The Turkey Diaries: The best Thanksgiving turkey method (ever)

Every year since entering culinary school, I am in charge of the turkey.  It’s not an option, but a requirement.  Whether it’s a small gathering at my mother’s house, or a group of twenty bachelors and bachelorettes in a North Beach apartment in San Francisco, I have been pushing my turkey recipe closer and closer to perfection every year.


Much like a gardener keeps records about their summer gardening exploits, I’ve recently started a turkey diary.  Instead of notes about nitrogen content, fertilizer applications, rain measurements and disease remedies, my diary includes a chronology of my turkey successes and failures. The goal is that every year, this documentary of strategies will hone my turkey preparing, roasting and carving skills into a foolproof recipe for Thanksgiving deliciousness. Butter cubes. Like a turkey checkers board.

For example, my mother’s oven runs hot, so I need to remember that when we cook at her house.  Last year in Durango, I coated cubes of butter in herbs and balanced them on top of the turkey.  It was clever, but the herbs browned a little too much.  The year before, we drove from Durango to Denver and put the turkey in the brine in a five gallon bucket, snapped on a cap and tied it up in the back of the truck.  Not only hilarious, but it stayed cold outside and didn’t spill.  The year before that, I didn’t test my thermometer and it was broken, so when we discovered that “it’s been in for an hour and it can’t possibly be negative 40 degrees” we had to bust out a back up real fast. This year, I’m using quite literally the best butter on the planet, pastured Amish butter, and homegrown herbs.

I will now share with you the fruits of my labor, the result of years of turkey diaries leading to the penultimate turkey recipe:

Chris Fuller’s Thanksgiving Turkey, bitches.

Brine recipe:

-1 cup of salt and 1 cup of sugar to every gallon of water.  Usually it takes about 3 gallons of water to cover the turkey.  So, heat up just one gallon, dissolve the 3 cups of sugar and 3 cups of salt, and add 1/4 cup of whole peppercorns, 2 TBS of cloves, and 3 bay leaves.  Then remove from the heat and add it to the other 2 cold gallons of water in a cooler or large tupperware.  Then, wait until it is completely cooled to add the turkey.  Brine for 24 hours.

Why brine?  There is a lot of debate as to whether brining works.  In my opinion, yes, it does.  The cells in the turkey want to equalize the salinity with its surroundings, so the cells share liquid back and forth until equilibrium is met.  As the brine flows in and out of the muscle cells, it is carrying the flavors in the brine and moisture into the meat.  Yes, this does put salt into the meat, but if you are following the accurate brine recipe, it will never be too much or too salty.

Turkey recipe:

-fresh thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley

-salt and pepper

-butter.  a whole pound.

-3 medium yellow onions

-1 lb. celery,  1lb. carrots, and 2 heads of garlic

-chicken stock

-olive oil

In advance, let the butter come to room temperature and mix in 1/4 cup each of chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage.  Set aside.

Prep the turkey:  Bust out the turkey, remove the giblets and set aside, rinse the turkey inside and out, and pat it dry.  Carefully remove the skin from the breast by sticking your fingers or a wooden spoon underneath the skin.  Take your herb butter and put it into a piping bag, and squeeze a healthy heap of butter under the skin of the breast, making sure to start at the back to get the butter as far back as possible.  Take the last few bits of butter and squeeze it onto the legs/drumsticks.  Rub the outside of the skin with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Quarter the onions, chop the garlic heads in half, and chop the celery and carrots into large pieces.  Stuff the cavity with equal parts of each vegetable, as well as a handful of fresh parsley.  Put the rest in the bottom of your roasting pan to make a nice bed.  Pour in a pint of chicken stock to the bottom of the pan.

I use the two-temperature method for a juicy turkey.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  You will place the turkey into the oven, uncovered, for a half hour.  This will start to melt the butter and fry the skin so that it makes a crispy protective bathrobe for the turkey.  After a half hour, DO NOT open the oven door, just turn the heat down to 350 degrees.  Cook for 15 minutes for each lb, but please remember that if your oven runs hot, to adjust your cooking time.

No need to cover the turkey (your crispy skin is doing that) and no need to cook it breast side down.  I mean really?  Breast side down?  Like cooking it upside down is going to somehow magically keep juices inside?  If a breast wants to get overcooked, it will do it right-side up or up-side down.

Take the temperature in the thigh at the end of your cooking time.  The dark meat should be 170-175 degrees.  Remove the turkey, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.  During this time, the turkey will continue to cook and should rise above 180 degrees. While it rests, sear your giblets and make your gravy with a few pan juices and some more chicken stock.  Voila.  Dinner is served.