of the process is cutting the backbone out of the turkey with cooking shears, then breaking the chest in half so it folds flat onto a cooking sheet. The flatness allows it to cook more evenly, and the positioning helps the thighs and breasts cook at better relative temperatures.

2. On the same note of not-killing-people, use a thermometer. No, not the little button on the oven or the amount of time the recipe calls for, but an actual, real thermometer. Your turkey deserves it. Remember that using a digital is preferred to old-school, but anything will do in a pinch.

3. Don’t go for a pre-brined turkey. Yes, there are pre-brined birds, but if you go in for that you’re missing out on a chance to add some great flavors, which is pretty much what the brine is for. If you’re looking to infuse some taste into the bird than I’d go with some nice wet brines like this sweet tea Brine, but if you’re just looking for juiciness, go dry brine instead.

4. Well, you’ve got the moist, perfectly-cooked turkey meat, but obviously you want a crispy skin wrapped around it, right? Right! To get the absolute, most crazy-crispy skin you can imagine, there are a couple easy things to do:

  • Even if you’re using a wet brine, let your turkey air-dry in the fridge for a day before cooking. This is to get the skin to dry out, since paradoxically, moisture is the enemy for the skin, while the goal for the meat. Now you’re beginning to see why people drink heavily on this holiday.
  • Want even crispier skin? You can also rub the skin with baking powder or cornstarch a day in advance to get even deeper levels of crazy crispiness.

5. Okay, now that your turkey has been brined, spatchcocked, cooked to perfection and coated in crunchiness, let’s move on. Remember all those turkey bits that came with the turkey? That backbone you cut out if you indeed flattened your bird? Well, be sure to get those browning and into the gravy. Even if you’re using the packet stuff, you’ve got to mix it with something, and that something may as well be the turkey jus of the gods. Just brown them in a pan, pour whatever’s going to become your gravy on top, and let it simmer for a bit. I know a lot of people who skip this step because “how much flavor could it possibly add?” And the answer is “a lot.”

SIDES

6. Mashed potatoes seem like one of the easier recipes in existence; so much so that the act of preparing them can also be done by someone tripping on their shoelaces. However, keep in mind that if you mix your potatoes too much, the starch in them will turn your entire bowl of mashed potatoes into glue, and not that good-tasting glue that they had in pre-school. Get all your mashing done first, add in everything you’re going to mix in at once and then keep your stirs to a minimum (and no robot mixers! Use them guns!)

7. For anything green, give it a quick blanche in some boiling salted water for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes and then a dip it in an ice bath before doing anything else to your veggie. This helps lock in the color and keeps it firmer, even if you’re roasting, sauteing or otherwise heating your veggie.

8. DO NOT stuff your stuffing in the turkey. This is a good way for you to spent post-Thanksgiving finding out exactly how many liquids can come out of all of your different orifices. Bake your stuffing in the oven on the side, and just serve next to your bird.

If you remember to make a schedule, do your cooking on the days prior to Thanksgiving and find some way to keep everyone distracted and out of the kitchen, I believe you can actually pull this miracle off! Just remember to cut Uncle Phil off after two bourbons, otherwise he gets all “racial.” From all of Brokelyn, happy Thanksgiving and don’t set your house on fire!

2 Comment

  • Spatchcock! Can you really make a butcher do that also (because I’m not fucking with a 15-pound bird and scissors)?

  • Yup! butcher can definitely take care of it, though if you’ve got proper cooking shears you’d be surprised at how easy it is to cut through!