Talking turkey with Beaver Creek chef Joe Ritchie |

Talking turkey with Beaver Creek chef Joe Ritchie

Caramie Schnell
Beaver Creek CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” As far as traumatic turkey experiences go, chef Joe Ritchie doesn’t have many horror stories. That’s probably good considering he wears the head chef’s hat at Grouse Mountain Grill in Beaver Creek. But that’s not to say that Ritchie hasn’t eaten his fair share of not-so-tender turkey.

“I’ve seen it go really badly and come out dry,” Ritchie said. “My mom was always guilty of that. She’d err on the side of overdone so ours was always notoriously dry. The people who got the skin were lucky and the rest were, well, not so lucky.”

Ritchie shared some of his not-so-traditional secrets to cooking a darn tender bird ” something that everyone at your table will likely be thankful for, that is if you take his advice to heart.

Vail Daily: Tell me your secret for a cooking a good turkey?

Joe Ritchie: Cooking turkey always seems to be such a massive undertaking whether you’re doing it at home or in a restaurant. Much of the difficulty is due to the amount of oven space it requires. Planning ahead makes Thanksgiving day go so much easier. Working with a fresh and not frozen turkey is the first step. We use natural, free range turkeys. They are usually a bit longer and leaner, but have incredible flavor. The same turkeys we use can be ordered in advance from (Nature’s Providers) in Avon.

VD: Rumor is you break down the turkey down and cook the white and dark meat separately. Why?

JR: I like to break the turkeys down for several reasons. The primary reason is because the dark, flavorful meat of the legs and thighs cooks much slower than the lean meat of the breast. Breaking the turkey down also allows you to cook the legs ahead of time, which means that you’ll likely only need one oven rack to cook your breast, instead of the entire oven. It also means that you can use the carcass to make the most incredible natural gravy from the stock. Lastly, it’s much, much easier to carve a roasted breast than a whole turkey.

VD: How do you get started?

JR: I like to remove the breast and brine it overnight in a herb-infused brine. I then remove the legs and roast the necks and carcasses and use them to make a huge batch of turkey stock. I reduce some of the stock with some bay leaves and peppercorns for gravy and use the remaining stock to braise the legs.

VD: How do you braise the legs?

JR: I like to braise the legs for a very long time. Usually five hours at 275 degrees. I sear the turkey legs over medium-high heat until they are brown and then saute some diced onions, carrots and celery. All of this goes into the roasting pan along with some fresh sage, rosemary and a few ounces of dried porcini mushrooms. I add a few cups of dry white wine and top the pan/pans off with the turkey stock. I like to braise the legs a few days before and let them cool in the braising liquid. On Thanksgiving Day I heat them up a little and pull the super tender meat off the bone and place it in a shallow dish. I then pour some strained braising liquid over the meat, which now only needs a few minutes in the oven to warm up.

VD: How do you cook the white meat?

JR: When it’s time to cook the breasts, I remove them from the brine and pat them down with paper towels. I rub them with a bit of olive oil and roast them at 400 degrees until they reach an internal temperature about 10 degrees lower than what I want them to be when done (this usually takes about 30 minutes or less). I pull them from the oven and let them rest in a warm place. A large piece of meat like a turkey breast carries over the remaining 10 degrees or so.

VD: Do you have some quick turkey tips to share with Vail Daily readers?

JR: Sure.

– Brining DOES make the breast meat more flavorful and helps it retain moisture!

– Letting your meat rest for at least 15 minutes will ensure that the juices you’ve worked so hard to retain don’t end up in a puddle on your counter top.

– Making stock from the carcasses is not easy, but is well worth it!

– The better you plan, the happier your Thanksgiving will be.

VD: What do you serve alongside your turkey?

JR: I like to serve turkey with the usual classics: homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, caramelized sweet potatoes and gravy, of course. The only thing that’s not really traditional is the wild mushroom stuffing. I make sure I stash some chanterelles and porcinis in the freezer and use them along with some caramelized onions, fresh sage and thyme and some good homemade bread.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

Support Local Journalism