Kitchens all around Central Texas will be full of turkeys and Thanksgiving side dishes Thursday, and several area restaurateurs shared how they make their holiday meals.
“Cooking turkey is really a preference,” said Josh Petty, co-owner of Petty’s B-B-Q in Killeen. “It depends — if you want a speed method, frying a turkey is the fastest way by far. That takes about 45 minutes. Smoking takes about four to six hours, give or take, while the oven can be a 12- and 13-hour process.”
No matter how you cook it, everyone said the bird should be thawed in the refrigerator beforehand.
Frying a turkey keeps a lot of juices in the bird, said Dean Lock, owner of Five Hills Bar-B-Q, and Joy Lambert, kitchen manager of Lil’Tex Restaurant, both in Copperas Cove.
But with fried turkeys you have to be careful, because the process can be dangerous. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed.
Once thawed, it would be a good practice to fill your fryer up with water about a quarter of the way and dunk your bird into it to see how high the liquid will rise, said Robert Doherty, owner of KG’s Cajun Kitchen in Harker Heights. Then take the water out and put enough oil in the fryer so it won’t spill out.
“If you are going to deep-fry it, make sure you have a fire extinguisher,” he said. “If that grease comes out of that pot, it will catch on fire.”
Several techniques were offered for keeping the bird moist.
“There is a lot of getting up early and starting the oven earlier, and there is a lot of basting,” said Ronnie Schoepf Jr., co-owner of Schoepf’s Bar-B-Que in Belton. “It keeps it moist and gives it that golden glow so when you are done, not only is it staying moist, it creates that perfect color.”
Lock and Petty said baking the turkey upside down will allow all the juices to run into the breast, which should keep the main course very juicy.
When baking, Lambert suggests covering the turkey in foil or even a brown paper sack to keep moisture in.
Tommy Karpinskie, manager of Henderson’s in Killeen and Hilltop Restaurant in Harker Heights, said “Just put it in the oven and baste it and that is about it.”
When it comes to seasoning the bird for baking, there are plenty of ways to do so.
“I just season the inside of the cavity with salt, garlic, and butter, I cut slits in the skin and fill it with butter, too,” said Rebecca Hamilton, of Kempner.
Petty said that the bird’s giblets could be used to make a broth for basting and recommended garlic butter, salt, rosemary and thyme for seasoning.
Brining and injecting the turkey is another great way to season and prepare the bird, said Lock. He uses kosher salt and Cajun butter.
Schoepf said putting some ground black pepper on top of the bird can help give it a great golden texture.
While cooking times could vary and several people suggested just following the directions, they also suggested cooking it slow.
“I cook it on the lowest setting all night,” Hamilton said. “Take the foil off just before dinner is ready to be served, turn the temperature up and then, voila, the perfect turkey.”
Several of the same seasoning techniques can be used to smoke a bird.
“At the restaurant, we smoke our turkeys, and we smoke them over the mesquite wood,” Schoepf said. “We smoke them a long time.”
When it comes to baking and smoking, don’t constantly check it, Lock said. “Leave it alone; let it cook. Every time you open the oven, you alternate the temperature. Put it in there and leave it alone.”
Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes of corn, green beans, green bean casserole, dressing, corn bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and candied yams were recommended by the eatery owners. Pumpkin pie was a favorite as well.
Lock said there are tons of ways to do the sides, but it should always be up to the family.
“The sky is the limit on it,” he said. “You can make it whatever you want to do. You can do all your own versions or all your own childhood favorites.”
Hamilton said she recommended a little something different for the cranberry sauce. Make it from scratch and then add a package of raspberry Jello to give it a little more tang.
A Schoepf’s family favorite is adding venison to their dressing.
But no matter what is being cooked, everyone wanted to remind people that Thanksgiving is about being with family and friends and being thankful.
“Make sure on Thanksgiving that we give thanks for whether we have a lot or just a little,” Schoepf said. “We all have different reasons and maybe some of us have more than others, but we all have things to be thankful for.”