Alton Brown FN Chat 2001-11-20

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Alton Brown Thanksgiving Chat Transcript

Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2001
Time: 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. ET

Food Network: Welcome to's chat with Alton Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats," airing Wednesdays at 9: 00 p.m. ET.
Food Network: Thanksgiving is just around the corner--are you prepared? Are you plagued each year with a dry bird? Perhaps your side dishes need a little pizzazz? Send Alton your questions, and he'll offer his sage and humorous advice.

Food Network: Welcome to the chat, Alton!
Alton Brown: Hi, kids! What do you want to talk about?

Holly: What is a great vegetable side dish to bring for Thanksgiving dinner, other than the same old green bean casserole? Something that can be made ahead and reheated would be great.
Alton Brown: I'm a big fan of Brussels sprouts. You can make a simple casserole by blanching them in salted water, then tossing with some really good blue cheese dressing and toasted walnuts. You could probably do that a couple of days ahead. And, gosh darn it, macaroni and cheese never goes out of style; I don't care what anybody says. Savory bread puddings are also good to make ahead. For instance, a bread pudding is, basically, a bread-soaked custard. You could take maybe three whole eggs, whip it up with a pint to pint and a half of cream, and season it with the blue cheese I mentioned earlier. Add sauteed mushrooms, and then pour it all over dry bread--maybe dried torn chunks of baguette--and bake at 350. A 9 x 13 pan would take about 45 minutes. Although the starch from the bread stabilizes and prevents the eggs from curdling, you still don't want to overcook them. The nice thing about bread puddings is that it's halfway between a pudding and a dressing, so it's a bit different.

Brandi: Alton, what is your favorite 'traditional' Thanksgiving appetizer (finger food), and what is your favorite 'non-traditional'?
Alton Brown: I'm thinking. Traditional, at least in my family, is a batch of hot glazed pecans. I make a glaze from butter, garlic, sugar, a teaspoon of salt, a little Coca Cola, and lots of hot sauce. Toss the pecans in, and then bake until they get hard on the outside and the sugar solidifies. So you have some hot, some salty, and some sweet. Non-traditional? (laughing) A couple of years back, one of my friends who runs a turkey butchering company brought me about 15 pounds of turkey wings, so we made Buffalo turkey wings in a sauce of soy sauce, pineapple juice, and red pepper flakes, after we deep fried them. It was disgusting! We made such a mess, but it was awfully good.

Caileigh: I know there are different kinds of potatoes, mealy and starchy. When you're in the store looking at bins of potatoes, is there a quick way to test and see which kind is which?
Alton Brown: Sure. There are more waxy than starchy potatoes. If it has a red skin, or if it's more round than oval, it will likely be waxy, and they're almost always sold as red or new potatoes. If it has eyes and looks like a russet or baking potato, it will be starchy. There are some potatoes that are sort of in the middle, but you don't see them much any more.

AB Fan: Can I brine an 18-pound turkey overnight, or is this too long?
Alton Brown: No, it's not too long. Technically, you could brine a turkey for several days. The trick is in two things--brine concentration versus mass. You could either soak a bird for a long time in weak brine, or for a short time in a stronger one. You're better with weaker brine and a longer soak, so take the standard brine that we use in "Good Eats," and you could easily do that overnight. If you're afraid of it being too salty, you might cut back to 3/4 cup of salt instead of the full cup, but leave the sugar amount the same. I've gotten to where I really like to thaw my turkeys in brine, because I can make my brine, keep it in a cooler, toss in my frozen bird, and leave it for days if I want without worrying about the temperature getting too high. It will stay really cold, but, at the same time, the water will help thaw the bird. So when it's thawed, it's already brined. But that is an imprecise science, so you have to work with it. If I feel the brine will get too warm, I'll add a bit of ice. So far, that hasn't happened. It stays around 40 degrees.

Trixie: I thought it might be nice to make a different kind of mashed potatoes this year--something with a little flavor in it. I was thinking of combining sweet potatoes with regular mashed potatoes and maybe a little garlic, but my husband says that sounds kind of weird. Is there something I can do to my mashed potatoes so they'll be a little different, but nice?
Alton Brown: Trixie, I have to agree with your husband. Garlic and sweet potatoes sound a little freaky to me. I'm not a huge fan of mashed sweet potatoes, but that's just me. I think they get too gluey too quickly. Most mashed potatoes need a little dairy added to them, like butter and other dairy, such as milk or cream. I like to simmer some flavor elements in the dairy addition. I usually use half and half, bring it to a simmer, and add garlic or black pepper (strain before using). Fat is a good carrier of flavor, so you couldn't do this with skim milk, because there isn't enough fat in it. You could slice leeks very thin and simmer them. You wouldn't need to strain them out. Just strain spices, because nobody wants to bite down on a juniper berry! And you won't freak anyone out too bad, even Aunt Gladys. Also, sauteed mushrooms--a mixture including oyster mushrooms--can be stirred into the mashed potatoes. Mushrooms and mashed potatoes are very good friends.

Cool G: What's the rule on cooking time for turkey per pound?
Alton Brown: Cool G, there isn't one. It is a falsehood. It is a lie. Weight charts cannot take the shape of the meat, or the beginning temperature of the meat, into account. That's why these charts always lead to heartbreak. They are estimations made at a time when appliance manufacturers were trying to get people to trust them to cook large critters. A thermometer is the only reliable guide. Don't rely on a weight/time chart any more than you would a popup thermometer.

Kevin: As a kid, I always felt turkey to be just a bit dry. I looked over your turkey-brining recipe, and it truly does look delicious, but it seems like compensation. Would you cook turkey were it not for the tradition? If you feel that turkey has something unique to offer to the culinary world, please enlighten me. I don't dislike turkey, but I have yet to discover its special charm.
Alton Brown: My answer is no. I would not. I agree that there's nothing that special about turkey for me. I prefer the leftovers to the meal itself. So yes, it is compensating to some degree, but that's just me. I don't want to anger millions of turkey lovers, but I could happily live the rest of my life without turkey. If I am going to eat it, I want it to be as turkey-ey as possible. That's why I brine; it illuminates the flavor.

Todd: Alton, regarding turkeys, what do you think about using a low oven temperature for several hours before browning at a higher temperature to finish it off?
Alton Brown: That's a method that I use often with large beef roasts, especially standing rib. There's a school of thought among food scientists that says that's the way to go, because higher temperatures damage proteins, causing juice loss. I have found that when working with a brined turkey, I get better juice retention when I begin with the higher temperature. Also, because we're dealing with a lot of subcutaneous fat, we want to get that melted and out of there quickly so the skin will brown. On some birds, that might not happen at lower temperatures in the thighs or folds of the wings.

Brian C: Alton, I love the show, and I'm having a full up 100% "Good Eats" dinner on Thursday. However, one ingredient eludes us, 'frozen' cranberries. We can only find fresh. Would you make any adjustments to the dipping sauce recipe?
Alton Brown: No. Go for it. The only reason we used frozen is that most people can't find fresh! So interchange at will.

Pnich: How do I bake a whole boneless smoked ham? What temperature, and for how long? What should be put on it?
Alton Brown: Well, you could go to and look up the recipe from the "Good Eats" episode called, "Ham I Am," which explains both country and city ham recipes. One is usually very salty, and one is sweet. Most people bake the sweet, cured versions that are fully cooked. I usually wrap them tight and cook at the lowest temperature I can get on my oven. For a large ham, I'd bring to an internal temperature of 130 degrees. At 250 degrees, that will take about three to four hours, depending on whether you have a shank or sirloin ham. Once it hits 130 degrees, I take it out and glaze it. I use a mixture of finely ground ginger snap cookies, along with mustard and whisky, but that's just me. If the ham still has the rind intact, you'll want to do that funky diamond-shaped cut very shallow. Use a utility knife to get a very shallow setting. That way, you'll let out all that extra fat, so don't skip that step. Put in a large roasting pan with the cut side down, and tent with aluminum foil.

Bill: Alton, I want to brine my turkey the day before Thanksgiving and then let dry overnight in the fridge. Before cooking the bird using your high heat method, I was going to rub under the skin using a compound butter. Do you think that the high heat will cause the butter to smoke? Is that why you use canola oil?
Alton Brown: First off, brining and then drying is not a good idea, unless you're planning to smoke it. This brine was not designed to be used that way, and if you don't cook the bird within a couple of hours of brining, you'll get juice seepage. The only reason you'd dry meat after brining would be to get a pellicle before smoking. Water-soluble proteins are then drawn to the surface of the meat, causing a harder outer layer. It just won't be a successful operation to roast it if you let it dry first. You can certainly brine it overnight, but don't dry it first. If you've brined you bird successfully, you won't need the flavor of the compound butter. And yes, it will burn. You'll get skin with dark blotches. And remember, there's lots of fat under that skin already. The canola on the surface creates a conduit for heat to get into the meat quickly, so it browns more quickly.

Fair Is Fowl: Would you brine a duck? BBQ it? Do you have any other alternate fowl suggestions (those little Cornish hens are useless if you want sandwiches the next day!)?
Alton Brown: Sure. You certainly can brine a duck, and you should. I usually brine mine in a brine with orange juice instead of water, because the duck is a stronger flavor and can handle more. I cut the duck into pieces so I can get a shorter brining period. You could look up the brine recipe from our "Good Eats" show called, "What's Up Duck." And don't say bad things about Cornish hens! You just have to cook a lot of them.

Little Zerlina: Hi, Alton. I remember you saying in a previous chat that stuffing is evil. Why is it evil? I think it's the best part of the turkey!
Alton Brown: Okay, here I go again. Stuffing increases mass. Mass extends cooking time. By the time enough heat gets into the stuffing to cook it and render it safe, the turkey, or a good portion of it, will be overcooked. You want to cook a turkey as fast as you can to minimize juice loss, and the fastest way is without stuffing it. So make stuffing, save your drippings, and stuff it in something else to cook it. Just don't cook it in the turkey. You could cook the stuffing separately and put it in the turkey after the turkey is cooked, or you can definitely take the bird out of the oven and put the stuffing in then. But don't add too much salt to the stuffing, because there will be a good deal of salt coming out a brined turkey, and the drippings will be on the salty side. So take the turkey out of the roasting pan, toss your dressing in the drippings, stuff it in the turkey while it rests, and then take it to the table. Stuffing is only evil when it's stuffing. If it's dressing, it's fine.

Zorro: Hi Alton. What do you think are the key elements to making great, non-greasy gravy?
Alton Brown: A device called a gravy separator, which is a funny looking measuring cup with a spout that comes out of the bottom of the cup. When you deglaze your pan, you can pour it into the separator. The fat will float to the top, the liquid stays at the bottom, and that's what you make your gravy from. If you use a roux to thicken your gravy, you'll always have fat, because there's fat in the roux.

Imagine: A friend suggested having a turkey boned and butterflied, and then roasting it over the stuffing. Is this safe?
Alton Brown: You certainly could do that. Boning and butterflying a turkey is an awful lot of work. I'm not sure I'd go through all that just for the stuffing. Odds are very good that the stuffing would burn around the sides of whatever it's in, anyway. I think I'd rather stuff the bird after it comes out of the oven, and you'd have a bird that still looks like a bird, rather than road kill. I appreciate your friend's innovation, but it frightens me all the same!

Cap N Jub: I plan on using Alton's recipe on cooking turkey with brining, but with one twist. I'd like to smoke it on my Webber grill. I've smoked countless turkeys for thanksgiving in the past, and they have all turned out well. Can you give me any suggestions?
Alton Brown: I'm a big fan of using Webber kettles to cook turkeys. If the charcoal is in the Webber kettle, and the turkey is in it too, you're cooking with smoke, although not 'smoking' in the traditional sense. I assume you're grilling with the addition of smoking elements. If I were you, I'd treat it exactly as I would any of the other birds you've treated successfully. There is nothing in the brining process itself that will put restrictions on your cooking methodology. It may even make it juicier, so it will be tolerant of a little overcooking. I'd suggest you not baste the bird so you're not opening and closing the lid very often. Open the lid as little as possible.

Erin: My mother is coming over for Thanksgiving this year, and she insists on sweet potatoes, the kind with the marshmallows on the top! Any ideas?
Alton Brown: Move away! There are a zillion and one recipes for the souffle that you're talking about. When faced with the marshmallow demands in the past, I've roasted slices of sweet potato, tossed them with butter, roasted until nicely browned, and then I roasted marshmallows over the stovetop and made s'mores sandwiches from them. But then, my family expects this sort of strange thing from me. You could do the slices, put one marshmallow on top of each slice, and then broil them until the marshmallow is browned. That way you can avoid the whole nasty souffle thing. I'm not sure who came up with the need for putting marshmallows on sweet potatoes. If they're sweet already, why do you need the marshmallows? If anyone can tell me, I'd really like to know. Most sweet potato souffles are significantly sweeter than pumpkin pie. If you're going to serve marshmallows, the best way is a mini marshmallow inside a congealed salad. In my book, you can't have too much congealed salad.

Zabby: Hi, Alton! I adore the show. I was just wondering; what advice do you have regarding pecan pies? I don't really like the molasses flavor in some recipes, but using all corn syrup makes it seem too rich, somehow. And while the idea of chocolate pecan pie thrills me, I've never been able to execute one to my satisfaction. Would you melt the chocolate, put it in chunks, or just go the traditional route? Thanks!
Alton Brown: I'll answer that in a few different ways. I like to use a combination of dark corn syrup and a really high-grade brown sugar. Remember that most commercial brown sugar is just refined table sugar with molasses added. However, you can still buy true, unrefined brown sugars, which I like. I order mine online. I would definitely go with the chocolate chunks, as opposed to melting it, because the fat in the chocolate could interfere with the cooking time. Use an electric knife to cut the pecan pie. That way, you don't crush it. The brown sugar that I like is a turbinado sugar. It's pretty much interchangeable with Demerara. I find they have a much better flavor when they're cooked in a pie. And remember to always toast the nuts before you put them in the pie. Toast them in butter. If you're going to go all out, go all out, right?

Chat: I don't have a frying pan that I can preheat to go into the oven. How else can I make the corn pudding?
Alton Brown: A metal pie plate or cake pan would be the next best thing. You won't get quite the same results, because it won't get hot enough and store enough heat to brown the underside of the corn mixture. The best thing about a cast iron skillet is that it stores a lot of heat, so when the cold mixture goes in, it doesn't cool down much. You could even do it in a glass baking pan, but it won't be the same. So spend the ten bucks, and go get a cast iron skillet.

Ryan Hildebrand: Hey, Alton. I made my cranberry sauce a little early, and when it came out of the oven, it was perfect! I put it in the fridge and forgot about it. When I pulled it out of the fridge to give someone a taste, I discovered that it had a gelatin-like consistency. What can I do to remedy this come Turkey Day?
Alton Brown: Just add a little bit of cranberry juice. Chop the sauce up, add the juice, and put in the microwave for a bit. You basically made jelly with the pectin in the cranberries. Heat it in the microwave, not a pan, because it could burn in a pan.

M Dunahee: I am making a mousse where the egg yolks are only cooked in the sense that they are added to melted butter and chocolate. They're not really cooked in any sense I have of the word. Am I going to kill my friends and family? Is there some way I can kill the nasty stuff and still make the mousse?
Alton Brown: The answer is no, and no. You are not going to kill your family. You can make egg-free mousses, but they're not true mousses. They usually use gelatin as a stabilizer. For example, we had a recipe on our chocolate show a couple of years ago for a chocolate mousse with no eggs. It was on the show, "The Art of Darkness." If you have elderly members of the family who are ill, very young children, or people with immune system problems or liver problems, be careful with the raw eggs. But if you don't have family like that, and the eggs are from a reputable dealer and you've stored them properly, I wouldn't worry about it. It is highly, highly unlikely to get an egg with enough salmonella to make people sick, but it is possible. You could try pasteurized eggs, which are available now. They've been barely cooked, so the whites are slightly foggy looking, but you can use them interchangeably with regular eggs. To this day, I don't think there's been a documented case of salmonella in home cooking using eggs. I wouldn't suggest you store the mousse for a long time, though. Make it, serve it, and eat it all. No leftovers!

Speedy Mom: I am looking for a dessert that incorporates pumpkin, other than pumpkin pie. Any suggestions?
Alton Brown: I don't like pumpkin pie, but I do like pumpkin cheesecake. Check the web site. Most are nothing more than augmenting standard cheesecake recipes with canned pumpkin. It's very hard to pull it off with fresh pumpkin. The tanginess of the cream cheese has a tendency to knock down the cloying sweetness of a traditional pumpkin pie. I like to put orange zest in a pumpkin cheesecake, because that citrus flavor goes well with the pumpkin without adding that old eggnog-type flavor. For a pumpkin related recipe that doesn't actually have pumpkin flesh in it, you could make something with the pumpkin seeds. If you go to, there is a spicy pumpkin seed brittle there. At the website, Sara had a good recipe there, and so did Emeril. The main thing about dealing with pumpkin desserts is that most people don't mind the pumpkin; what they get tired of is the overpowering cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace spices. So if you leave those spices alone, you can do more things with the pumpkin itself. If you are going to use the traditional spices like nutmegs, grind your own whole spices so the flavors are fresh.

Robin: Hi, Alton! Love your show! I'm going to try to make a turkey roulade, but I'm unsure of how long to bake it? Can you help me?
Alton Brown: No. Why in God's name would you make a turkey roulade? I've never seen one; I don't know if I believe it exists! (laughing) You're on you own with this one! You can't make a roulade without stuffing, and, as we've discussed, stuffing is evil. I don't mean to cop out, but I have to draw the line some place!

The Babe: After you fully defrost your turkey, how long can you can you keep it in your refrigerator before cooking? Thanks!
Alton Brown: If your refrigerator is kept between 34 and 38 degrees, and the turkey is in the original wrapper, I'd say a week. I don't know if a manufacturer would recommend it, but I'd do it. Certainly five days. Most people err by not thawing it long enough. Make sure you don't just chuck that turkey in there in its bag. The bags aren't always watertight, and you don't want a lot of that turkey spooge in the bottom of the fridge. So keep the turkey quarantined by putting it on a pan, tray, or some other device.

Christa Cleary: My husband and I love your show. I am making my mother-in-law's rolls for Thanksgiving. She makes the dough in a bread machine. Should I alter the recipe if I am going to make the dough by hand?
Alton Brown: Wow, yes! That's a really tricky one. If the recipe was originally formulated for a bread machine, then definitely alter it. If it's an older recipe that she just makes in a bread maker, you should be OK. Most bread machine recipes are generally augmented with gluten. Since bread machines can't knead very well, they can't agitate the dough enough to make the proteins from wheat flour and water. So maybe that recipe has been altered to compensate for that deficiency. You might end up with something you could play tennis with if it has too much gluten. If it were a parker house roll, say, I'd find another recipe and just tell your mother-in-law that it IS her recipe. In other words, lie. I've never seen a recipe that was developed for a bread machine that was taken out of a bread machine and worked, without being substantially overhauled. If you really have to do it, think like a bread machine. Mix very little, and rise in a confined space. Try to recreate the environment of that bread machine as best you can. But what I want to know is why your mother-in-law isn't bringing the rolls herself. Tell her nobody can make them as good as she can. And she'll just complain if they don't taste like hers, anyway--end of story. Nobody should go to somebody's house for Thanksgiving empty-handed, anyway. Unless I'm going to Martha Stewart's house, I'm bringing something.

Pawalumfl: Which side dishes would you say are a 'must', as in help complement the turkey and its flavors best?
Alton Brown: Excellent question! I think there are some things that have evolved for good reasons. Cranberries have the acidity and tang that help balance or foil the turkey. I don't think mashed potatoes make a great side, because you're adding more bland white stuff to bland white stuff. At my house, we do a green bean dish that has candied citrus in it. Things with those bright flavors are really great. Braised carrots are popular around my house. We slice on a mandolin, saute briefly in butter, add some ginger ale, and braise at low heat until they're just a bit on the chewy side. That makes a great side, both for color, and because you've got some sweetness going on there. I also like cooked cabbage with apples, as well, and collard greens--things that wake up your tongue with an acidic or bitter element. If you have to have a 'bread-ey' thing, make a flavorful dressing. I usually only put two things on my plate; and that's turkey, and my grandmother's congealed cranberry salad. I steal everything from that old girl, but don't tell her. (She doesn't have a computer, so how will she know?) Some canned cranberry sauce, a small can of pineapple bits in natural juice, drained, and a cup of toasted chopped pecans. Mix and put aside. Check the recipe as Ma Mae's Cranberry Salad on the site.

Gina: Alton, Love your show and love you immensely! Thanks for all the wonderful tips and details you include in each show. I really enjoy learning all that stuff. So what's on your Thanksgiving menu?
Alton Brown: Lasagna. I'm at the beach. I don't even know where to find a turkey! We're having lasagna.

Food Network: Alton, thank you so much for being here and for solving our holiday dilemmas! Any final thoughts for us before we have to end this chat?
Alton Brown: Yeah, don't kill yourself. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a fun day. It's not about working all day, so do a few things the day before. Don't let anyone in the door that isn't carrying a covered dish. Keep a cooler full of ice for cold things, so the refrigerator doesn't get over full. Since I don't have a lot of oven space, I take another cooler, put a beach towel in the bottom, and then heat some bricks in the oven. Put them in the cooler with more towels on top, and then you have a hot box to keep food hot. If you only have one oven, and you know you have to reheat a lot of things, do what the earlier questioner mentioned and think of grilling your turkey. Plan ahead. I have a book coming out, I think in April, called "I'm Just Here for the Food." It was actually a book about heat and food. In other words, cooking in the purest sense. So if you understand your heat, and you understand your food, you can do some pretty wonderful things.

Food Network: Thank you for chatting with Food Network's Alton Brown. To watch Alton create holiday magic, tune in to his special, "Romancing the Bird: A Good Eats Thanksgiving," airing tomorrow at 9: 00 p.m. ET.
Food Network: Want more? Don't miss "Good Eats," airing Wednesdays at 9: 00 p.m. and 12 a.m., Saturdays at 9: 00 p.m. and 12 a.m., and Sundays at 6: 30 p.m. and 3: 30 a.m. All times ET.
Food Network: Can't get enough of Alton? Interact with other fans on the Good Eats Fan Forum.
Food Network: Missed previous chats? Read our transcripts. [dead link]

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