Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for 90,000 People: Inside the Kitchens of the Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium
At 4:30 on Thursday millions of Americans will finish off the last of an early Thanksgiving dinner, pull up a chair, crack open a beer and relax as they watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Carolina Panthers at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. But for Orazio LaManna the day is just about to get crazy. LaManna is the regional executive chef for Legends, the company that makes all the food at AT&T Stadium and for him, Thanksgiving means figuring out how to feed a population the size of Santa Barbara, California (though the capacity of the stadium is listed as 80,000, LaManna says a sellout crowd brings in more than that).
Despite the massive scale on which LaManna and his team cook, the preparation is surprisingly similar to what’s about to go on in your kitchen tomorrow. “We don’t take shortcuts” LaManna said, “We cook fresh and use local ingredients as much as possible. We’re also able to cook a la minute because there are so many kitchens.” 12 kitchens to be exact—full of people peeling, chopping, mashing and brining. And when LaManna says he tries to use local ingredients he means very local. He partnered with nearby Paul Quinn College, which cut its own football team in 2013 and transformed the former football field into a working farm. That means much of LaManna’s produce comes from just 25 miles away from the stadium.
There was a time when eating at a professional sporting event meant limp hot dogs and paper-thin burgers. But thankfully, those days, like the uncomfortable cadence of the Super Bowl Shuffle, have been relegated to the dustbin of football history.
For a typical Sunday game the AT&T Stadium team starts smoking 4000 pounds of brisket on Friday along with a ton (LaManna insisted this was not a figure of speech—he meant an actual ton) of mac and cheese beginning with basic building blocks like a shallot-white wine reduction. Along with Texas barbecue basics like that the team cures truckloads of charcuterie in-house, makes fresh waffles for chicken and waffle sandwiches and hand-stuffs and wraps thousands of hot dogs with jalapeños and bacon.
Thanksgiving presents its own set of challenges though. “It’s such an important day,” says LaManna, “and so many fans choose to spend it here and share their family time with us.” And so he focuses on ensuring that, even sitting elbow to elbow with thousands of screaming people in Dez Bryant jerseys, every Cowboys fan can experience the traditions associated with the day. To that end almost 2000 people are currently getting ready to roast hundreds of whole turkeys, which they’ll be carving up along with the rest of the Thanksgiving staples, green bean casserole, praline sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and the rest. “Our goal is always to make people feel like they’re at home,” says LaManna. Pigging out on meticulously prepared food in front of a big game? Sounds like home to us. Although their TV is a little bigger.
Check out the full breakdown of what goes into Thanksgiving at the stadium below:
9200 Pounds of turkey
3200 Pounds of ham
1800 Pounds of Yukon gold potatoes
3800 Pounds of cornbread for country cornbread dressing
4500 Pounds of broccoli, rice and cheese casserole
2700 Pounds of green bean, mushroom casserole with crispy onions
1200 Pounds of sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows
5100 Pounds of mac and cheese
180 Gallons of cranberry sauce
420 Gallons of gravy
140 Gallons of heavy cream for whipped cream to top desserts