Alton Brown Chat Transcript
Date: Sunday, November 19, 2000
Time: 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. ET
Food Network: Welcome to FoodTV.Com's Thanksgiving chat with Alton
Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats", airing Wednesdays at
9:00 p.m. ET.
Food Network: Does your bird always burn in the oven? Don't know
why your stuffing never gets fully cooked? Ask Alton to help you out! Send
him your questions, and he'll offer his humorous help.
Food Network: Welcome to the chat, Alton!
Alton: Good evening WWW. Let's talk vittles!
Chris: I am making a breast this year instead of a whole bird, any
suggestions for keeping it moist?
Alton: Brine it exactly as I do whole birds on the show. You're
basically dealing with the potentially driest piece of the bird, so I'd
suggest the brine recipe from our show "Romancing the Bird" but
keep the brine period down to about 4 hours. Cook as you would a whole
bird, but keep an eye on the temperature--you don't want the breast to go
over 150 degrees before you pull it. Since a breast is smaller, there
won't be as much carryover heat as there would be for a full-size bird so
you have to let it get a little closer to target temperature than you
would with a whole bird.
Dwyer: What is brining, and how do I do it? Should I try this with
Alton: Brine is essentially salt water. Yes, you should do it with
your turkey, as you should chicken or shrimp or fresh ham. It changes the
cellular structure of the meat, allowing it to hold on to more moisture as
it cooks. It also pulls seasoning deep into the meat. My general rule of
thumb is to use one cup to one and a half cups of kosher salt per two
quarts (half a gallon) of water. I also add about 3/4 cup of sugar.
Dissolve the salt and sugar in a small amount of hot water. Then add to
the rest of the water, which should be cold. You can add various
seasonings, such as crushed peppercorns, cloves, juniper berries, garlic,
or other green herbs. For a whole turkey, I like to let it soak in a cool
place for 8-10 hours. A breast should soak for at least 4. Once the
brining period is over, pat the meat dry and cook it immediately.
JoAnn: Can I go ahead and peel and boil the potatoes without
mashing a couple of days ahead of time? Or maybe finish them and reheat in
the microwave right before serving without compromising the texture or
Alton: Yes, if you microwave the potatoes, they'll probably get a
little mushy and yes, "mushy" is a technical term. I'd suggest
making the batch of mashed potatoes a little on the dry side, then I'd add
to a saucepan along with some hot dairy, e.g. buttermilk with a little
butter. Stir in the cold potatoes, and bring back up to serving
temperature over medium high heat. Don't let them burn!
Herbie: Should I use fresh or dried herbs when making my stuffing?
Alton: Stuffing is evil. But, if you insist on making stuffing, I
would suggest dry. But, they should be fresh dry, meaning that they should
not have been sitting on your kitchen shelf for the last five years. If
they're older than six months, they're confetti.
Itcom: What beverage (wine, wassail, etc) do you suggest for
Romancing the Bird?
Alton: It depends on how many in-laws are over for the meal! I tend
towards red wine with Thanksgiving meals, especially Merlots. However, if
you were to say grill your turkey or serve smoked ham, I would go with a
slightly sweet white wine, perhaps a late harvest Riesling.
Bryon: What do you think of using neck and other internal stuff for
Alton: Internal stuff! Internal stuff is fine for making gravy, as
long as you exclude the liver which is basically a filtering device, and
it has a tendency to turn whatever liquid it comes into contact with
bitter. The neck and the heart and any other internal stuff should be well
seared in a heavy fry pan or skillet. The liquid in question should then
be added to deglaze the pan, and then simmered until the meat pulls away
easily from the bones. Of course, hearts don't have bones, but you get the
Denise: Using a rotisserie, how can you get the skin nice and
Alton: I thought crispy was what rotisseries were made for. The
secret is having enough heat. Cold rotisserie is not better than a cold
oven. Generally what happens in residential size rotisseries is that the
turkey is so large that its beginning temperature pulls down the
temperature in the rotisserie so severely that there isn't enough heat
left in the machine to brown the skin. Regardless of what your
instructions say, start with your rotisserie on full blast and reduce the
temperature only after the skin has turned golden brown. If your
rotisserie is incapable of turning the skin golden brown, return to the
retailer for a full cash refund.
Sparky Mark: Can you give any tips on removing the wishbone before
roasting the bird? I've heard that it makes carving much easier. Thanks!
Alton: Yes, I can. It's a little tough without showing you, but
here goes. If you're right handed, (and if you're not, just reverse my
instructions), take a paring or boning knife in your right hand. Turn the
turkey so the neck cavity faces right. Take your left hand and pull back
the neck skin, exposing the meat of the neck cavity. Once you are sure
that your left hand fingers are out of the way, insert the knife, edge
side up, halfway into the neck cavity. Then move the knife away and down,
so you scrape the meat off the inside of the wishbone. The wishbone is
like the mouth of the cave, but it has about a centimeter of meat on top
of it. Once you've got that side scraped away, turn and repeat on the
other side. You will hear strange scraping noises. This is good. Set the
knife down. Reach into the neck opening with your right hand, and using
your index finger and thumb, feel up inside the incisions you just made.
Voila! That's the wishbone. Work your thumb and forefinger upwards until
they come together. Ignore the nasty squishing sounds. When they come
together, you're at the top of the wishbone, which is joined to the keel
bone of the breast by some rather gnarly connective tissue. Work your
index finger behind the top of the wishbone, get a good grip, or as good a
grip as you can in all that greasiness, and pull out the wishbone. Having
accomplished this, you will not have to pay high medical bills for the
removal of an appendix. The instructions are very similar.
Yoshi of the wire: What tips would you have to us poor kids who are
stuck at college over Thanksgiving, and only have access to a microwave?
Alton: Go home with friends.
Zerlina: When I slice the turkey, it gets cold sitting on the
platter. But if I put it in the oven to keep warm, it dries out. What's
Alton: Carve at the table. Directly onto the guests' plates. Not
only will the meat taste better, but it looks very impressive. If you
doubt your carving skills, buy an electric knife at your local hardware
store. It's the only thing I carve turkey with.
Heat hope: First of all I'm a huge "Good Eats" fan,
literally. I'm having a small Thanksgiving dinner, only a 10-pound bird;
how do I make all the stuffing taste like it was baked in the bird?
Alton: Cheat! When you pull the turkey out to rest, spoon the fully
cooked dressing into the bird, cover with foil, and let the bird rest for
15 minutes. The stuffing will act as a sponge, soaking up whatever juices
are in the cavity of the bird.
Pork chop: The filling in my lemon and lime meringue pies tends to
weep or get liquidy. What causes that and can I prevent it?
Alton: Change your thickening agent and use tapioca instead of
cornstarch, which is probably what you're using. Cornstarch contains
certain chemicals which can break down the bonds created by starch. A pie
that's cooked with cornstarch may look great for the first six hours, but
when you pull it out of the fridge the next day, it's all weepy. Also,
don't overcook the meringue.
Honeybee: Hi Alton! I love your show! I'm making my own cranberry
sauce for Thanksgiving. My family insists that canned is fine (they like
the "canned" look), however I beg to differ. Who's right? Isn't
fresher always better?
Alton: There is right or wrong in food. If your family likes
canned, use canned. However, if you want to introduce them to some new
concepts, buy one bag of Ocean Spray cranberries from your produce
section. Cook them in a saucepan with about one cup of ginger ale over
medium heat. Then add the canned goop and stir over low heat until it
melts. Remove from the heat, for about ten minutes, and serve topped with
a little grated orange zest. Behold their joy.
Alfa Eric: Alton, great technical show. I've had one problem
working with the brine, although I think it's my oven--for some reason
when I roast a bird (turkey or chicken), the bottom of it doesn't cook
very well even though the thermometer says that the breast meat is done.
I'm using a rather high-sided aluminum roasting pan with a flat rack. What
am I doing wrong?
Alton: Odds are you're not doing anything wrong. For the sake of
argument, let's blame your oven. It never liked you much anyway! If you
find yourself with a gooey bottom, I suggest buying a V-rack, which is a
simple, $10-20 pan shaped like a V that will hold your bird off the bottom
of the pan. In the last few minutes of cooking, turn the bird over so it's
breast side down in the V-rack, then if the thermometer is telling you the
meat is finished, turn the broiler on low, just enough to brown the skin
on the bottom of the turkey. Odds are this won't be necessary, though, if
you use the rack, since the rack elevates the bird by several inches, do
your roasting with the oven rack one level lower than usual.
Superbbw: I want to make crème brûlé for Thanksgiving dessert.
When I've used my blowtorch to caramelize the sugar in the past, it caused
the sugar to bubble up and not leave a smooth, flat sugar surface. What am
I doing wrong?
Alton: I'm going to assume that you're doing your torch work with
the brûlé sitting on a counter. If you watch a good restaurant dessert
maker, you'll notice than when they flame the top of the brûlé, they're
holding the cup in one hand and spinning it so when the sugar melts, it
starts to swirl across the surface of the custard. That motion prevents
bubbles from forming in the sugar, and creates a glassy smooth surface.
Susananne: Hi Alton, Happy Thanksgiving! I was wondering how long
do I roast garlic so that I can make garlic mashed potatoes? Last time I
tried to roast garlic it was nasty! Thank you.
Alton: a Assuming that you want to roast, as opposed to poach the
garlic, work with whole heads and remove as much of the outer paper as you
can without separating the cloves. Coat your hands-yes, your hands--washed
please!--with olive oil and rub the garlic head as if you were getting
ready to throw a spitball, meaning thoroughly. You don't want it gooey,
but you want it coated. Wrap the head loosely in aluminum foil, leaving a
little opening at the top like a chimney. Bake at 350 until soft. Then,
let it cool down enough that you can handle the cloves, which will now
separate very easily. Snip off the end of the cloves with kitchen shears,
and squeeze out the garlic like toothpaste. No more nastiness.
Jackie: I saw your show and I'm wondering how precise the brining
process must be, i.e. how exact is the 6 hour requirement? Also, we were
thinking of using our large crawfish pot to brine the turkey--if so, do
you still have to turn the turkey?
Alton: Brining is not a precise science. It depends a great deal on
the mass of the bird. For instance, brining Big Bird from Sesame Street
would take a lot longer than brining the Road Runner. But if we were
talking salt concentrations, this wouldn't necessarily be true. My general
rule is to stick to 1 to 1 1/2 cups of salt per half quart of water. But
if you have a strange shaped bird, you could rub it with as much kosher
salt as possible, put it in a bucket, and add water to cover. Time is
flexible. Since I don't like to add salt at the table and I like to brine
overnight, I put the bird in at night when I go to bed, and I take it out
when I get up in the morning. Your question about the crawfish pot--this
depends on what the pot is made of. I'll assume it's like an enameled
canning kettle, and that's okay. What's not okay is bare aluminum, iron,
or an old paint bucket that still has paint in it. My preference is food
St Nick: Is there a way to tell if some cranberries are less tart
than others just by looking at them? Does color give any indication?
Alton: Yes, the redder they are, the sweeter they will be. Like any
other berry, sugar content increases with ripeness, and in the case of
cranberries, pigment goes along with that. However, I've seen very few
cranberries come to market that were not of uniform color. Moral of the
story--don't buy yellow cranberries.
Mark: On your turkey show, you roasted your turkey in an oven.
Would you make any modifications to the brine recipe to roast it on a
Alton: No. The brine does not change. However, temperature control
is crucial. If you're going to grill a turkey (and I usually do for
myself), be sure to use a digital probe thermometer so you can check on
the temperature without opening the grill. Also, keep charcoal standing by
and a chimney starter so you can make quick additions without having to
wait for the charcoal to come up to speed. Also, use a heavy-duty drip
pan. Also, be certain to have a lovely beverage with you.
Hucfas: If we rub sage butter under the skin of the turkey, can we
still cook it at 500 degrees for the first half hour, or will the butter
Alton: Depends on the butter. I would be inclined to drop that
temperature to 450, and check it every ten minutes. I don't like this
option, because even when you drop the temperature in the oven to lower,
there's still the potential for the butter to burn.
Pork chop: I used your turkey brine recipe and the breasts came out
perfect; but the legs seemed overcooked. Any advice?
Alton: That's not something I've encountered before. Usually the
leg meat can tolerate a good 15 degrees more than the breast, which means
that either your turkey was a mutant, or you were trying to fool me. If
you're not trying to fool me, wrap the legs in foil for the last half hour
Gilana: For the turkey brine, is a basic homemade vegetable broth
(well-salted) sufficient? And is it a gallon of water, heavily iced, or
ice and water together equaling 1 gallon?
Alton: No, homemade vegetable broth is not sufficient. You really
need to be able to control the amount of salt, and I don't care how salty
your broth is, it won't be salty enough. For control's sake, I'd work with
vegetable broth with no salt added. That way, you can control the sodium.
As for the water question, ice and water together equaling one gallon.
Help: I have a turkey in the freezer, which has been frozen for
three years in the original packaging, is it still worth cooking?
Alton: As for your question, your turkey is history. Three years
(unless you have access to liquid oxygen) is just too long.
Cyndy: Hi Alton. Love your show. Do you have an easy recipe using
squash (delicata, acorn, etc.)? Also, is there any safe ways to cut the
little buggers? Thanks! Cyndy in NJ
Alton: Delicata squash is one of my favorites. I slice them thin
with a very sharp knife, and pan-fry them. The only safe way to cut a
delicata or any other squash is with a very sharp knife. The sharper the
knife, the safer the cut.
Mark: There is a lot of salt in your turkey brine. How salty will
the turkey end up after cooking? Is the salt flavor strong? Thank you. My
wife and I love your show!
Alton: As long as you keep the brining time to 6-10 hours, the salt
level will be ideal for the turkey. It will taste more turkey-ish, but it
will not taste salty. However, I don't suggest that you try to make gravy
from the drippings unless you're getting ready to run a marathon and need
Sunflower Terry: I don't have a thermometer for my turkey. Can I
get away without one?
Alton: No. And don't trust the popup one either. They generally go
off at 180-195, which is a good 15 degrees too high for my taste. Spend
the $20 and get a thermometer. The turkey gave his life; the least you can
do is spend twenty bucks.
Blazer: What is your opinion of using cooking bags for turkeys? Is
the quality better or worse?
Alton: A couple of years ago, I scoffed at roasting bags. But I've
kind of come around to liking them. I can honestly say that I haven't used
one for a turkey yet, but I've had good luck with hams. Generally, since a
bag is essentially a closed container, it will trap moisture. That will
prevent the skin of the bird from reaching its crisp potential. Since a
brined bird contains plenty of moisture already, I prefer the dry heat of
the open oven. But that's just me. I know plenty of home cooks who swear
by the bag.
Shari: Hi Alton! I am making ham instead of turkey this year, any
ideas for a good glaze?
Alton: Yes! I like to use equal portions of brown sugar and finely
crushed ginger snap cookies. Add a couple of spoonfuls of finely ground
black pepper, score the outside of the ham in the usual diamond-shaped
configuration, rub on the glaze for the last half hour of cooking, and
you'll be rewarded with a candy-like crust. It works for me.
Cc Tc: Pumpkin pies--some recipes call for evaporated milk; some
don't. What's the difference, and do you have a canonical recipe,
particularly one using fresh pumpkin? The Alton at our house (6 months
old) awaits the answer.
Alton: First, let me say that I hope you named your child after me!
I really like canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie. I find that it's not as
stringy, and it's easier to integrate with the other ingredients. A lot of
traditional pumpkin pie recipes call for evaporated milk, while others
call for condensed milk. Their cooking characteristics are similar, but
they have slightly different flavors. I prefer condensed milk because it
has a slightly caramel flavor to it. I try out a lot of different pumpkin
pie recipes, and my favorite is probably the one found in "The Joy of
Cooking" which is the 1975 edition. I don't know if last year's
edition has changed the recipe or not. It's a very simple recipe that uses
canned pumpkin and evaporated milk (I use condensed, but that's personal
taste.) And yes, I add the bourbon.
Beth: I keep hearing about "roux." How does that make my
gravy better than the one I make from pan drippings?
Alton: It's very easy to make a roux from pan drippings. Pan
drippings by themselves do not contain any starch, unless for some reason
you rolled your turkey in flour before putting it in the oven. A roux is a
combination of equal parts by weight of flour and fat. When cooked over
medium heat, the fat envelops the individual grains of flour so when
liquid is added, be it chicken broth, wine, milk, nitroglycerine,
whatever, the starch granules don't clump together to form lumps. As this
liquid is brought to a simmer, the starch gelatinizes, thus thickening the
liquid. Pan drippings by themselves can't do that. Some cooks prefer to
deglaze their cooking pan with a flavorful liquid like broth or wine, and
then add a slurry, which is a cold combination of flour and water shaken
together. I don't think a slurry-based gravy produces as stable a gravy as
roux. Also, because you're cooking the roux, it has a deeper, almost nutty
flavor, which I happen to dig.
Tom: What basic flavors would you suggest for a southern style
dressing? (On the side, not in the bird.)
Alton: I don't think you can call a dressing "southern"
without sage. My wife, who is about as southern as a bag of grits, will
not eat a dressing that doesn't have celery in it. Although celery is not
technically an herb, adding it to the aromatic mixture (onions, carrots,
whatever) is a must for a southern dressing. Besides that, definitely
Brittany: Should you baste your turkey?
Alton: Basting is evil. Anything that requires you opening that
oven door is evil. Basting is cosmetic. It does nothing for the meat; it
does nothing for the flavor. It is--repeat after me--evil. Go enjoy a
lovely beverage and let the turkey cook.
Steve Piper: Should I keep the turkey in the package when thawing
it or unwrap it and put it in a pan?
Alton: I suggest leaving all raw poultry in its original packaging
through thawing. Taking it out of the wrapper will not speed the process,
and it could result in cross-contamination within the refrigerator.
Steve Piper: Do you think flavor injectors are good or do you think
the poking of the holes would let the juices out during cooking?
Alton: Needle goes in the meat; heat goes in the meat. Juice comes
out of hole. Turkey dries up. End of story. Injectors are for large animal
Jason: The bird is traveling this year from house to house. What is
the best way to transport it and keep it fresh?
Alton: Alive! But seriously folks, this is a first for me! I've
never encountered this question before. Hold on, I must consult something!
Assuming you only have 2 households you have to move from, carve one side
of the turkey, leaving one side intact. Wrap the uncut side in a layer of
aluminum foil, and then a hot wet kitchen towel. Followed by a heavy
plastic bag. Now, barring travel to another time zone, you should be able
to warm the turkey briefly in a 200-300 degree oven and carve the other
side. Which means you'll have the second side to carve when you get to the
second household. Two sides to the turkey, two households. Now, that is
assuming that you're eating the turkey in both households. If you're just
going to cook it one place and carry it to another, I'd suggest pulling it
from the oven at 145 degrees, wrapping it firmly in several layers of
aluminum foil, and make sure you have a hot oven (350 degrees) ready in
the second house and finish roasting it uncovered there. Unless of course,
the two houses are right next door to each other, in which case, cover the
turkey with foil and make a run for it!
Van Halen: Any tips on "smoking" a turkey? Hickory,
cherry or apple chips?
Alton: Smoke is smoke. In order to taste the difference between one
hardwood and another would require an exposure of at least six hours. As
long as you're using a hard wood, i.e. not pine or cedar, you'll be okay.
Use what's available. Here in my house, we have a big pile of hickory in
the back yard, so that's what I use. If I had a big pile of maple, I'd use
Rob: I have made the best, juiciest turkey by cooking in a slow
oven overnight. Is it safe to cook at very low temps for about 12-15
Alton: Even at very low temperatures, you're going to dry the meat.
I prefer higher temperatures, because the faster you cook, the less
moisture loss you'll suffer. That is a generalization, but during a 12-15
hour roast, you're going to lose a lot more than you're going to gain.
Ann: Even with preparing several dishes ahead of time, how does one
have the room in the oven along with the turkey to properly heat
everything to serve all at once, get them heated properly to serve all at
Alton: Ah, the eternal question. First, let's assume your oven is
still hot from the turkey. A 20-pound turkey will need at least a
20-minute rest before being carved. This can easily be stretched to half
an hour, as long as the turkey is securely wrapped with foil. That should
be enough time to do any reheating that needs to be done in the oven. If
not, I suggest that casseroles and dressing be reheated in the microwave.
Crock pots are also great for reheating vegetables. Of course, if the heat
in your car works really well, you can set your Parker House rolls on the
dashboard and keep them toasty using the defroster.
Zerlina: Hey Alton--what's the funniest Thanksgiving kitchen
disaster you ever had? Come on, there must be one...
Alton: The first turkey I ever cooked (and I was quite young,
although I won't say exactly how young.) I did not thaw before cooking.
Food Network: Alton, this has been great! Thanks for all your
Thanksgiving insights and advice. Do you have any final thoughts for us,
before we have to say good night?
Alton: It's a meal, not an invasion. Enjoy yourself, relax, let
other people do some of the work, and be a gracious host. Oh, and put new
batteries in the remote control.
Food Network: Thank you for chatting with Food Network's Alton
Brown. To watch Alton in his own kitchen, tune in to "Good Eats"
airing Wednesdays at 1:00 PM, 9:00 PM. and 12 AM, Saturdays at 9:00 PM and
12 AM and Sundays at 6:30 PM. All times ET.
Food Network: Thanks again, and come back tomorrow night at 8:00
PM. for a wine chat with "In Food Today" host David Rosengarten!
Check out FoodTV.Com for details about upcoming Thanksgiving chats.