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Turkey: Three Ways

three turkey recipes

Refresh your turkey skills.

Raise your hand if you think turkey is too dry. After decades of mom over-cooking the bird, it’s time we all stood up, once and for all, to declare a war on dry turkey. Thankfully, there are lots of talented local chefs who have carefully honed their own turkey recipes, year after year, creating juicy, tender birds that are always the perfect centerpiece to the big meal.

If you’re tired of the usual roasted and basted bird, here are three great takes from three different local chefs. Each offers a twist on their own professional-style thanksgiving turkey that you can take home to create for your family’s big meal.


Cork Chef Jim Smailer plates his honey roasted turkey

Chef Jim Smailer plates his bird.

Roasted Turkey with Pineapple and White Wine from Chef Jim Smailer at The Boulder Cork

Chef Jim Smailer has been showcasing his love of fresh ingredients and simply elegant creations at the Boulder Cork restaurant for more than 35 years. The popular Boulder restaurant, open since 1969, is best known for high-end cuts of meat like the Boulder Cut Prime Rib or the Rocky Mountain Natural Buffalo Flatiron Steak. However, when November rolls around, the restaurant turns its attention to the big bird, offering a very successful Thanksgiving Dinner that brings in eager families from all over the region.

“Thanksgiving is definitely the busiest day of the year,” said Smailer. “I take on Thanksgiving, not by myself of course, but I cook something like 35 to 40 turkeys for the day every year.” Of course it helps that the turkeys offered at the Boulder Cork don’t have very long to travel, “I use only local turkeys from Barber’s Poultry in Broomfield. I break down every single bird myself, starting on Tuesday of that week. Of course, the prep cooks help quite a lot, but you have to work fast because you’ve got a very perishable product.” And that speed helps Smailer and his staff create nearly 800 Thanksgiving dinners every year at the restaurant.

A big part of cooking and creating the perfect Thanksgiving feast is learning how to cook with what you have. At the Cork, Chef Smailer breaks each bird down, carving the meat very carefully, pulling the legs and thighs off to break them up by hand. “This is kind of a Neanderthal process, but it works. Then I add the fresh sage, poultry seasoning, butter, salt and pepper, and a little honey and all the veggies in the cavity.”

The secret to a truly tasty bird, according to Smailer? It’s all in the gravy. His recipe includes pineapple juice, white wine and honey to create a truly unique gravy that will keep every bite perfectly moist, even for those that traditionally don’t care for turkey meat. “It’s this gorgeous walnut brown color naturally, that’s one of the benefits of the pineapple and wine because it gives me this liquid and I don’t have to add any chicken stock to it for the gravy.”

Once you’re done roasting your bird, you might not have time to make that amazing gravy, however, so Chef Smailer recommends cooking a few chickens ahead of time to get the stock for the gravy early, that way you can spend more time with your family and less time in the kitchen. “Roast a couple of chickens, tear them apart and make some good roasted stock with lots of veggies and aromatics. Then start to make your gravy with that instead of relying on the turkey drippings on the big day.”

Another tip from Smailer is to serve the bird on a hot plate to help the final presentation. “Make sure the gravy is hot too, because you know that’s going to go on everything. Even if you make the gravy a day or two before, you can still ensure it’s good and hot for the full meal.”

Of course, you can always make reservations to have Chef Smailer and his team cook your Thanksgiving dinner for you instead, just be sure to make reservations early, as they tend to fill up fast. The best part about serving Thanksgiving dinner to so many people once a year, said Smailer, “It smells like Thanksgiving here for weeks.” 

Roasted turkey from Cork

Chef Jim Smailer’s Pineapple Honey Roasted Turkey

Adapted from Chef James Smailer (Measurements are approximate, depending on the size of your turkey)


  • One frozen turkey, thawed
  • 3-4 cups pineapple juice
  • 1-2 cups white wine
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • Fresh sage
  • Poultry seasoning
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Fresh thyme sprigs



  1. Place the turkey in a roasting pan, breast side up.
  2. In a bowl, combine the sage, poultry seasoning, butter, honey, salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the turkey with the sage and honey mixture.
  4. Place the carrots, celery and onion in the cavity of the turkey, spreading some thyme springs all around the pan and on the turkey itself.
  5. Pour the pineapple juice and white wine into the roasting pan. You want enough liquid to come up the pan about two inches.
  6. Roast at 325 degrees for approximately 13 minutes per pound until your thermometer reads about 170 degrees at the thickest part of the bird.
  7. Reserve the liquid in the pan for your own gravy recipe.


24 Carrot Honey Brined TurkeyHoney Brined Turkey from Chef Kevin Kidd at 24 Carrot Bistro

You’ve probably heard about brining before, but many home chefs haven’t taken the time to really learn what this unique process does. Brining is similar to marinating, in that you soak something for a while before cooking it. The difference here is that you soak the meat in salt and cold water, sometimes for days, before you roast it. What happens during the brining process is the salt ions actually attach to the cells of the meat, causing the cell to absorb more water via osmosis. Or, as Head Chef Kevin Kidd at 24 Carrot Bistro in Erie offers, “It makes the best turkey you’ve ever had.”

24 Carrot Bistro is dedicated to farm to table, fresh, seasonal ingredients and this new Erie hot spot is known for small plates with incredible recipes like Crispy Duck Confit and Pork Belly Mac and Cheese, or larger options like Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Grilled Grass-Fed Teres Steak. With so many great options on the menu, it’s no wonder that Head Chef Kevin Kidd knows a thing or two about cooking a tasty turkey. “I’ve worked at restaurants that were open on Thanksgiving for years, so it’s one of the things I do pretty well,” he said.

For Kidd, it all starts with breaking the bird down properly ahead of time. Whether you’re cooking more than one turkey for a big party or you just want slightly less cooking time, his technique works well and can translate easily for the home chef. “You just take the backbone out and break the breastbone in half. Then it can lay flat and you can put more than one turkey in the oven at a time. It also cuts the cooking time in half.”

Before you break down the bird, Chef Kidd recommends starting a few days before with a great brine. “If you’ve ever had that really dry turkey, the kind you just have to douse in gravy to eat, then this will make it so much juicer. I brine all my turkeys. I do it to all my chickens, turkey, pork. Really anything that you consider white meat.”

It’s that brine that really makes this turkey recipe stand out. “When you roast at high temperatures — like when you get your turkey to 160 or 165 degrees — the sugar in the brine will act as a barb in the meat itself, attaching the seasoning — or the salt, in this case — to the meat. It keeps the whole thing juicier while seasoning it at the same time. Plus, instead of keeping all that seasoning to just the top layer of the meat, it seasons it all the way through, so it’s the best turkey you’ve ever had. It’s juicy and delicious.”

Chef Kidd cooks his turkey upside down, roasting it breast side down so the juices drip into the breast meat, to prevent serving dry breast meat with moist dark meat. “I’ve been doing it this way for probably 20 years now, and people always tell me it’s the best turkey they ever had.”

One final tip from Chef Kidd as you prepare a Thanksgiving Feast: “Over estimate. I always like having leftovers. Go big.”

Chef Kevin Kidd’s Turkey Brine


  • 3 parts salt
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 part honey
  • 2 tbsp. allspice
  • 2 tbsp. clove
  • Water
  • Ice


  1. Bring the salt, sugar and honey to a boil.
  2. Add the allspice and clove and simmer until the salt and sugar both dissolve.
  3. Mix ice and water (equal parts) and add the mixture until it all comes to room temperature.
  4. Dump the whole turkey into a large bowl or pot with all the liquid.
  5. You’ll need enough liquid to completely submerge the turkey.
  6. Keep in the refrigerator for one to two days prior to roasting.

Chef Jimmy Giesler at The Post BrewingChef Jimmy Giesler at The Post Brewing.

Spicy Fried Turkey from Chef Jimmy Giesler at The Post Brewing

When it comes to Thanksgiving, there’s nothing worse than biting into a big fork-full of dry-as-a-bone turkey. Sure, you can heap on spoonful after spoonful of gravy, but when the turkey is super dry, there’s very little you can do to save it. If you want that juicy bird plus you want to really impress your Thanksgiving guests, then pull out the oil. It’s time to fry.

“As far as cooking at home goes, (this recipe is) probably the most dangerous,” said Chef Jimmy Giesler of The Post Brewing Company in Lafayette. “But we’re a fried chicken restaurant.”

Giesler’s offering helps take the mystery out of the famed fried turkey. “I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, and we grew up with a more casual sort of Thanksgiving setting. And last Thanksgiving, after I’d been at (The Post) for about 10 months, I decided to try pressure-frying a turkey.” The result was a full-sized, tasty, tender bird cooked in less than an hour.

There are a few things to remember should you decided to stock up on oil and try your hand at fried turkey. “You have to remember how much oil the turkey is going to displace when you put it in,” Giesler cautioned. It’s better to underestimate the amount of oil you’ll need. Besides, even vegetable oil on this scale can get pricey. It also helps that you don’t need to set your deep-fryer at ridiculous temperatures to accomplish the job either. Giesler recommends a relatively low temperature of about 300 degrees. “You don’t want your oil raging hot, which is also something that can cause a fire.”

While the Post uses a pressure fryer, most kitchen supply stores sell a safe at-home fryer kit. “You want to use a legitimate turkey fryer. They’re made to do one thing and they do it well.”

Frying a bird in the yard can become a bit of an attraction, or curiosity. And once the turkey’s skin starts to fry, it stops absorbing the oil. Invite friends and neighbors over to fry their own turkeys. Even if it’s just a small one for leftovers.

We didn’t tap a chef to tell us about frying, though. We wanted some of the spice that makes the Post’s chicken such a draw. Frying newbies and veterans alike can follow Chef Giesler’s tasty recipe, complete with a well-seasoned brine, to get plenty of flavor into each bite before you the fry begins. At home, a 15-to-18-pound turkey should fry in about 40 minutes, and it will come out with an amazingly crispy skin that’s unlike any roasted bird you’ve ever had.

fried turkey recipe

Spicy Fried Turkey from the Post’s Chef Jimmy Giesler.

Chef Jimmy Giesler’s Fried Turkey with Seasoned Brine

  • 8 quarts water
  • 1 lb. 4 ounces salt
  • 1 lb. 4 ounces brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cayenne
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 5–6 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • A handful of fresh sage
  • A handful of fresh thyme
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 5 lb. ice
  • 4 gallons peanut or canola oil
  • One 14-16 lb. turkey

For the brine:

  1. Bring water, salt, brown sugar, cayenne, chili powder and bay leaves to a simmer until the sugar and salt dissolve.
  2. Remove from heat and add fresh herbs and ice to cool the liquid down.
  3. Gently lower the turkey into the brine and let sit, refrigerated for 12–18 hours.
  4. Remove from brine and pat dry with paper towels.

For the turkey:

  1. Prepare your turkey fryer per the manufacturer’s directions.
  2. Heat your oil to 250 degrees.
  3. Add your favorite Cajun seasoning to your bird (optional).
  4. Gently lower the turkey into the oil, be sure to follow the turkey fryer instructions.
  5. Once submerged, slowly raise the temperature to 325 degrees, which will prevent a violent eruption of oil and is essential in safe turkey frying.
  6. After 30 minutes check the temperature of the breast meat with a probe thermometer.
  7. Turkey is done when it reaches about 155 degrees.
  8. Remove from oil and let rest until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Fried turkey on gravy.

Fried turkey on red eyed gravy.

Double Red-Eye Gravy
A fried turkey doesn’t give you all those yummy pan drippings to make gravy, so you’ll need a great gravy recipe you can make without pan drippings. This recipe comes from Chef Jimmy Giesler and it’s the perfect gravy to smother your fried bird, potatoes and everything else on your Thanksgiving table. “The extra addition of beer makes this Double Red-Eye Gravy. Although a little heavy, this is a fun and delicious gravy that goes great with turkey.”


  • Three 4-oz. links of Spicy Andouille sausage, taken out of casings
  • 1/4 lb. butter
  • 1 cup onion, small diced
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 quarts milk
  • 3/4 cup coffee
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup Elkhorn Lager (or other malty beer)
  • 3/4 tsp. cayenne


  1. Heat a large sauce pot.
  2. Break up the sausage into small pieces and add to the hot pot, render until sausage is slightly browned.
  3. Add butter and onions. Sweat onions until they are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Stir in flour to make a roux.
  5. Add milk, coffee, beer, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne.
  6. Bring to a simmer until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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