Food & Drink

No-Fail Thanksgiving Turkey

Serves 8 (plus leftovers for sandwiches for during the football game)

Chef John Currence shares his tips for the perfect holiday bird

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Like most birds, turkeys are naturally lean, which is why many of us have experienced that most dreaded of Thanksgiving pitfalls—the dry bird. An overnight soak in a salt-and-water solution is an easy way to keep your turkey juicy. But needless to say, the New Orleans-raised John Currence punches up his tried-and-true brine with more than just salt.

*Among the many gifts of culinary ingenuity that south Louisiana Cajuns have gifted the rest of the world is the turkey marinade injector. This came along with the early 1980s movement of frying turkeys. The injection gives the turkey an extra blast of flavor and moisture. Kits with a typically fat-heavy, spicy liquid for this are widely available at most grocery stores and include a pint jar of marinade and a large hypodermic syringe. Fill the syringe with liquid and inject it throughout the muscles of the turkey before cooking, and you simply get a better bird. These days, I usually make my own injection. Olive oil, Tabasco, Pickapeppa sauce, molasses, and butter are all regular ingredients in my improvised marinades.


Chef John Currence’s Tips for Carving a Turkey

Carving the turkey gets way more of a bad rap than it deserves. Cutting up a bird is neither hard to understand nor hard to execute. I think it suffers a dark reputation due to the fact that most folks only face the chore once or twice a year. Given the understanding of a couple of basic things, carving up a bird could not, actually, be a much simpler task.

The nice thing about this lesson is that, once you understand these basic tenets, you will be able to carve everything from squab and grouse to turkey and emu, as their basic skeletal structure is the same. So here are the two basic things you need to know: 1) you always want to cut major muscle groups away from the bird, off the bone, working on a level board to cut; and 2) all birds have a vertical breastbone that separates the two breast halves and provides a guide for their easy and efficient removal.

So let’s imagine you have removed the bird from the oven. It’s on your great-grandmother’s Wedgwood serving platter and everyone has had a chance to admire your handiwork.

Set a small cutting board next to the turkey and proceed like this:

• Remove the bird to the cutting board.

• Orient the turkey so the “butt end” is facing you. Grasp the thigh quarter on whichever side you are most comfortable with and slowly pull it down toward the table. Pierce the skin in the area between the thigh and the body and make small slices to help pull the thigh away from the bird until the joint attaching the thigh to the carcass is exposed. Gently slice through this joint, cut the skin along the back of the bird, and transfer the thigh to the cutting board.

• Using your finger, locate the thin flexible bone down the center of the breast and run the knife along it on the same side as the thigh you just removed. Place the tongs in the incision and gently pull the breast away from the carcass, slicing slowly at the underside of the breast, tracing the tip of the knife along the rib cage around the side of the bird.  Follow the cut up around the neck portion of the bird and separate the breast from the carcass, so all that remains is the joint connection between the wing and the carcass. Gently slice through this joint and transfer the breast to the cutting board.

• Repeat with the thigh and breast on the opposite side.

• Separate the legs and thighs at the knuckle that joins them. Slice the meat away from the bone in chunks.

• Remove the wings from the upper portion of the breasts and slice the breasts into medallions across the grain of the meat, which runs head to toe.

• The real prize on the bird, however, still remains on the carcass. Flip the bird on its side, and where the thighbone connects to the carcass, along the back will be a large thumb-size piece of dark meat tucked away in its own little compartment. This is called the “oyster.” There is one on the opposite side as well, and these are the two most delicious bites of your bird.

• All that’s left to do is to throw the carcass in a pot with some vegetables and make turkey gumbo.

• Feel free to thank me later for making you look like a stud. Make checks payable to the “Buy John Currence’s Daughter a Pony Fund.”


  • Poultry Brine

    • 10 quarts very warm water

    • 3 1/2 cups salt

    • 4 cups Worcestershire sauce

    • 20 fresh sprigs thyme

    • 10 dried bay leaves

    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh sage

    • 1 cup Crystal hot sauce

    • 1/2 cup black peppercorns, toasted and roughly crushed

  • Turkey

    • 1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, preferably free-range

    • Extra-virgin olive oil, for rubbing the turkey

    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    • Super-Bonus Gravy (recipe below)

  • Super-Bonus Gravy

    • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

    • 1/4 cup turkey fat, from the top of the turkey drippings

    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

    • Remaining turkey drippings

    • 3 cups Dark Chicken Stock

    • 1/2 cup dry sherry

    • 1/4 tsp. Accent

    • 1 tsp. Kitchen Bouquet

    • Roasted giblets from the turkey pan, chopped


  1. For the brine:

    In a 5-gallon, food-grade bucket, combine the warm water and salt. Stir until it has completely dissolved. Stir in the Worcestershire, thyme, bay leaves, sage, hot sauce, and peppercorns and combine well. Let the brine cool before submerging the turkey.


  2. For the turkey:

    Remove the giblets from the turkey and reserve. Rinse the bird inside and out. Place it in the brine, making sure it is submerged. If needed, add more water until it is completely covered. You may need to weight the turkey down with a plate. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  4. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Place the bird in a large roasting dish and spread the giblets around it to roast for your gravy. If you choose to inject the turkey,* this is the ideal time to do it. (I use equal parts olive oil and melted butter with a little hot sauce and black pepper.) Rub the outside of the turkey with the oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and place the pan in the oven.

  5. Roast the turkey for 2½ hours. Remove the foil and sink a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and then the leg. The internal temperature should read about 165 degrees. Return the turkey to the oven, uncovered, to brown for an additional 20 minutes. With a sturdy pastry brush, baste the bird with its own juices every 5 minutes until golden brown. Make the gravy with the pan drippings and serve immediately.

  6. For the gravy:

    In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the butter, turkey fat, and flour until well combined and the roux begins to bubble. Whisk in the remaining drippings from the roasting pan, the stock, sherry, Accent, and Kitchen Bouquet and blend together well. Add the giblets, decrease the heat to low, and let simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened.

  7. Serve over the aforementioned turkey, if you can get it to the table without drinking it… or maybe that is just my problem.

Recipe and carving tips from Pickles, Pigs, & Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups (and then some) by John Currence/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC