A live turkey on a white background.
Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

“Struggle Meals” Host Frankie Celenza’s Guide to Thanksgiving Turkey

By Aileen Kwun
November 23, 2019
3 minute read

Frankie Celenza, the chef and host of Struggle Meals and Frankie’s World on Tastemade, shares a no-bullshit approach to cooking the most intimidating—and probably overrated—dish of year: the Thanksgiving turkey.

“Turkey kind of sucks. Really, chicken is actually better—it’s juicier, it’s easier to cook. Many other chefs will say, ‘Avoid the turkey, it’s terrible.’ But we’re doing turkey. There’s tradition, and I’m fine with it.

If a turkey is involved, you’ve got to cook and prepare all day Wednesday. And if you’re overwhelmed by cooking, I would just focus on doing your very best with the turkey as you possibly can, and try to get everyone who’s coming over to bring a side dish.

The quality of your Thanksgiving turkey is decided the second you leave the market, period. And I don’t know about everybody else, but I pretty much eat turkey once a year. So I go to a butcher and plan ahead to have a fresh turkey ready for me—I’m not picking one that’s from a factory.

Once you’ve got your turkey, there are three main things you’ll need to do. First, you’ll definitely want to brine it with a 2 percent salinity. So if you use a liter of water, you’re looking for 20 grams of salt. If you use 2 liters, you’re looking for 40 grams (this is where the metric system is so superior to the garbage that we use in the U.S.). Just like Gatorade helps us retain water in our body, the salt helps the bird hold onto moisture. To make the brine, heat up some water and salt so that it fully dissolves; throw in some bay leaves, coriander seeds, and mashed garlic; and let it steep like a tea. Cool it down to room temp or cooler, then soak the bird in it. Once the bird is ready to cook, remove it from the brine and dry the outside as much as you can so that it can get crispy in the oven.

Second, buy a leave-in thermometer—some of them even have a temperature that will beep at you. Set that for 160 degrees, so that you’re prepared, and be aware that it will continue to rise in temperature. You’re taking the temperature at the center; the outside is hotter, and the heat is working its way to the center. Keep that in mind. It’s going to be somewhere between three and ten degrees hotter than your oven.

Third, watch a great video on carving. Try to slice the turkey into big, fat pieces. Don’t cut it too thin, because the extra surface area will cause it to get cold too quickly.

Okay, those are my three things. That, and P.S., consider spatchcocking.”