Hundreds (maybe thousands) of people use my turkey page each year. What they may not know is that I rarely make my turkey the way the page directs!
That's because I am usually experimenting. There aren’t many ways to cook a turkey that I have not tried — spatchcocking, frying, grilling, whole or in pieces, high-heat, low heat, wet and dry brine, etc. Next year's turkey page might reflect what I try each year.
As you probably know, the greatest challenge is getting the breast and legs done at the same time. The method on the turkey page has you start the bird breast down to give the legs a head start. Julia instead separates the legs before cooking and handles them differently.
She does something cool that I wanted to try: She debones the thigh and ties it up to make the leg meat as much of a roast as the breasts are.
So that’s what I am doing.
I made one change: Cook's Illustrated wet brines the breast but I love dry brining so much that I am using it on all the pieces. I am also using baking powder in the salt, as it raises the pH and helps crips the skin. (I have used baking powder and baking soda at the end of the dry brine in prior years and it made no difference, so I am trying it at the start of the dry brine, as recommended by Kenji or Serious Eats. See? I told you I experiment!)
I started with a 15-pound, frozen, unbrined Butterball and followed the directions at Cook's Illustrated to separate the legs. I removed the back. This leaves the breast with wings. Here it is, salted and baking powdered:
I removed the thigh bones:
and added skewers and twine:
And we’re ready to go. All the spare parts are in the stockpot and the legs and breast are in a plastic bag to dry brine for four days.
Another variation: Bacon and cardamon. Cook 3/4 pound of bacon and crumble. Remove seeds from 5 pods of cardamon and grind. Add cardamom and bacon with the peanuts.
Moe's Peanut Brittle
2 ½ cups lightly salted, roasted peanuts (or unsalted nuts and 3/4 tsp salt)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons butter
1. Combine peanuts, baking soda, cinnamon, and cayenne. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat (don’t use waxed paper) and set aside. No parchment? Oil the pan.
2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil. Stop stirring, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 3 minutes (see notes for reason). Uncover, adjust heat to medium to maintain a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is a light amber color, about 350 degrees. Be very careful: Once it exceeds 250 degrees and starts to color at all, the reaction accelerates and will burn quickly.
3. Stir in peanuts, then butter and vanilla. This will greatly reduce the temperature of the sugar, so work quickly.
4. Quickly, so the mixture doesn’t solidify before it’s well spread, pour mixture onto lined sheet pan. Distribute across the pan as you pour, then using a silicone spatula, spread thin.
Cool completely and then break into pieces.
Be careful. Melted sugar causes horrible burns.
Why the three-minute covered simmer? It washes sugar crystals off sides of pot to prevent them falling in later, where they will crystallize the brittle.
The Egg, favored by Foodgal's hubby, MeatBoy, and my grill-obsessed friend Mark, is a kamodo-style cooker, made of pottery and massively heavy. It will be almost $1000 after you add the accessories you want but I suggest it for two reasons. One is that it's one of very few ways to get a grill and a smoker in one unit without compromising either the grilling or smoking performance. The second reason is that everyone who owns one l-o-v-e-s it. I mean, everyone. The BGE is not available via Amazon anymore but when it was, every review was five stars.
A Weber charcoal grill will run you a few hundred dollars and any model will work well and last forever. The reviews seem to favor the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" Charcoal Grill).
Whatever you choose, get the Weber brand chimney starter. Trust me on that — it's under $20 and is the best way to light charcoal (other than a manly choice like a roofing torch or a Looftlighter.) If you use stinky charcoal lighter fluid, you are not allowed to read further. Go away now.
There's also a Weber charcoal grill with a built-in propane-powered starter. The reviews say it works well and is handy and clean. I won't refuse pork chops made on that.
This is where the choices become overwhelming. I'll start with a few basic criteria: For me, a grill is a frequently used tool and I am not looking at $250 gas grills. Had one once, dumb idea. On the other hand, you can spend $2500 (or even $5000) on one and I'm not that insane. At least, not yet.
Next question: Size. That one's pretty straightforward. Partiers need bigger grills. I went mid-sized.
Next thing to do is choose your features. My list:
Well-rated gas grill with great performance (which means even, controllable heat)
Stainless steel grates
But I don't care if it's stainless outside
Three burners are plenty
I went into this biased toward Weber. They're somewhat expensive but the quality is beyond reproach.
Consumer Reports and other reviews used to heavily favor the Weber but many less expensive brands have joined the Weber models in their recommendations. Amazing Ribs boasts that it's the only place that employs someone to test grilling gear full time and I trust Meathead (he runs the place). So you want to go there. But I stayed true to my bias and only briefly considered others.
A word about stainless steel. It's pretty but on an outdoor appliance, it's hard to keep it pretty. But because it's in fashion, many grills come with a stainless skin. Stainless varies in thickness and composition. It's not necessarily better.
But inside is where stainless steel shines. I am so tired of replacing cast iron or porcelain coated grates and moving food around the rusting spots. Stainless innards are on my must-have list.
I homed in on the mid-sized Weber, the 300 series. The searing station requirement moved me immediately to 330. I was looking at the E-330 and the S-330. The E model is color exterior, with iron grates and flavorizer bars (under the grate), while the S model is all stainless.
My thought was to buy the E-330 and upgrade the grates and the bars. But then I learned from somone on the Amazing Ribs discussion board that Weber has a little-known model called the EP-330 which comes in colors with stainless innards. Ah! Exactly what I wanted. Originally developed as a special model for Weber's authorized dealers, it's also offered in custom colors.
A better deal
I could not find this locally. I went to Amazon and found several for the right price and with free shipping, from pretty good vendors. The vendor with the highest rating, Acme Tools, curiously, did not have the color I wanted so I checked their own site. Interesting. They carry the full line and could sell it to me direct, for the same price, free shipping, and no sales tax — a significant difference, at this price.
Big box. BIG box.
Ten days later:
One thing you need to know when you buy a grill via the Internet is that it comes in a box. About a 4x4 foot box on a shipping palette. 210 pounds.
And it comes in pieces. A lot of pieces. Plan on several hours of nuttin' and boltin'. Happily, I love nuttin' and boltin'.
Weber's instructions are terrific, like IKEA on steroids:
That's one side of a two-sided roadmap. As I said, lots of parts.
And then, there's the big box
You should also know that when you are done, you still have a big box, and a surprising mountain of cardboard. It took me four weeks of recycle toter-filling to get it all dispatched.
Finally. I love the "Fuh!" of a gas flame coming to life.
Let it be known that I am a pizza snob. I love the ones that are true to style — New York, Chicago, and Naples. California pizza? Please, don't go there. It's not bad, it's just — not real pizza.
Real pizza has a chewy, wheaty crust that counterpoints steamy hot against crispy char. Melty cheese and rapidly cooked, fresh ingredients. Don't even point out the place unless it has a 900°F oven, preferably domed and wood-fired.
In the Bay Area? You can get a pizza that scores an A-, but for A+, you leave town.
When I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago, my friends Steve and Sue took me to Settebello, a place that's certified as "Vera Pizza Napoletana" — the real deal. This was new to me.
Vera: That's Italian for "real."
Awarded by the American Delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, the Vera Pizza badge goes only to "pizzerias who meet strict requirements that respect the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making."
The pizza was — perfect.
I wished we had such a thing here. Then yesterday, I was in San Pedro Square in San Jose at lunch time. I stumbled upon the sign. Without the experience two weeks before, I would not have known it had a special meaning.
Could this be — real?
They had the certificate — there, on the wall behind the domed, wood-fired oven:
The verdict: Just as good. The one in San Jose was an exact match to the one I had in Las Vegas.
OK, so who posts pictures of the turkey before it's cooked? I do, especially when it's this colorful!
It's spatchcocked (butterflied). The ruddy complexion is because I air-dryed it in the refrigerator overnight. That gives a crispier skin. The green is because there is herb butter under the skin. The white powder is baking powder, which is said to aid browning and skin crispiness. This year, I powdered only half the bird to see if it makes a difference.
Here's the roux for my gravy. A roux is equal parts of fat (butter, in this case) and flour, cooked to build a nutty flavor (and cook out any raw flour taste). Later, it will thicken the gravy. The coating of fat on each flour granule guarantees no lumps and the gravy benefits from the nutty brown flavor. The lighter the roux, the more thickening power. For gravy, I like to see a color about like peanut butter. Here's the progression.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.