Cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey

November 16, 2008 7:10:07 AM PST
It is the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal, so you'll want to get it just right. Joining us with tips for making that perfectly juicy turkey is Pete Daversa, pitmaster at Hill County BBQ in Midtown. For more information on the restaurant, visit More on Pete Daversa (Pitmaster and Executive Sous Chef) - Pete Daversa grew up in Niantic, Connecticut - a small town on the southeastern shoreline. His fascination with food and the culinary world began as a kid growing up around his mother's cooking and with his first job at King Neptune's Fish Market. As time went on, he developed a personal passion for barbecue, spending his free time smoking ribs and brisket for family and friends any chance he could get. After a decade of working in the IT industry, Pete decided to switch gears and pursue his culinary dream. He met his future wife, who is a native New Yorker, moved to the city and graduated from the Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education. He honed that love of barbecue for the next two years at Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke. Pete joined the Hill Country team in June 2007, shortly after the restaurant's opening. He was quickly promoted to his current role of Pitmaster/Executive Sous Chef and is thrilled to be sharing in the successes of the award-winning Hill Country and living his barbecue dream. Pete and his wife, Kristin, live in Hoboken with Marley, their yellow Labrador Retriever. Recipes:



  • 1 14-16lb whole fresh turkey


  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns
  • 2 gallons water

    Place all above ingredients together in a large Cambro or mixing bowl. Stir vigorously until salt and brown sugar are completely dissolved

    Dry rub for turkey:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup course ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper

    Mix all the above ingredients together.


  • Place turkey into brining solution. Soak for 24hrs.

  • Remove any pop up timer devices, wash in cold water and pat completely dry.

  • Spread the dry rub over the entire bird.

  • Prepare your smoker. You will want to build a fire to hold a steady temperature right around 225 degrees F. Since most smokers start hot and cool down as the fire settles into a good smoke that you plan on putting the turkey in at about 250 and let the smoker drop down to the cooking temperature.

    If you are using a gas or charcoal grill you will be using the "indirect grilling method". Indirect grilling involves setting up the grill so that the heat source is on one side of the grill and the turkey or meat of your choice is on the cold side.

  • Put the turkey in the smoker breast side up. You can use a roasting pan or heavy foil to help reduce any mess or just set it on the rack.

  • Calculating 30 minutes per pound at about 225 degrees F, determine the approximate time that the turkey could be ready at the earliest. This is when you want to start testing for doneness. Use a good meat thermometer to test the internal temperature turkey in two different places, leaving the thermometer in long enough to get a good reading. Remember; don't test too close to the bone. When you have two reading about 160 degrees F. then you can take the turkey out.

    Remember low and slow is the key to a juicy bird. You must be patient. Trying to rush the turkey will only result in a dry flavorless bird.

  • Let the turkey rest for about 15 minutes and carve. Giving the turkey a rest will allow the meat to relax, the juices to flow and the temperature to come up a little and even out. This is one of the secrets to a great bird. Don't rush to carve or your turkey will be dry.



  • 8 cups frozen white shoepeg corn, thawed, par-cooked and divided (see below)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup freeze-dried chopped chives
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 2 cups finely shredded reduced fat (skim-milk) cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Par cook and drain 8 cups (or 32 ounces) of frozen corn. Reserve 2 cups and place the remaining 6 cups in a large food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree the 6 cups of the white corn. Add the cream, process until smooth and add the eggs, process again until completely combined. Mix sugar, sea salt, white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Add spices to corn and cream mixture and process until combined. Add chives and process again until completely mixed and smooth. Set aside.

  • Meanwhile, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan. When butter begins to bubble, add shallots, sauté until they are just beginning to brown and they are translucent. Add reserved corn to saute pan and heat through. Mix the corn and the shallots together. Pour the cream and corn puree in a large bowl. Add the warm corn and shallots and mix well. Stir in the cheese and mix well.

  • Pour into buttered 9x13x2 baking dish set into a sheet pan filled with water (water bath). Bake for 1hour or until set and slightly golden on top.

  • Serve hot or warm.

  • Serves 14-16



  • 1 frozen, deep-dish pie crust, thawed for 15 minutes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Pince of sea salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce, such as Dulce de Leche, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 pounds Granny Smith or other tart apple (each cored, peeled and cut into eight wedges)
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup butter, cut into pieces


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • Mix cinnamon, flour, brown sugar and salt in bowl. Work in butter with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

  • Prick bottom and sides of crust with fork. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Immediately brush bottom and sides of hot crust with light coating of egg white. Let cool.

  • Reset oven to 425 degrees.

  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine granulated sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Toss in apples and lemon juice. Transfer apples to a deep hotel pan. Dot all over with butter pieces and bake in a 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. This will partially cook the apples so they are more tender in the pie. The apples can be cooked up to a day in advance.

  • Just before baking, spoon half the caramel sauce in the bottom of the crust and up the sides. Spoon filling into crust. Drizzle all over the top with the remaining caramel sauce. Sprinkle streusel topping over filling.

  • Bake 15-20 minutes or until topping is golden. Cool on wire rack. Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.



  • 1 32-ounce package of Pepperidge Farm herb-seasoned stuffing (blue bag)
  • 4 liter pitcher plus 1-quart stale Texas Toast, crumbled (about 2.5 loaves)
  • 24 ounces of pound bulk sage pork breakfast sausage
  • 3 pounds Kreuz sausage, removed from casing
  • 2 cups white wine
  • Olive oil or butter for sauteing about 1/2 cup
  • 3 bunches celery with leaves and tops, chopped
  • 3 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 stick butter, melted or 1 cup of fat from chicken stock
  • 4 cups of homemade stock
  • 1 tablespoon salt (pepper is in the sausage)


  • Mix package of stuffing mix and fresh bread crumbs and set aside, tossing occasionally so all crumbs dry out.

  • Meanwhile, cook pork sausages in a skillet until completely cooked through and add Kreuz sausage. Mix well in pan until Kreuz is heated through and remove to a small hotel pan until ready to combine dressing/stuffing.

  • De-glaze pan with wine. Add a butter or olive oil to the same pan, let it melt and heat up before adding vegetables. Saute celery and onions until soft and onions begin to caramelize.

  • Mix vegetables, sausage and melted butter or chicken fat together. Add in with the bread crumbs until well combined. Moisten with chicken broth until stuffing holds together but is not too wet.

  • Place in a buttered casserole dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until top is browned. Serve immediately. If the dressing seems dry, drizzle top with stock before baking.

    (Alternately, you can stuff the turkey just before cooking, but this will make it stuffing. "Dressing" is the preferred lingo in the south and it is always on the side.)

  • Yield: 4 disposable half hotel pans.

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