Let’s Talk Turkey

by Kelly Merrit

Turkey DinnerWith Thanksgiving right around the corner, every year cooks scramble to find a new way to make that old bird more enticing. Surprisingly some of the best advice comes from
neighbors who love that Thanksgiving feast. Life in Naples asked some of our town’s most prominent foodies – who cooks the turkey at your house and what is the secret to a
perfect bird?


“I cook the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, especially since my sister almost burnt the house down a couple of years ago (the one time I suggested she cook it!) I use my
paternal great-grandmother special covered blue pan which holds a 20-pound bird.

Before I cover the bird, I make my maternal grandmother’s roux which consists of a thick paste of butter, flour, salt, pepper and paprika, spreading it to cover the entire bird. Then I put bird in the covered pan in the oven at 500 degrees until it sizzles, which is about 20 minutes. Then I bake it at 400 degrees for 1 ¾ hours. I do not remove the lid. Once the bird is on the carving table, I take the roux off the bird, put it into the pan with the drippings, add water and wine and bring to a boil to make the gravy. It’s the perfect turkey, always!


I cook the turkey and my secret is a turkey bag. It makes cooking so much easier and provides a deliciously moist bird. It makes for easy clean-up also.


I keep it simple with just serving tender white meat, which stays juicy and there’s no fat or extras to cut off.


I used to smoke a turkey, and included apples and home grown oranges in stuffing the bird. Now my sister-in-law cooks one in Punta Gorda and arriving on time is the secret to a great Thanksgiving meal.


I don’t care for turkey so whichever family member invites us for Thanksgiving they cook it, and I bring a prime rib. My secret for a perfect turkey is not having to eat one. That way the turkey is happy and so am I.


After washing and completely cleaning the inside of my turkey, I dry it, put it in a cooking bag and fill it with a whole large bottle of E&J brandy, three tablespoons of dry
Italian seasoning, salt, pepper one chopped onion, several cloves of garlic and marinate it for 48 hours. On Thanksgiving day, I take it out of the bag, put it on a rack in the roasting pan and bring it to room temperature (about two hours). I turn the oven on at 400, rub the entire turkey with fresh lime and squeeze the juice all over, put salt and pepper on.

On the bottom of the roasting pan I put the onions and garlic from the bag, a little of the marinade, carrots, celery and green pepper. I reserve the rest of the marinade for basting. Next, the turkey cooks at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then at 300 for three hours. I keep basting throughout the cooking and add some butter for color. When I take it out, I cover the turkey with foil to rest for 20 minutes. It is really good.


The perfect turkey is always the one cooked by someone else.


I am the one who cooks our turkey. I always put a half a stick of butter in the cavity of the turkey and then I salt and pepper the entire turkey. Next I fill the roasting pan with a few inches of water. As the turkey is cooking at 350 degrees, I baste it every 30 to 40 minutes. The most important thing for me is not to overcook it. I never depend on the suggested cooking times and so I check it often. When the turkey starts to brown a little and the thigh area seems to be done, I take the turkey out of the oven and put in on a
platter and I let it cool for awhile before carving.


Cooking the turkey in my house, the ritual and aroma remind me of many wonderful family Thanksgivings. I use a fabulous brining recipe from Alton Brown that really does the trick by keeping the bird submersed overnight. It’s a no-fail method that makes the meat exceptionally tender and juicy!


I normally cook the turkey in our house while my wife Anita cooks everything else. I get out easy. The wonderful thing about living in Florida is I am allowed to let my redneck side come out. So I fry our turkey. I first take a rub and rub it underneath the skin. Next I mix the rub with Sprite and inject it into the meat of the bird. Then into the fryer it goes.


has a few suggestions of his own. He suggests home cooks brine the turkey for a little longer than average. “I use a honey and thyme base, which is nice and makes the brine more special,” he says. “I also recommend a light brine and slow cook, longer than average at the right temperature and it’s hard to go wrong because people love turkey.”

And for turkey lovers who don’t want to wrangle the bird, several places in town are hosting a turkey fest on their own. In fact, Chef Housman’s number one tip for getting a great turkey?

“Come and have dinner at Bistro 821 and I’ll cook the turkey for you.” Sounds good to us Chef.

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