Jose Garces’ 45-Minute Turkey, Plus More Thanksgiving Tips From Philly’s Top Chefs

Deep Fried Turkey Photo via iStockphoto
First published on November 21, 2011
Updated on November 21, 2012

Want to know how to tell if your turkey is actually done? (Don’t trust that pop-up thing!) Not sure if you’re supposed to take that bag containing the weird looking stuff out of the cavity before putting your bird in the oven? (You are.) For queries like these, there’s the tried-and-true Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, 1-800-BUTTERBALL. But if you want advice from Jose Garces, Marc Vetri and some of our other favorite Philly chefs on how to spark new life into America’s biggest food holiday and not go totally bonkers in the process, you’ve come to the right place.

Don’t Be Afraid To Go Deep (Fried)

“I’ve been frying my turkeys for a long, long time. It’s a tricky thing, and it’s kind of dangerous, but it’s also the most simple and effective way to do it. The end product is great, and it’s fast. For a 20-pound bird, I fry it for 45 minutes to an hour. And by frying the turkey, the oven is freed up. When you’re entertaining, the hardest thing is to get all of your sides hot. This solves that problem. And for those out there who are concerned with disposing of all that oil, I will take everyone’s oil and recycle it for them*. It will be turned into biodiesel and soap. I actually use the soap in my house.” — Jose Garces, Garces Restaurant Group

The Italians Do Everything Better

“I just came back from two weeks in the Abruzzo region to do some research on holiday menus. They use a lot of turkey for Christmas, and there are wild turkeys running all over the place. They do a turkey soup with escarole, stracciatella style. They mix an egg with pecorino and black pepper and use that as the protein, kind of like egg drop soup. And then with all of the cooked meat, they pick it off and make a turkey salad as a secundo, and they dress it with pomegranate seeds. The seeds are tart and sweet and take away some of the gaminess, so this year, I decided to sprinkle my roasted turkey with pomegranate seeds. They’re in season.” — Joe Cicala, Le Virtu

Because Brown Is Boring

“Most Thanksgiving food tends to be brown. Bubbling brown gravies. The stuffing. I always think of it as ugly food. We try to bring in colorful squashes. And the green vegetables that we do use, we don’t cook them to death. We also believe in the centerpiece, even at a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Many vegetarians just do the side dishes. But psychologically, we all grew up with this giant carcass as a centerpiece. So we might do a giant roasted squash, a whole roasted eggplant, or giant portabellas with gravy in the center of the table. The key for us is color and variety.” — Rich Landau, Vedge

It’s Okay To Punch Your Guests… Just Not Too Hard

“We make punch every year for Thanksgiving at home. Punch is a great way to do it if you are having a lot of people over. It can be prepared in advance, and you don’t have to worry about shaking drinks for your guests or stirring pitchers of martinis all night. One thing to bear in mind, though, is the people you have with you if you’re making punch. Temper your mixology and your recipe so that everyone can enjoy it, so they don’t get knocked on their ends immediately. Last year, we made a rum punch that didn’t get properly diluted, and my parents wound up taking naps in the living room before dinner.” — Phoebe Esmon, Emmanuelle

Getting Beyond Stove Top

“My South Philly grandmother always made two kinds of stuffing, one with sausage and one without, and I’d always eat the one with sausage. And recently, I was eating speck ham, and I realized that a lot of the spices in it — like the juniper, especially — really makes it perfect for roasted meats. So this year, I’m doing the stuffing with the speck ham instead of sausage, a little bit of real, pungent Fontina to give it a little creaminess and earthiness, and then sourdough from Metropolitan. If you use inexpensive bread, everything kind of falls apart.” — Anthony Marino, Marino’s of Mullica Hill

Sometimes Breaking Up Is A Good Thing

“I’ve never roasted a whole turkey with the stuffing and all that. I’m just not into it. I like to break it up and do different things with it. This year, I’m taking the breasts, leaving them on the bone and smoking them. The thighs and legs, I’m actually deboning and then I’ll salt it for 3-4 hours and then kind of hammer it out and cook it between two sheet pans in the oven until it’s almost finished. After that, Ill let them cool down and then stick them on the grill. And then I’ll use another turkey for turkey sausage and I’ll make a turkey sausage pizza. I like to have fun, mix and match.” — Marc Vetri, Vetri + Amis + Osteria

Channel Your Inner Boy Scout: Be Prepared

“I treat a Thanksgiving dinner very much like a catering event in that I get all my mise en place done ahead of time. I always serve roasted squash with my turkey, and seeing that the turkey tends to take up the whole oven, the day before I cube and par-steam the squash so that on Thanksgiving, I can quickly toss the squash in butter and finish it under the broiler. I do all my knife work the day before, such as cutting potatoes and onions, so I have as much counter space available to me as possible. And I make all my pies at least two days in advance. This allows the pies to set properly and guarantees I won’t be fighting for oven space.” — Michael Cappon, Isabella

No One Has Ever Run Out Of Food On Thanksgiving

“Don’t overdo it. Everybody ends up with too much food, spending too much money, and too much time on Thanksgiving. Leftovers are nice, but there are really only a couple of things that people actually want. You don’t have to go out and spend $500 to feed 8 people, with most of the food going to waste. You can be more focused on doing things right, buying the right wines, having something for everybody. Because when it comes down to it, less really is more, and you always wind up with more no matter what. I don’t think anyone has ever run out food on Thanksgiving.” Bryan Sikora,

Fat Makes Everything Better

“Turkey is one of the driest and blandest meats out there. Some people use a cider brine or a beer brine. But the breast meat is so dense, I don’t feel like the flavor penetrates all the way through. My mother-in-law — she’s Puerto Rican — she puts garlic and fatback in her turkey, and that’s how I’m doing it this year. We stab the breast and legs, cut little slits in them. In one slit, we put the garlic. In another slit, the fatback. On a 30-pound bird, which is what I have, I’ll probably put 12 cubes of fatback and 12 cloves of garlic in there and roast that thing. It comes out like duck confit. That moist and delicious. It’s out of this world.” — Kevin Sbraga, Sbraga

You Made It, You Carve It

“I hosted one Thanksgiving dinner sometime in the 90s. Way too much work. Now I only guest, reluctantly. And as a guest, I always show up with my right hand wrapped with an ace bandage. Hostesses assume that I know how to carve a turkey. And I do. But not when provided with a carving knife better suited for spreading butter and a turkey roasted and roasted some more until the flesh has the consistency of sawdust. Guest carving someone else’s turkey is a no-win situation.” — Holly Moore,