If you want some good advice on roasting a turkey, it doesn’t hurt if the people giving that advice have roasted hundreds of birds for one Thanksgiving Day.
West Pittston native R. Preston Faust has been executive chef since 1998 at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, N.Y., advertised as America’s oldest continuously operated hotel and where Chelsea Clinton held a party after her wedding July 31, 2010. He said his kitchen roasts close to 500 turkeys on Thanksgiving Day.
Dale Lewis, executive chef at the Irem Clubhouse in Dallas Township, said he used to cook several hundred turkeys, many for takeout dinners, when he was chef at the Stadium Club at Lackawanna County Stadium in Moosic, and he roasts enough turkey for more than 350 diners at the Irem restaurant.
They have similar methods with slight variations for creating the main course on the day of thanks.
Faust soaks his turkeys in a brine solution of water, sugar and iodized salt overnight before roasting them.
“I let that sit overnight,” he said. “It penetrates the muscle and gives it a little saltier taste, not heavy at all. It’s moister.”
When he is ready to roast, he takes the turkey out of the brine, pats it dry and covers it with fresh rosemary taken off the stalk and chopped, then just a little salt and pepper. He roasts a 24-pound turkey for 8 hours at 300 degrees, or until the drumstick turns out easily and pulls off cleanly.
He determines roasting time at about 20 minutes per pound at 300 degrees.
“Slow and low, just like you do barbecue,” Faust said. “Leave yourself enough time to cook the turkey. It always could hold for a while (if you’re not ready to eat), but it definitely will give a juicy finished product.”
He calculates how much turkey to make based on 1 1/4 pound of meat per person. But that means subtracting the bone weight.
“You’re getting 51, 52 percent yield — only about 12 pounds usable meat (for a 24-pound bird),” Faust said.
He said you could debone the turkey by putting it on its breast and taking out the rib cage, wing and thigh bones, leaving just meat and skin. You could then stuff it and tie it. He did admit, though, deboning a turkey does take some skill.
Lewis, meanwhile uses butter and various herbs and bastes the turkey frequently.
“I just keep basting it with butter and fresh herbs and all the natural juices from the bird,” Lewis said. “I roast it at 325. That way it keeps all the moisture in.”
He uses rosemary, fresh thyme, basil, fresh garlic, fresh sage and salt and pepper to taste. He said you also could buy those herbs pre-packaged together in the store for seasoning a turkey.
“It’s easy for the people at home,” Lewis said.
Neither Faust nor Lewis cares much for deep-frying a turkey. Faust said he hadn’t done it, and Lewis said he had once.
Lewis said it was too greasy. “Certain things are made for the deep fryer; turkey is not one of them.”
Yet, deep frying still remains popular, said Faust’s father-in-law, Dave Fetch Jr., a third-generation meat cutter and owner of Fetch ‘s Kielbassi Shop & Meat Market in Wyoming.
He personally prefers “just good old-fashioned oven roasted with the stuffing inside” and said salt and pepper are the only seasonings needed.
“That is all my mother ever did,” Fetch said. “Of course, she would rinse the turkey really good in and out. My mother would always do bread stuffing, with salt pepper, poultry seasoning, carrots, celery and onion.”
She would dice up the carrots, slice the celery and chop the onion.
His rule of thumb with bone-in product is a pound per person — a 12-pound bird for a dozen guests.
“But they say, ‘Just give me a 16-pounder,’ ” Fetch said. “They want to make sure they have enough.”
ROASTED TURKEY (BRINED, UNSTUFFED)
1 1/2 gallon water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup iodized salt
Fresh rosemary off stalk
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix water, sugar and salt then place turkey in the solution. Soak overnight.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pat the turkey dry and place in roasting pan. Cover with fresh rosemary taken off stalk and chopped. Sprinkle salt and pepper, but not much salt is needed due to brining. Place turkey in oven and roast at 300 degrees for 20 minutes per pound. (A 24-pound turkey would roast for about 8 hours, or until the drumstick turns out easily and pulls off cleanly.)