Jerome Brooks has been married for 29 years. For the first 10 years of marriage, his wife would do all the cooking; he would “grill.”
But, in 1999, when he left his job and started working for himself, his days sometimes ended early. He’d soon be responsible for taking care of his two daughters after they got out of school, and also cooking supper for the family (wife, Alicia, is a lawyer). “When she got home,” he said, “the food was ready.”
In the beginning, he’d do “basic stuff” – stuff like spaghetti, fried chicken, beef, cube steaks and Gumbo – basic family food that he’d grown up with in Louisiana. “I had a pretty good sense of taste,” said Jerome.
After a while, he bought a Kitchen Aid mixer. His wife told him straight-out that she wasn’t going to use it herself. His answer? “I guess I’ve got to learn how to cook a cake!” And voila – out came his special pound cake with five flavors.
All along, he continued cooking his very special turkeys – both deep fried and smoked - a tradition that began during the holidays with family and friends and extended to his work. Also, his church (Mt. Moriah) came calling.
“My turkey (cooking) started when deep-frying turkeys (became popular),” said Jerome. He soon learned that aluminum didn’t crisp his turkeys the way that stainless steel pots did. He also purchased a (regular) two-bird electric smoker. “What made me fall for the frying – I love the crispy taste,” he said. “I love it for the taste and it’s crispy. When you do it in aluminum, sometimes it’s not as crisp.”
In truth, after tasting this new type of cooked turkey, he never went back. “When I first tried a fried turkey, I didn’t want another baked turkey,” he said. Apparently, neither did his friends, family, fellow parishioners, and co-workers. So began the experimenting.
“I started off with one flavor and found another one that was better,” he said. He found the magic taste with “certain seasonings, liquid, apple and hickory wood.” He says his turkeys are like a Cajun turkey – “with Cajun seasoning, so it’s got a nice little spice to it.”
While he cooked turkeys up to 10 hours, he found the timing was too long; he settled on five hours of cook time. Instead of basting his liquids and seasonings on the outside of the bird, he decided to inject the mixture. “All of those juices are trapped inside. People are amazed at how good they are,” said Jerome. “Each year, I’m always learning something.”
He originally used peanut oil but found Canola oil as an alternative for those people with peanut allergies.
As time went on, demand for his cooked turkeys continued to soar. So much so that he’d need to start cooking Thanksgiving turkeys a few days in advance, especially if his family was traveling for the holidays. “A couple of years in a row, I did 15, 16 turkeys,” he said, noting that he wanted to give them their cooked turkeys closer to the holiday. “I wanted people to have fresh turkey on Thanksgiving.” Last year, he cooked eight a few days before Thanksgiving and ended up staying up way past midnight.
Then, as things started snowballing, his wife put her foot down. “My wife said ‘wait a minute.” When this went into (our) dinnertime, she said, ‘you’re gonna have to say no.’ More people want me to do them than I have time to do. That’s how I was running into my dinnertime,” he said.
Jerome attributes his popular turkeys to much trial and error and a great cooking technique: the key, he says, is how you drop the bird into the fryer – SLOWLY – so that the oil cannot bubble up and cause a fire.
But, then, four years ago, he ate lamb at a friend’s house and didn’t like the strong meat-taste. He said, “I’m gonna come up with a recipe that I like!” and his special lamb dish was born. “It’s not just turkey (now) - my thing is now lamb,” he said, noting that he cooked his signature dish for a Valentine’s Day party this year and also cooks it regularly for his pastor.
In the future, he plans to get a “J Bones” food truck and cook his signature lamb and turkey, in addition to ribs and chicken. “There’s a lot of other stuff I’d like to do,” he said. “But, I’ll start off slowly.”