If Thanksgiving were a movie, it would be one of those sprawling Cecil B. DeMille affairs.
You’ve got your cast of thousands. Your demanding production schedule. Your challenging setting (the holiday dinner table). And these days, what with all the complicated kitchen gadgetry and high expectations, it would be digitized and the culinary equivalent of 3-D.
Sometimes it’s better to bring things down a few notches. Go analog, as it were. Especially if you like to grill.
I realize I’m the guy who, last year in these pages (and on video), walked you through brining and smoking a turkey. So, believe me, I appreciate the whole production-quality aspect of Thanksgiving. This year, though, I’m putting my feet up, cooking-wise. I am — are you ready? — buying a smoked turkey. I ordered it a month ago from Greenberg Smoked Turkeys in Tyler, Tex.
My lazy man’s Thanksgiving means all I have to cook is a few sides. Of course, I don’t want to give up the grill altogether. I want smoke. Char. I just don’t want to spend all day fretting to get it. So I decided to make simple versions of standards: corn bread dressing, sweet potatoes, a green vegetable.
The total time I will spend cooking? About two hours.
The amount of time I will spend drinking? As long as I want.
The dressing doesn’t require the use of a grill at all. That’s because the primary ingredient is andouille sausage, which comes smoked. Not to get all hoity-toity about it, but mine comes from America’s andouille motherland, Louisiana. My son attends college in New Orleans and keeps me supplied through holiday gifts.
My devotion to the spicy, garlicky, coarsely ground pork sausage began years ago with shopping expeditions from my Austin home to the butcher shops and grocery stores in Cajun country in southwest Louisiana: towns such as Mamou, Eunice, Opelousas and Breaux Bridge. There, andouille is deeply smoked for as long as eight hours, typically over pecan or hickory.
But you don’t have to go to Louisiana, or even order from there, to get good andouille. Supermarkets carry it nowadays. It might be labeled “fresh,” which is a term I never encountered in Louisiana. But that just means the sausage was never frozen. It, like its Louisiana cousin, is smoked.
Andouille can be smoked to different internal temperatures. It is typically “cooked” to a point well beyond that for regular loose and link sausages. Some versions are cooked through and can be eaten out of the bag (though they always benefit from a turn on a stove top to warm through). Those packages will say “fully cooked” on them. Others are still a little raw and not only benefit from, but require, more cooking to be safe. If you are unsure, ask your butcher.
To make the corn bread dressing, whether the sausage is fully cooked or not, I pull off the casing and finely chop the meat, then fry it over medium heat. The morsels imbue the dressing with smoke flavor without requiring me to actually smoke anything.
But let’s say you want to fire up the grill. Easy. You can pretty much grill or smoke anything that you’d usually cook on the stove top or in the oven.
Because of its slender but meaty stalks, broccoli rabe takes especially well to the grill. A few minutes over a direct fire and, voila, done. For a Thanksgiving touch, I toss the stalks in a cider vinaigrette that I’ve used on salad. The sweet, tart apple is a lovely seasonal complement to the charred bitterness of the rabe.
No Thanksgiving table is complete without sweet potatoes. I like mine mashed. And sweet, spicy and smoked. I want all of that to be easy.
To achieve it, I boil the potatoes till just cooked through, then set them on the far side of an indirect grill for 20 minutes to smoke. I like to flavor them with maple syrup, but this year I tried something new: hickory syrup.
I had heard about a brand called Wildwood’s, made locally and sold online and at farmers markets. It is a little less sweet than maple, and what it lacks in maple’s distinctive dark character it makes up for in a pleasant woodsiness. It pairs naturally with smoked sweet potatoes. (And it’s pretty great on pancakes, too.)
To reduce dinnertime hassle, all three dishes can be made the day before and warmed through. But if you prefer to serve your foods immediately, none of these take much time or cause much trouble. And all of them add a little outdoorsy flavor to a holiday that, after all, began outdoors.
The best thing? The ease of these side dishes gives you time to do something else. Like watch a movie — say, DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
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