Eat, Drink, Savor: Cooking a turkey the Paicines Ranch way

Executive Chef Carlos Canada shares his technique with BenitoLink.

If you have ever agonized Over preparing the Thanksgiving turkey, chef Carlos Cañada has come to your rescue with his recipe and tips on roasting a perfectly moist and delicious golden brown bird. And his secret? Brining, basting, and lots and lots of butter.

Canada has been working as a chef for 33 years, including five years as the executive chef at Twitch headquarters in San Francisco. He has been the executive chef at Paicines Ranch since May 2021 and has served up quite a few of their pasture-raised turkeys.

“There is a difference between grass-fed or pastured meat versus conventional turkeys,” he said. “Conventional turkeys have so much fat, and the pastured ones are more muscley and sturdy. The flavor is better, but they want a little butter added to enhance it.”

According to Mary Rowan, who supervises the pastured meats at Paicines Ranch, raising the turkeys naturally is the key to the quality.

“Our livestock manager, Martha Skelley, compares how the meat flavors are akin to eating terroir wines because we raise the animals in a nutrient-rich environment—we really focus on planting crops everywhere, so there is a lot of diversity in what they are . The turkeys are not completely confined, and we move them from pasture to pasture, so they spend a lot of their days just grazing.

This approach to a more natural way of raising animals extends to all of the livestock Paicines Ranch raises, which includes sheep, cattle, chickens and pigs.

“We integrate the whole system in a way that will mimic Mother Nature,” she said. “Everything we do here is about building healthy soil and practicing regenerative agriculture. We treat animals well because we need to respect what we consume. And to treat the land the way the land needs to be treated, we need animals in that model.”

The ranch produced 100 turkeys in its first grown year of production, and four years later, the number has to 300. The turkeys can be ordered online, and there will be a pickup event at the ranch featuring Eden Rift Winery on Nov. 19.

Cañada prepared and roasted an eight-pound turkey to illustrate his simple approach to the dish. It took about an hour and a half to bake, leaving him time to make his side dishes and gravy as the turkey rested. From start to finish, the process took about two and a half hours of cooking time, with fairly simple preparation.

Brining and basting to ensure tender and juicy turkey can be applied to grilling it as well, first spatchcocking or butterflying the bird. Cañada warns against deep fat frying a turkey, though, unless you really know what you are doing.

“If you are adventurous, you could go ahead and try it,” he said. “Have a fire extinguisher ready, and don’t do it anywhere near a building or wires or near anything that might set the oil on fire if it spills. Cooking a turkey this way will not make the flavor better or worse, just a little different. And I would rather cook it safely, in the kitchen.”

And the turkey, as cooked in the Paicines Ranch kitchen by Cañada is amazingly moist, tender, and juicy. And, he said, it all comes down to a couple of simple principles.

“When you cook, always cook with love, he said. “And baste. Just keep basting.”

Steps to roast a turkey:

Brining – Cañada likes to brine all of his turkeys in a solution prepared a day before the meal is to be cooked. Salt, lemon skin, bay leaves, garlic, cloves and other ingredients are added to four quarts of boiling water which is then cooled down before use. “We brine smaller turkeys for only about four hours,” he said. “If you brine them any longer than that, the water and salt will make your turkey tough.” Larger turkeys, Cañada said, can be brined overnight. After brining, the turkey is drained and patted dry.

Racking the turkey – “I like to roast the turkey in a pan with a rack,” he said. “I want to separate the meat from the fat and catch all the drippings, which I will use in the gravy. And I always use a ton of garlic, carrots, onions, and any fruit I can find, like apples or pears—quince works really well. They get cooked in there, and the caramelization makes your turkey and gravy taste a lot better.” Heat the oven to 350°, Cañada then scatters the fruit and vegetables around the turkey. He will often stuff it with lemons, garlic, and onions rather than breading, making his stuffing separately. After the turkey has roasted, the caramelized vegetables can either be served as a garnish or saved for making stock.

Seasoning the turkey – Cañada covers the bird with paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and olive oil, then rubs into the skin. He does not add salt, saying enough remains from the brining process. Before placing it in the oven, he covers it with a half dozen large pieces of soft butter. “I want to infuse the turkey with a lot of flavor,” he said. “And that means using a lot of butter. I put it on the turkey and also under the skin, which helps make it get really crispy. It really does wonders for the turkey.”

Roasting the turkey – The eight-pound turkey that Cañada roasted for this article took about an hour and a half to cook. He took the turkey out of the oven after the first 30 minutes to baste it using the juices gathered at the bottom of the pan, then basted it again about every 15 minutes over the 90 minutes the turkey took to cook. “There will be juices there the first time I baste it,” he said. “That is why I put in so much butter. You can pour the juices over it, but I recommend using a basting mop, which is a good tool to have in the kitchen.”

Testing the temperature – “I highly recommend buying a meat thermometer from Williams-Sonoma or a kitchen supply store and make sure you hit 165 degrees,” Cañada said. “It is best to go over, so the turkey I prepared for you is at 185 degrees. That way, you know you’re 100% safe, and there’s no question about it. The best place to find the temperature is right underneath the leg and thigh. Aim for the bone, then pull it back a little bit.”

Resting the turkey – “Take the turkey out two hours before serving it,” Cañada said. “Cover it in foil and let it rest for an hour before you even touch anything. Then reheat it slightly for the last 30-45 minutes before serving. That way, you will not release all the juices when you cut into the turkey. Reheating it won’t lose any of the juices because they are already resting inside the turkey.”

Paicines Ranch Turkey and Gravy Recipe

Canada prepared this recipe and it is scaled for an eight-to-10-pound turkey. The cooking time is based on a commercial oven with circulating air.


  • 2 lemons, skin only
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 4 qt water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp of Molasses
  • 5 sprigs of fresh Thyme


  • In a medium to large stock pot, bring all ingredients to a boil, and stir the water to ensure salt and sugar are all dissolved. You can do this a day or two ahead of time. Chill overnight or introduce some ice cubes to accelerate the process.
  • Once cold, submerge the turkey and let stand for approximately 3-4 hours maximum. For a large turkey, leave the bird in the brine overnight or add 4 more quarts of water.
  • When ready to cook the turkey, heat the oven to 350°
  • Drain the bird from the brine, and pat dry with paper towels


  • 2-3 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tbsp ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • Butter
  • 4 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Honey


  • Season the turkey with paprika, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, coarse ground black pepper, olive oil and soft butter (applying enough to cover the whole bird; breast, legs and back).
  • Place the turkey in a roasting pan with a rack to catch all the drippings. Add the carrots, onions and garlic to the pan to roast with the turkey.
  • Cook the turkey in the oven, it should take roughly one-half to two hours for this bird size.
  • Baste the turkey every 30 minutes or so, adding honey to taste every time you baste it
  • Cover the turkey with aluminum foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking if the bird is getting too dark.
  • Using a thermometer, ensure the bird has reached a minimum of 165° internally (you can go over the temperature, but nothing over 190°).
  • Let the turkey rest for at least 30-45 minutes before cutting, keep in a warm place or reheat it for five minutes before serving.

Turkey stock for gravy (canned stock can be substituted):

  • 5 pounds of turkey bones
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 garlic heads


  • Black peppercorns
  • Bay leaves
  • Water enough to cover the bones
  • Bring to boil all the ingredients in a large pot, and boil for about 4-5 hours. Simmer, skimming any excess fat from the top
  • Strain, discard vegetables and bones, and freeze any leftovers you don’t use immediately


  • 2 cups of turkey stock
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 garlic minced
  • Drippings (saved from the roasting pan, freeze the drippings and skim the excess fat. The liquids will separate, and you will see it clearly)


  • Melt the butter in a small pan
  • Add the onions, carrots and garlic and cook until the vegetables are translucent
  • Add the flour, and constantly stir with a wooden or plastic spoon (do not use a metal spoon, as it creates a metallic flavor)
  • Add the stock, preferably hot, and stir well to ensure it does not clump.
  • Season with a pinch of salt and ground black pepper
  • Cook for about 2-3 minutes and set aside (reheat before serving)

BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.