Turkey Talk with Scoot and Chef Lusk

November 21, 2018 - 8:40 pm

I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Christopher Lusk, chef at The Steakhouse at Harrah's Casino, about all things Thanksgiving cooking. Lusk isn't from New Orleans, but he loves the city.

“It's the people. We have people that love food. We have great ingredients. We have a great city. What else could you ask for?”

What's on the menu for Thanksgiving at The Steakhouse?

“We're going to do a smoked turkey breast. We're going to smoke it with laurel leaves. And traditional oyster dressing. We have some stewed green beans, a giblet gravy, and my cranberry sauce, which is more alcohol than cranberries.”

Sounds good! You have to love New Orleans. We have a chef looking for ways to put alcohol in the cranberry sauce.

I have a confession to make. I do something for Thanksgiving that's controversial; I get a lot of criticism for this. I try to watch what I eat. So I cut all the skin and fat off my turkey before I put it in the oven.

“Oh man, that makes me so sad,” Lusk laughed. “But no, that's not a bad thing. If you're watching your health, it is good.” Lusk went on to say he never tells anyone how they should eat. “You can eat whatever you want, however you want. If you want a well-done steak, it makes me a little bit sad; but that's okay.”

Now, on to some turkey talk.

What's the biggest mistake people make ?

“People get too stressed out about it. They get so concerned and so worked up. Three weeks in advance, everybody's trying to plan things. They're running to the grocery store. The main thing is to try to be organized. Have everything you need on hand so you're not running back and forth. And have a glass of wine while you're cooking. Enjoy it!”

Chef Lusk recommended buying a digital thermometer to make sure you get it right and don't get anyone sick.

How do you know when it's done?

You want to cook it to 165 degrees in the thickest part. Usually the thigh or the leg will be the best part to stick the thermometer into. Once you get to that point, take it out and let it rest. Resting helps. As you cook, all the moisture expands to the outside. By resting, the moisture goes back in; so when you cut into it, you have a nice, plump, juicy bird.

How do you avoid having the turkey fully-cooked on the outer parts but still kind of raw at the center?

“You cook it at a lower temperature. Cook it at about 275 degrees for about two hours, depending upon the size of the turkey. As it's getting close to being done, about the 150 degree range, I'll crank the oven up to crispy up the outside. That way you know it's cooked all the way through. It takes a little longer to cook that way, but you get a much better final product.”

What's the benefit to brining turkeys?

“We brine our turkeys, and that helps a lot too. The benefit is you impart flavor. Whatever you have, you're using a solution that has salt in it. And the salt will help pull moisture out and exchange whatever you have in the liquid. So say you have brown sugar in the liquid, that salt will pull out the moisture; and the brown sugar goes in. It also keeps it a more moist bird at the end of the day.

What are your favorite sides?

Cranberry sauce with a lot of alcohol. Green beans that have been cooked Southern style with bacon...oyster dressing. When I got to New Orleans I thought that was the weirdest thing I've seen...after years of making it, I'm like, 'this is amazing!'”

What advice do you have for carving the turkey?

The main thing for the breast is you start at the very end. You have a thicker end and a thinner end, so start at the thinner end. That way you'll get more skin on it. If you're trying to cut from the thicker end, it'll fall all over.

And for the legs and the wings?

Normally, I take the wings off. I'll take the wings and set them aside, and we'll make buffalo wings out of them. Toss 'em in hot sauce and have them as a side while we're cooking.

What do you do with your leftover turkey meat?

I'm from Texas originally. I make tacos out of it. I love to make tacos out of it. Take the leftover turkey meat, cut it up, [add> a little bit of onions, cilantro, and salsa and put it on a tortilla. Or you could make gumbo, a delicious turkey gumbo.

You said to cook it at 275 degrees. Since not everyone has a thermometer, what about how long to cook per pound?

About 20 minutes per pound. You want to temp it after about the first hour. Usually after the first hour, you're around 85 to 90 degrees. You can also tell by looking at it too. If it's warm all the way through, there's no pink to the inside. Now there will be a little pink around the bone even at 165 degrees. That's just the coloring of the bone.

Once everything's done, how long can you leave the turkey out on the table or counter at room temperature?

You really shouldn't leave it out more than two hours in an ideal situation. I know in reality it's probably left out longer than that, but around two hours is the window you should keep it at.

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