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Talkin' turkey: Las Vegas chefs answer your holiday cooking questions

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Kristen DeSilva/KNPR

Chelsea Caplin, Lorraine Blanco Moss and Bruce Kalman with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann at KNPR on Nov. 21, 2022.

In a few days, many of us will enjoy the biggest feast of the year.  

During Thanksgiving, Americans will eat 40 million turkeys, according to The Economist, or 400 to 800 million pounds of bird, depending on the size. And the National Grocers Association says we’ll spend $96 million on stuffing, and buy 80 million pounds of cranberries. 

Although the very idea makes us drool in Pavlovian response, for those doing the cooking, it can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking. No one wants to serve a dried out turkey, or stuffing that’s dripping wet or falls apart. That’s why we’ve assembled an expert team to talk turkey, sides, cocktails and more. 

Chef Bruce Kalman is the chef and owner of the popular downtown spot SoulBelly BBQ, and State of Nevada producer Lorraine Blanco Moss is also a classically trained chef. She’s cooked at Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres and Joe’s Stone Crab at Caesars. They both joined host Joe Schoenmann for more along with Bacardi USA senior mixologist Chelsea Caplin.

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Bruce Kalman's turkey tips

  • Always brine your turkey! An overnight brine with salt, sugar and seasonings is good practice no matter how you’re going to cook a turkey. With smoking, it’s especially helpful to keep the bird from drying out.
  • Low and slow is your friend. Give yourself four to six good hours of smoking time depending on the size of the turkey. If it’s done early, no sweat, a good smoked turkey is a win hot or warm.
  • Use a thermometer. As a first timer, you don’t want to risk an undercooked (or dry) main dish on the big day. You’re looking for 165, temp'ed where the thigh meets the drumstick, which is where it takes the longest to cook. Don’t rely on the pop-up timer!

Stuffing is called dressing if not cooked inside the turkey. That has to be cooked to 165, Kalman said, if you cook it inside, but then you risk drying out your turkey. 

"Just do it on the side," Blanco Moss said. "If you don't temp it, you're asking for more trouble."

David from North Las Vegas is making a prime rib roast instead of a turkey, and called to ask if there was a way to do it that's easy.

Kalman said to air it out a bit, rub it with a little bit of fat or oil, then season with a little bit of salt and pepper. 

"Then, get your oven hot, like 350-400 degrees, and start at that temp so you get a nice crust on the outside, kind of like a sear, as we call it, where we would sear it in a pan or on a big flat-top," he said. "That'll help seal in all the juices. ... And then turn the temperature down ... cook it to the temp that you like the best. .. If you pull it at a certain temp, it's going to carry over, and it's another big, dense roast. So if you want it to be, let's say you want it to be medium in the end, I would take it out of the oven at 135 degrees. And then I would let it rest."

Donna called from Henderson, wondering about options for a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving. "I tried to make a tofurkey one. It was horrid, really bad," she said.

Blanco Moss suggested some non-meat meat alternatives, like Field Roast, Gardein or the "turkey" roast from Trader Joe's, but the better option is just to go in on a "sides extravaganza."

"Because the sides, in all honesty, for many people, that is like the best part. Your stuffing, your mashed potatoes, your green bean casserole, your pumpkin pie, and those can all be made plant-based very easily with not-milks. Vegan butter is really good nowadays. You can use vegan cheese, I'm a little out, not sure about that still, but I do love the butter and I do love the milks," she said.

"I don't think it's important to try to serve something that looks like a turkey," Kalman said.

Diane called from Henderson. She wanted to know what kind of wood chips to use for a smoked turkey. She was also after a sweet potato recipe.

Kalman suggested post oak wood chips. 

“If you’re gonna’ smoke a turkey at home … get a nice color … we’ll take a pound of butter and melt it, make a foil bath … set the turkey with the breast side down … and then seal it really tightly … you don’t want to put too much smoke on meat," he said.

As far as sweet potatoes:

Bourbon Maple Glazed Candied Yams (serves 4-6)

  • 2 lbs. garnet yams (but any yam will do), peeled and placed in cold water
  • 1/4 lbs. sweet unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar (light brown sugar is ok too)
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extra or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch grated nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
  • ½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • To taste kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mini marshmallow

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepot, heat one gallon of water to a rolling boil, and add two tablespoons of kosher salt. Place the yams in the water, then bring back to a simmer. Cook until the yams are cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes; a small knife should go in smoothly. Remove from the heat and cool down in the refrigerator. In a small saucepot, combine all the ingredients except for the broth and marshmallows; bring to a low boil. Once cooled, slice the yams in 1” thick slices. Arrange the yam slices in a casserole dish and add the broth. Pour the glaze over the top and bake for about 15 minutes, until the glaze coats the yam well. Remove from the oven and top with the marshmallow; adjust the setting on your oven to low broil and return the casserole to the oven on the bottom rack. Cook to brown the marshmallows and remove from the oven and serve.


Chelsea Caplin's holiday sangria recipe (serves 1)

  • 1 ounce Licor 43
  • 0.5 ounce Bacardi Spiced Rum
  • 0.5 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce orange Juice
  • 0.75 ounce five-spice syrup
  • 2.5 ounce cabernet wine 

Onto the booze. What should you drink and what shouldn't you drink after a big Thanksgiving meal?

"Sangria is really nice, because it can work really well as a welcome cocktail. It can also work while you're eating Thanksgiving dinner, which is really, really nice. So that kind of removes this step for you, as well, when you're really busy. I tend to always go towards a holiday sangria during Thanksgiving as well as Christmas," Caplin said.

But, maybe skip the holiday eggnog.

"You're coating your entire stomach with that, right? And so imagine drinking two, three glasses of eggnog, especially if people are picking out an appetizer board, and then they're just letting themselves serve their eggnog, right? And they're just adding more and more into their stomach. So by the time they get to Thanksgiving meal, they're not even going to be hungry."

She suggested a green tea following dinner to help settle your stomach and give you some energy. Before dinner, stick with the sangria or something bubbly, like champagne or a French 75

Guests

Bruce Kalman, chef and owner, SoulBelly BBQ; Chelsea Caplin, senior mixologist, Bacardi USA; Lorraine Blanco Moss, producer, State of Nevada

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