Thanksgiving is almost here and, along with the family, joy and eating, comes pressure: How to carve the turkey. At the table or in the kitchen? Slicer or electric knife? We asked three of America's top chefs to share their tips for selecting a knife and slicing like a pro. Todd Humphries is the chef and co-owner of Martini House in Napa Valley. Humphries will close Martini House for Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday at home with his family. He plans to brine his turkey with salt, sugar, rosemary, thyme, allspice, cloves and bay leaves. Then, he'll roast the bird on a Weber grill over mesquite hard charcoal to add flavor. Unlike his father, who used a double-bladed electric knife, Humphries chooses a Henkel slicer, the same one he's been using for 20 years. "It's a nice long, thin knife," he says. "I also use it for smoked or cured salmon. It's my all-purpose slicer." Humphries advises: "Make sure your knife is sharp. If you're not sure what to do, pick up a book that will give you tips on how to take the breast off and slice it. In fact, I'm looking at YouTube right now, and there's Turkey Carving 101." And if you don't have a sharp knife? Humphries says, "In most cities, there's a place to take your knife to get it professionally sharpened." Some things are best left to the pros. Mark Dommen, chef/partner at San Francisco's One Market, will be spending Thanksgiving at the restaurant. He's preparing enough Sebastopol-raised Willie Bird Turkeys to satisfy the 700 diners he expects this year.
Dommen will separate the legs from the carcass, and sear and roast the boned legs separately from the breast, which he will roast on the bone. "Since we're not slicing the turkey in front of anyone, we don't have to have it intact." When Dommen was a child, his father did the carving at Thanksgiving. "He used to take the legs off, then slice the meat off the breast on the turkey, whereas I like to take the breast off in one piece, then slice it." All three chefs agree: It's best to remove the breast from the bird before slicing. "By taking the breast off, you're not leaving as much meat on the bone, and you get nicer, more even slices, cutting across the grain versus with the grain," adds Dommen. With any meat, cutting across the grain breaks up the muscle and makes for tender bites. To carve the bird, Dommen uses a Misono UX10, a Japanese slicer. "The main thing is that the knife is sharp." At home, Dommen uses another slicer made by Suisin. "It's the same style of knife, different maker." Dommen can be seen giving additional tips and instruction on food Web site Chow.com. Renowned chef and Summer Shack owner Jasper White will be a guest at his niece and nephew's Thanksgiving table this year. "I am not really cooking, but I am bringing a turkey. I'm making hundreds at the restaurant so I might as well bring an extra."
Although Summer Shack typically focuses on seafood, White's Cambridge, Massachusetts-based restaurant is offering deep-fried and oven-roasted turkeys to go this year. White's father also experimented with electric knives. "They were really not good; they just rip the turkey to shreds. I still don't use them, but apparently now they work OK." Although White's father carved at the table, he himself prefers the kitchen. "A whole roasted turkey is magnificent, the symbol of Thanksgiving. But once you start hacking it up, it's not worth looking at." White recommends inviting your guests to the table, with a perfectly cooked turkey as the centerpiece. While everyone enjoys the first course, White carves the turkey in the kitchen, and arranges the meat on a carcass-free platter. "I use a boning knife to bone it out quickly, then a 12-inch slicer to slice it," he says. "But really, any sharp knife will do. I have so many knives. I just pick the sharpest one." And what kind of knives does White expect to find in his nephew's bachelor pad? "I didn't think about it. But now that you mention it, I'll bring a knife with me."