What’s the Verdict: The Great Turkey Debates

Iron Chef Judge On The Great Turkey Debates

For years, many of my restaurants were open on Thanksgiving Day. I remember one year in particular early on in my career, where I misjudged how many pumpkin pies we would need. While families dined upstairs, I was in the trenches making what seemed like 100 pumpkin pies because we had ran out! It was a significant learning experience for me, and I can now confidently say that I’ve learned to understand the habits of how people like to eat and how to plan a menu.

When it comes to the main event (the turkey,) there is a lot of information out there that can be overwhelming and confusing. I have gained tremendous insight-specifically on how to survive the holidays and entertain in style. Follow my lead and enjoy!

Should you serve anything pre-dinner?

**Verdict: Yes! Offer Seasonal Cocktails & Hors D’oeuvres** I always have something for my family members to snack on. Someone always tends to arrive early with an appetite in tow and ready to party! Remember that hors d’oeuvres are supposed to be “bite-sized” and light. The point is just to wet the appetite- so don’t over do it or your guests wont have room for the main event! I recommend something simple like warmed olives sprinkled with lemon zest and red pepper flakes or spinach & artichoke dip with baked pita chips.

Also, serve up some signature cocktails like sangria that are seasonal, fun, and easy for guests to help themselves. Check out my signature cocktails here for inspiration.

How to Avoid Over-Eating and the Inevitable Weight Gain?

**Verdict: Fill up on high-fiber, low-calorie starters** For many, Thanksgiving can cause added stress and worry about weight gain. (Am I right, ladies?!) We want to indulge in the traditional holiday feast, but avoid a swollen waistline. I recommend starting with a soup or salad that will fill you up without adding extra calories, so you end up eating less at the main event. Here are some recipes to get you started:

Does Size Matter?

**Verdict: In this case, yes!** I would start with your budget and how many people you are feeding to determine weight first. Here is a quick guide:

  • 6-8 people, 10-12 lbs
  • 8-10 people, 12-16 lbs
  • 10-12 people, 14-16 lbs
  • 12-14 people, 16-18 lbs
  • 14-16 people, 20-22 lbs

Fresh or Frozen?

**Verdict: Go Fresh** If you can afford it, choose a fresh turkey without any added ingredients. Look for organic, kosher, heritage or premium-brand turkeys. These are all great options.

Obviously, if you can avoid supermarket brand then try to. Develop a relationship with a trusted, local butcher and be sure to order ahead. In addition, the butcher will often prepare the bird for you by removing neck and giblets. If that’s not an option, there are so many websites available where they will deliver fresh turkey right to your door.

To Brine or Not To Brine?

**Verdict: The Jury’s still out!** Being a head judge on Iron Chef, I was able to ask all the Iron Chef’s from Bobby Flay, to Michael Symon, to Geoffrey Zakarian- and they have very different and very strong opinions on the topic.

In my opinion (as a busy working mom) my answer is not to brine! It’s a lot of work, very messy, and time consuming.

For those of you who like to brine, here’s the verdict…Instead of immersing the turkey in a salt-water solution, simply rub kosher salt and seasonings all over the bird and in the cavity. The salt draws out the turkey juices, which are then reabsorbed into the meat along with the flavorings. This makes it succulent and tender. Brining time will vary by recipe, but in every case, you want to leave the turkey uncovered overnight before roasting, which allows skin to become browned and crisp.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

**Verdict: Don’t Stuff** This one’s tough, and I have given it a lot of thought. I think particularly on Thanksgiving Day when you’re managing so much, it’s better, safer, and easier not to stuff your bird. Stuffing the turkey means it takes longer to roast and there's a greater risk of it cooking unevenly. I also always fear undercooking the stuffing and overcooking the bird.

To Truss or Not to Truss?

**Verdict: Truss.** Before setting the bird in the pan, fold the wings back to secure the neck flap, then use kitchen string to loosely tie the drumsticks. Tying them too tightly can prevent the thighs from cooking evenly. Just keep it loose and gentle.

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