How To Cook A Thanksgiving Turkey: A First Timer’s Experience

Find out how to make this delicious turkey using Guy Fieri's Mean Green Turkey Machine Recipe! This guide takes you step-by-step, so you'll be able to follow along even as a beginner! From defrosting, washing and seasoning, to brining, stuffing and roasting, this how-to post has you covered!

Key takeaways from cooking a Thanksgiving turkey for the very first time? PREPARATION IS KEY! That and having a spacious kitchen makes the whole arduous process much better. Handling a giant raw bird is no joke. I thought because I had successfully roasted a chicken in the past, that this wouldn’t be a big deal. WRONG! Another takeaway? Never trust the prep-time in recipes. 25 minutes? SUREEEE.

I chose to roast a Whole Roasted Turkey from Perdue Farms that weighed just under 14 pounds…

Find out how to make this delicious turkey using Guy Fieri's Mean Green Turkey Machine Recipe! This guide takes you step by step, so you'll be able to follow along even as a beginner!

Perdue Farms Turkey fast facts:

  • Includes pop-up timer for ease in cooking
  • Includes giblets for homemade gravy and stocks
  • No Antibiotics Ever
  • No Animal By-Products
  • All Vegetarian Diet
  • No Hormones of Steroids
  • Turkey Hatched, Raised and Harvested in the USA

I forgot about defrosting this turkey until the night before I had to cook it and so I submerged my 13-pound turkey in a sink full of ice water overnight, draining it and refilling it as much as I could before I went to sleep. It worked, so no harm was done here!

The recipe I used was Guy Fieri’s Mean Green Turkey Machine — which was a part of my INSIDER article, “I cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner using only Guy Fieri recipes, and it was a 10-hour roller-coaster through Flavortown”. Below is the turkey portion of this article.

Find out how to make this delicious turkey using Guy Fieri's Mean Green Turkey Machine Recipe! This guide takes you step by step, so you'll be able to follow along even as a beginner!

In this piece, I tried out five of the Mayor of Flavortown’s Thanksgiving recipes during a 10-hour marathon of cooking which included these dishes: Mean Green Turkey Machine, Adams’ Apple Mashed Potatoes, Red Devil CranberriesPepperoni Stuffing, and Southern Pecan Pie.

Here’s the play-by-play of my experience, along with the turkey recipe below!

Find out how to make this delicious turkey using Guy Fieri's Mean Green Turkey Machine Recipe! This guide takes you step by step, so you'll be able to follow along even as a beginner!

Shopping for ingredients was surprisingly complicated, especially when I got to the peppers.

Fieri’s turkey recipe requires pasilla peppers, but all I could find in the store was a pepper labeled “pasilla poblano.” But after some Googling, I learned that pasillas and poblanos are two different types of peppers. VERY CONFUSING.

Depending on where you are geographically, the poblano is known as the pasilla or instead refers to the dried version of a chilaca pepper. The poblano pepper, however, is a fresh, heart-shaped pepper. When dried, it becomes an ancho pepper. WHO KNEW? NOT I.

But a pasilla is not the same as an ancho. In fact, the poblano is a pepper that’s commonly mislabeled as the pasilla in the US.

Pasilla Peppers.

It’s even more confusing that the turkey recipe calls for the pasilla to be blackened, which wouldn’t make sense as it’s already technically a dried pepper. Whatever the case, I think that blackening either a fresh poblano or chilaca pepper is what the recipe meant. After an hour of grocery shopping while researching peppers. I just bought the “pasilla poblano” and hoped for the best. 

I also didn’t plan for the eight to 12 hours of brine time the turkey needed. As a straight-up newbie preparing this turkey feast, my time management was clearly WAY OFF.

Luckily, the brine was easy to make.

I started off by heating up 2 cups of water with the salt, agave syrup, red pepper flakes, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and bay leaf until the salt dissolved. Then I added the remaining 2 cups of water and allowed it to cool. The brine required only 4 cups of water total, but I felt like that amount should’ve been doubled.

I was disappointed that it wasn’t enough to submerge even half of my turkey. To counter this, I rotated the turkey in the bag halfway through the brining to ensure a nice, well-rounded soak. I would also suggest at least doubling the recipe if you make this brine.

Fieri’s turkey was supposed to take 25 minutes to prep, but it straight up took about 2.5 hours from start to putting the bird in the oven!


The fact that Guy had the AUDACITY to claim that prep time for this turkey is only 25 minutes is shocking to me. That benchmark passed a long time ago and my bird wasn’t even close to being ready for the oven. 

To prepare my thawed-out turkey for the brine, I rinsed it in the sink, which was a slippery and gross process. But after the initial “ew” phase, working with the turkey became a fun, challenging experience.

Once the brine cooled down, I transferred it into my plastic oven bag and extremely carefully placed my bird inside before tying it up. I was scared that my bag was going to rip, and I wish I’d bought a proper brine bag instead. Finally, I placed my turkey bag into a pot and put it in the fridge so it could soak for eight hours. 

Turkey in the brine bag.

After the soak, it took me another 15 minutes to rinse and pat dry the turkey before seasoning it with a nice coat of salt and pepper.

Preparing the pepper for the turkey’s stuffing was time-consuming, but not too difficult.

Not long into preparing the turkey, I was about to learn another new skill: blackening peppers. First, I set my oven to the broil setting and lightly sprayed my baking sheet with oil. I put the peppers in for about five minutes on one side then flipped them so they could cook another five minutes.

My oven started to smoke and I was worried I’d set the peppers on fire — but they actually came out perfectly blackened and blistered all around. WHEW!

Once the peppers were finally cool enough to handle, I was ready to break them down for the stuffing. I used a spoon to gently scrape off the skin, then slowly peeled off the remains with my nails. Taking the burnt and blackened skin off was extremely tedious but also kind of rewarding. 

Then I easily removed the stems and sliced the peppers open to scrape out the seeds. This annoying pepper-prepping process took me at least 30 minutes from start to finish.

First, I prepped my ingredients: cilantro, blackened peppers, garlic, and scallions. Next, I sautéed the peppers for a few minutes, then added the rest of my ingredients to the hot pan. After a few more minutes, I zested a lime and then cut it in half to squeeze its juice into the mixture.

The last step involved deglazing the pan with a 1/4 cup of tequila. It didn’t say how long it would take to deglaze it so I sautéed it at medium-high heat until it stopped reeking of alcohol, which took about five minutes. 

The mixture smelled amazing, but my stress levels were increasing. I had been hard at work for a few hours and the turkey wasn’t even in the oven yet.

Still, I was confident I was on my way to Flavortown.

I never thought I’d ever need to “create a pocket” of space between the meat of a bird and its skin but here I am.

Me handling a raw turkey for the first time!

This part of the turkey prep was super weird, slightly comical, and oddly satisfying when completed.

This process involved me sticking my hand in between the fatty skin of the turkey and its meat, from the neck to the bottom, in order to create space to pack in my peppery stuffing mixture.

As I gently stuffed half the mixture into each side of the pockets, I was extra careful not to tear the skin. Using my fingers, I tried to spread the mixture as evenly throughout the turkey as I could to ensure proper cooking and balanced flavor.

Once I had the skin prepped and ready to go, I filled the cavity with the leftover mixture, cilantro, and the lime halves. I also decided to throw in an onion, some bell pepper, and celery for added flavor. I chopped it all and packed it in the turkey.

At last, I placed the turkey in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit!!!

I found it odd that Fieri’s recipe didn’t say anything about basting, which can help keep meat moist as it cooks for long periods of time. In true chef fashion, I decided to make my own juice to baste the turkey with. 

To do so, I boiled the turkey neck and gizzards in a pot with water and periodically poured the mixture over the bird. The turkey took about three and a half hours at 400 degrees Fahrenheit to fully cook. 

Turkey is in the oven!

While the turkey ‘rested,’ I made the au jus.

Once the pan drippings cooled off in a bowl I had put in the fridge, I easily scraped off the first layer of fat. I took the gelatinous bowl of drippings and added chicken stock to it in a small pot. I reduced it for eight minutes then lowered the heat to add half and half and more tequila. I reduced it for about 10 to 12 more minutes at a high simmer until the smell of the tequila wore off.

Finally, I seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper and strained it. 

The Mean Green Turkey Machine was a juicy dream. Truly.

Even though the turkey was a huge endeavor, it came out incredibly tender and delicious. The skin had a beautiful golden color to it and even the breast meat was succulent and not dry at all. Which is saying something!

This turkey came out beautifully golden brown!

The meat was so juicy that it almost didn’t need any gravy or au jus, though the au jus was incredibly flavorful. It had just the right amount of richness and it had a complex flavor thanks to the tequila. I thought the tequila was going to overpower the sauce, but it actually brought all of the flavors together once it was reduced.

This turkey was the perfect center piece for our table!
This turkey was the perfect center piece for our table!

Even though the pasilla-pepper mixture was a hassle to make, each bite of it felt like an absolute treat. The flavorful mixture didn’t turn out spicy at all, but rather had a great Southwestern kick to it that was unexpected for a turkey recipe.

Overall, this turkey had complex and full-bodied flavors. My family loved it and I would cook it again!

I also carved a turkey for the first time–that was a major pain, but still, very satisfying!

First time slicing up a whole roasted turkey!

Mean Green Turkey Machine

This juicy, Southwestern turkey is defintely worth the effort! After being brined overnight and roasted for a little under four hours, it comes out incredibly tender and delicious. With a beautiful golden skin stuffed with a unique, pasilla-pepper mixture, it will make the perfect centerpiece to your Thanksgiving table. Each bite will be an absolute treat, even white meat comes out tender!
Prep Time 12 hours
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 16 hours
Course Dinner


  • Turkey Rack
  • Meat Thermometer


  • 1 Perdue Whole Turkey 12-14 Lbs


  • 8 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup Agave Syrup
  • 2 Tsp Red Chili Pepper Flakes
  • 12 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
  • 2 Bay Leaves


  • Cracked Peppercorn
  • Kosher Salt
  • 4 Large Pasilla Peppers
  • 2 Serrano Peppers
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic Chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Cumin
  • 1 Cup Chopped Cilantro Leaves, plus 1/2 bunch, whole leaves
  • 2 Cups Sliced Scallions

Pasilla Pepper Mixture

  • 2 Limes 1 zested and juiced, 1 cut in 1/2
  • 1/2 Cup Tequila Divided
  • 1 Onion Peeled and quartered
  • 1 Cup Chicken Stock
  • 1/3 Cup Half and Half



  • In a medium saucepan over high heat, add 2 cups of the water and the remaining ingredients. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Add the remaining 2 cups of water and allow the brine to cool to room temperature before using.
  • Rinse the turkey. Add the brine to a large container or resealable plastic bag and submerge the turkey. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Turkey + Pasilla Pepper Mixture

  • Take neck and giblets and boil in 5 cups of water and salt and pepper for basting throughout roasting process. Bast every hour or so once it starts to get golden.
  • Rinse and dry the turkey. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Prepare the peppers by arranging them under a low broiler until blackened. Put them in a large bowl and cover with foil until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin, stems and seeds (do not rinse under water) and dice.
  • In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, add the canola oil and when hot, add the diced peppers and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the, garlic, cumin, chopped cilantro and the scallions. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and season with a little salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the zest and juice of 1 lime, and deglaze with 1/4 cup of the tequila. Remove from heat, transfer to a plate, spreading evenly, and allow to cool.
  • Carefully run your hand under breast skin of the turkey, creating a pocket from the neck to the bottom of breast on both sides. Gently stuff half of the pepper mixture into each skin pocket, lay the bird on its back and even out the pepper stuffing. Trim any extra fat off the body and tuck the wings behind.
  • Put the onion, a 1/2 bunch of cilantro and the cut lime halves into the cavity and arrange on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.
  • Roast until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes per pound, about 3 1/2 hours. Remove the turkey from the oven to a cutting board. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
  • While the turkey is resting, skim any fat off the top of the pan drippings and heat over medium-high heat. Scrape any bits off the bottom and add the chicken stock. Reduce for 8 minutes, then lower the heat and add the half-and-half and remaining tequila. Reduce for 5 minutes and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste. Strain and hold warm.
  • Carve the turkey, arrange on a serving platter and serve with the au jus.


Original recipe by Guy Fieri.
This post and the recipe card may contain affiliate links.
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Keyword Roasted Turkey, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Turkey, Turkey

For the full Thanksgiving feast cooking recap, check out my INSIDER article!

Love this recipe? Pin it for your next Thanksgiving feast!


Chelsea is a San Francisco-based journalist whose passion revolves around exploring the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious.

Her work can be found in TravelPulse, Forbes, INSIDER, SF Gate and more. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine.


  1. November 25, 2020 / 2:51 pm

    Hi Chelsea. I’m looking forward to making turkey summer rolls and dipping them in ponzu sauce.

    • Chelsea Davis
      November 30, 2020 / 11:07 pm

      That sounds amazing!!! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

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