Scott Leysath Talks Turkey

scott leysath

Breaking Tradition

Scott Leysath, host The Sporting Chef

Better known as The Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath is a leading authority on the proper preparation of fish and game. He is the author of two “The Sporting Chef’s Wild Game Recipes” cookbooks. He is also the cooking editor of the Ducks Unlimited Magazine and writes for a number of other publications like California Waterfowl Magazine, South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s Waterfowl and Wetlands and Cooking Wild Magazine.

Chef Leysath spent four years on HGTV’s “Home Grown Cooking with Paul James”, hosted “Hunt Fish Cook” and the Sportsman Channel’s “Dead Meat” , and currently ‘The Sporting Chef

The 3rd season of ‘The Sporting Chef’ will air in January 2015 on Sportsman Channel, available locally on Comcast 405, Dish 285 and 395, and Direct TV 605.

Scott has been a Folsom resident for 14 years.

I asked him for his favorite turkey recipe, along with favorite thanksgiving sides. Check out what he came up with:

What I’m about to tell you might not make much sense. Stay with me. My goal is for you to enjoy the best-tasting Thanksgiving turkey ever. As a matter of fact, the method I use to ensure that my holiday turkey is almost fall-off-the-bone delicious is the same one I use for just about any light-skinned bird, wild or domestic.

Basting Won’t Help…Really (unless you’re going for crispy skin)

Traditionally, even though the breast cooks quicker than the thighs, turkeys are cooked breast side up so that the lighter meat is dry and overcooked before the darker meat is done. Oh sure, you can baste ‘till the cows come home, but all that will do is to make the skin crispier. The basting ritual doesn’t help make the breast meat juicy. Watch as the basting liquid runs down the skin and into the bottom of the roasting pan where the back of the bird bathes in a hot tub of flavor. How about cooking a turkey with the breast side down?

Upside Down

Cut a couple of onions into wedges. Chop up some celery and carrots. Place the trussed turkey in a well-greased pan, breast side down, and use the onion wedges, carrots and celery as chock blocks to keep it from pitching to one side or the other. This will also add flavor to the pan drippings. Once your turkey is nestled comfortably in the pan, place into a preheated 350 degree oven, uncovered, for 2 – 3 hours, depending on the size of the bird. Let your meat thermometer, not the clock, determine how long the bird will cook. After an hour or so, add about 1/2 inch of chicken broth to the pan, cover with foil and return to the oven. Check the temperature at the thigh in about an hour or so. When it is reaches 165 degrees, the really important part happens. Wait, 165 degrees? Notoriously inaccurate domestic turkey pop-up timers do their thing at 185 degrees. You’re gonna kill somebody! We’re not done.

Cooler Magic

Place the turkey, again breast side down, into the smallest clean cooler in which it will fit. If you have to squeeze it in a little, that’s OK. Minimal air space is the key. If the cooler is a tad too large, place foil over the bird and a clean towel or two over the foil as an insulator. Pour a cup or so of hot pan drippings over the bird, close the lid and forget about it for two hours. Go ahead and re-read the last sentence. Two hours.

Our instincts tell us that the formerly hot turkey will cool down as it sits in a cooler for two solid hours. Not so, as long as the air space is minimized and nobody opens the lid to make sure it is still hot. Think of the cooler as Pandora’s box. Open the lid and bad things will happen. Assuming that you resisted temptation, the turkey will not just be warm. It will be screaming hot. When you do open the lid, a cloud of aromatic steam will fill the air. Take care as you remove the turkey by the legs. They may come off in your hands. While resting comfortably in the cooler, the turkey will steam in its own juices. The cooked, porous meat will absorb the liquid and the lighter meat will be moist and super-tender.

Moist Meat or Crispy Skin?

The only downside to this method of fool-proof tender turkey is that the skin will not be crisp. If you must, place the bird on its back and roast in a preheated 500 degree oven for 20 minutes or so to crisp up the skin. I’m willing to sacrifice crispy skin for better tasting meat, light or dark.

But First…

When time allows, I brine all domestic turkeys and chickens to replace blood with a mildly salty brine. It’s been my experience that brine tastes better than any animal blood. Combine one gallon water with 1 cup each kosher salt and brown sugar. You will have to heat some of the water in a pan and stir in the salt to dissolve it. If all that is on hand is table salt, reduce it to 3/4 cup or your brine will be oversalted. Soak your turkey in the brine, refrigerated, for 12 to 24 hours. Rinse, pat dry, season and roast, grill or fry.


If you must stuff your birds, do so during the last 30 minutes of cooking. A stuffed bird requires oven heat to get past the stuffing to cook the inside of the breast. It encourages overcooking. Placing a few fresh herb sprigs, a slice of onion and a little garlic will help season the drippings, but I’m not convinced that it adds too much flavor to the cooked bird.

It doesn’t matter how you cook your Thanksgiving turkey. Whether it is smoked, fried, grilled or roasted, placing the brined and cooked bird in a cooler for a couple of hours will result in a more moist, flavorful and delicious bird than if you go from the oven , grill or fryer to the table after a brief resting period while you finish up the sweet potatoes and green bean casserole.

Favorite side? Roasted Winter Squash

Winter squash have just the right amount of natural sweetness and earthy, savory flavors. I like to peel an assortment of squash like acorn and butternut and simply roast them along with a few other vegetables. Peeling hard-skinned winter squash requires a little time and a sharp, sturdy knife.

8 servings

2 acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1 to 2-inch chunks
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 to 2-inch chunks
4 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Place uncovered in a well-oiled roasting pan.

3. Roast for 35 – 40 minutes, turning contents a few times to brown evenly.

4. Remove from oven and transfer roasted vegetables to a serving platter or bowl. While pan is still hot, add wine and scrape pan to remove bits. Drizzle contents of pan over roasted vegetables.

Favorite Wine
I’m partial to Michael-David wines from Lodi. My go-to wine pairing with a holiday turkey is their
6th Sense Syrah

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