George Vanderbilt's Favorite Roast Turkey Recipe | Hen House Style

Chef David Hagedorn adapted this recipe from the Vanderbilts and published it in the Washington Post a few years ago.  No jive turkey.  It is the best.  But one would not expect less from Old George who also wowed us with the 250 room Biltmore House [ha] in my hometown of Asheville.


This recipe requires an oval roaster that can withstand the direct heat of the stove top.  Starting on the stovetop creates an incredible broth that infuses the turkey with flavorful moisture and is also reserved to flavor gravy and stuffing.  Dang, that’s good!

I’ve made this recipe with a HUGE (24 lbs I have big boys) turkey that barely fit the pan.  It worked but there wasn’t much room for the broth.  The broth from this recipe is gold so try not to go over 18-20 lbs.  Adjust cooking times accordingly.

I added wine to the broth to make it Jenny Davids’ Favorite Roast Turkey.  Because I aspire to Biltmore.



For the turkey

2 TBS plus 1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp plus 2 TBS ground sage
One 14-lbs fresh turkey, neck and giblets reserved
8 TBS (one stick) of unsalted butter, cut lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 rib celery, cut in half
2 large fresh bay leaves
Large poultry roasting bag for brining

For the stock

2 medium onions, each cut in half
The top 4 inches, with leaves, from one bunch of celery
½ bunch fresh thyme
2 large fresh bay leaves
Stems of 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
20 whole peppercorns
Turkey neck and giblets
1 C dry white wine
2-3 quarts no-salt added chicken broth (may substitute water)

To brine the turkey

Combine 2 TBS salt, the black pepper, and 1 tsp of sage in a small bowl; set aside to be the dry rub.

Combine 2 TBS sage and 1 tsp salt in a small bowl and set aside to season the inside of the cavity.

Pat dry the outside and inside of the turkey.  Tuck the wing tips under the turkey’s back to secure.
Season the inside with the sage and salt.

Use your fingers or the long handle of a wooden spoon to loosen the skin on both sides of the breast from the cavity to the wing joints being careful not to tear the skin.  Center a half stick of butter lengthwise under the skin on each breast.

Place the onion quarters, celery and bay leaves in the cavity.  Use a long piece of twine to truss the breast.   First tie the leg bones together then run the twine down the length of the body on each side of the breast right between the breast and the thigh meat.  If the wings don’t tuck in under the body, tuck them under the twine.   Tie the two ends together at the neck opening.  Pull tightly to plump the breast.

Spread the dry rub evenly over the entire surface of the turkey, including the underside.  Seal the turkey, breast side up, in a large plastic roasting bag, squeezing as much air as possible out of the bag.  Place on a large plate and refrigerate for 2 days.  (One day is ok, but a 2-day brining yields better flavor throughout.)

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator at least 2 hours (and up to 5 hours) before you plan to cook it.

The recipe says “Set a flat wire rack in an oval roasting pan.  Remove the turkey from the bag and place it on the rack, breast side up.”  I don’t have a wire rack and have good luck placing the turkey on top of the pan vegetables.  (see below)

For the stock:  Distribute the onions, celery, thyme, bay leaves, parsley and peppercorns around the turkey.  (I use the celery to form a “rack” for my turkey.)  Rinse off any blood from the neck and the giblets then distribute them around the turkey as well.  Pour the wine followed by the broth into the pan (away from the bird) so that the turkey’s thighs (not drumsticks) are completely submerged.  Center the pan evenly over a front and rear burner on the stove top, with the turkey legs facing away from you.  Turn on the heat of both burners to medium-high (do not let the flames come up the sides of the pan.)  Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium.  Cover the pan with a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then place the lid on the pan.  Crimp the edges of the foil around the lid to create a seal.  (Use potholders so you don’t burn your fingers.)  Let the turkey cook for 1 hour so the liquid is barely boiling, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs registers 140 to 145 degrees.  Turn off the burners.  Remove the lid and reserve the foil to use for tenting later.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Carefully transfer the turkey to a platter, letting any trapped stock drip back into the oval roaster.

Use a slotted spoon or wire-mesh strainer to remove the solids from the pan liquids in the oval roaster and discard them.  Strain the pan liquids through a fine mess strainer into a stockpot.  Return the turkey to the roaster along with any juices collected on the platter. 

Roast the turkey in the “clean” roasting pan for 45 to 60 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer pushed deep into the thickest part of the thigh (away from the bone) registers 165 degrees.  If the turkey begins to brown more than you’d like, loosely tent aluminum foil over the breast.  Check from time to time to make sure there is some liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan so the drippings don’t burn.  Browning is ok; burning isn’t.  This is where a “little wine here and there” comes in.  Add wine and/or some of the stock back into the pan.

Once the turkey is done, transfer it to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil, to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

While the bird is resting, ladle the fat layer from the top of the stock into a fat separator, then pour any liquid you’ve accidentally taken along with the fat, back into the stockpot.  If you don’t have a fat separator, use a ladle to carefully remove the fat from the top of the liquid.  Reserve the fat.

Strain the stock again through a triple thickness of cheesecloth or a flour sack towel.  You should have about 10 cups.  If there is more than that, reduce it to 10 cups (in a saucepan, uncovered, over high heat) to concentrate the flavor a bit more.

Reserve the stock for gravy and stuffing.

Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a fat separator.  Reserve 6-8 tablespoons of fat to use to make a roux for the gravy.