Guy Fieri, the host of TV’s beloved Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, undisputed mayor of Flavortown, and disaster relief devotee has inspired countless flame-shirted Halloween costumes. But the holiday he’s most hyped about every single year is, predictably, Thanksgiving.
Each year, Fieri hosts between 40 and 60 people for his annual Thanksgiving dinner, which means that he’s got some real experience in cooking a fancy holiday meal for a big crowd. Eater sat down to talk with Fieri about memorably terrible Thanksgiving cooking, what home cooks can swap if they’re stymied by the turkey shortage, and randomly, why he loves Rage Against the Machine so much.
Eater: Most of us have screwed up a dish or two at Thanksgiving. Do you have any particularly memorable Thanksgiving fails?
Guy Fieri: The one that’s been really burned into my mind: We cook extra turkey every year so that we can have turkey sandwiches the next day. One year, someone handed the wrong bag to the wrong person, and the turkey ended up being left outside overnight.
The next morning we went outside and saw that the dogs had a buffet. It was turkey everywhere, a turkey massacre. You remember the movie A Christmas Story? The scene where the dogs came in and ate the turkey? It went down in that kind of form. There was a lot of finger pointing as to who left the turkey outside and who put the bag of trash in the refrigerator; people were mad. There were some hurt feelings.
So you maintain that you are not the person who left the turkey outside?
I absolutely, 100 percent, unequivocally was not involved in said disaster. I am the head chef. I’m the cook, the master of ceremonies, and I don’t participate in the cleanup. I’m as far as I can be from the cleanup. It was definitely not me, but it was a bad day.
Considering that you cook for 60 people during the holidays, and have prepared food on a large scale in your disaster relief efforts, what are your tips for folks who might be new to cooking for a crowd?
It’s important to know that recipes don’t always increase by scale. You can’t just take something and multiply it by 10 or whatever. I’d also remind people to practice. That doesn’t mean you make a full-blown Thanksgiving a week before, because you’ll be burned out on the flavors. But go ahead and make stuffing in October. Do mashed potatoes a couple of times before the holidays. Those are your opportunities to realize you don’t have something right; you don’t want to make that mistake on the big day. And maybe you’ll learn a new technique for those mashed potatoes: Maybe you’ll use a ricer and not a mixer so you don’t make potato wall spackle.
There are so many different methods for preparing a turkey. Which do you think is the best?
Usually, in the oven. The dishwasher really gets it wet; it just doesn’t work. [Insert long dad joke laugh break.]
I’m a fan of all of it. I do turkeys on my smoker: Smoked turkey, to me, is heaven. I also love deep-fried turkey, don’t get me wrong — I’m planning to do one this year for the first time in a while. I’ve spatchcocked a turkey and done it on the barbecue, but I think the real key is the brining. I do that ahead of time so it has time to dry out and you get some really nice, crispy skin. I make a compound butter that I put up underneath the skin for more flavor.
For those of us who aren’t able to make everything from scratch on Thanksgiving, what are the most suitable store-bought substitutes?
Definitely not cranberry sauce. You’ve got to make your own cranberry sauce. Same with the stuffing. And your own stock, you can’t use jarred stock. Listen, this is the big day. It’s the big game day for family cooking. Employ everyone in your house and put them to work.
I guess I’d say French’s onions, the crispy fried onions that go on top of the green bean casserole. I like to make my own, but to be honest, buying them is totally okay. King’s Hawaiian Rolls are also a good choice. You could have them on their own, you could keep them around for leftover sandwiches, or maybe even dry them and crumble on top of the green bean casserole. There’s really no need to reinvent the wheel there.
A turkey shortage is looming. What proteins should people consider cooking if they can’t get their hands on a turkey?
Ham is always one of the must-haves on Thanksgiving for me, but I do think that you need some kind of poultry. You could cheat it with some chicken if you had to, but I think lamb is also an excellent option. It would be a good stand-in for the turkey, and it’s special because it’s something that you don’t have very often.
Last question, and it’s totally unrelated to Thanksgiving: How long have you been a Rage Against the Machine fan?
I was living in Los Angeles and running a restaurant down there. One of my young managers was a Rage fan. I love a huge range of music — I love Johnny Cash, I love Tito Puente. But when I heard Rage and Tom Morello’s guitar riffs for the first time, they got to me. I was into the band really early on, starting in maybe 1994. Later, Brad Wilk, who’s the drummer, and I became really close friends. That was a really neat thing to have happen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.