Spatchcocked Roast Turkey

By • October 15, 2012 • 64 Comments



Author Notes: In some ways, this recipe represents the best of FOOD52. I haven't done my holiday turkeys like this for years and years. No, this one was developed with a lot of help via the Hotline (especially when it was the FoodPickle), and then refined last year using the basic dry brine technique of the Russ Parson's "Judy Bird" posted as part of the Genius series. I've made a lot of turkeys over the past 35 years, experimenting with all different methods. This is by far my favorite. Here's why. We always take a rather long hike on Thanksgiving Day, so my turkey doesn’t even go into the oven until mid-afternoon. Butterflying the bird helps get dinner on the table much sooner. Also, if you brine (wet or dry), your drippings generally taste too salty to use in gravy. Having the back of the turkey (not brined) to roast on its own with the neck of the bird allows you to make a flavorful gravy. (See my recipe for “Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy”, if you’d like more specific information on that. You don’t need to buy extra wings, if you have the back.) Furthermore, a spatchcocked bird doesn’t take as much vertical space in the oven, leaving more shelf space for cooking side dishes. Butterflying also produces an evenly cooked bird, as the lower joints cook more quickly, so the breast does not dry out. Enjoy!! ;o)AntoniaJames

Food52 Review: WHO: AntoniaJames is a Food52 veteran who shows she knows her way around a turkey.
WHAT: A simple, herb-rubbed bird with a few tricks up its sleeve.
HOW: Let butterflying and dry-brining do every bit of the work for you.
WHY WE LOVE IT: You'll want to combine both techniques every year. Together they produce a Thanksgiving miracle: a turkey that's incredibly moist, quick-cooking, and doesn't take up a lot of space in the oven.
A&M

Makes whatever sized bird you have

  • 1 Turkey (you choose your size!)
  • Salt for the rub (1 tablespoon for every five pounds of turkey; for a smaller bird, you might need a bit more.)
  • Fresh herbs for the rub. (I use a combination of fresh marjoram and thyme; you could use rosemary and sage, or your favorites.) 2-3 thick sprigs of each for a small bird, and 5-6 for a large one.
  • White wine (one glass for the bird, one for you)
  1. If you want to roast a spatchcocked turkey, you really should buy your bird from a butcher who will "butterfly" it for you. Make sure you have her or him give you the backbone and other parts that are removed, as they are perfect for roasting and making a rich stock for gravy.
  2. If you must butterfly the bird yourself, get the sharpest kitchen shears you can find and patiently snip (it may feel like hacking) down each side of the backbone. A good sharp cleaver or a good sized butcher knife may be necessary to cut into the pelvis, if you're roasting a larger bird. Then cut deeply into aptly-named keel bone between the two breast halves – it does look just like the keel of a ship – which will allow you to flatten the breast. This is important in roasting the bird evenly. Don’t worry about removing the keel bone altogether; snipping the cartilage along one side should allow you to spread the two breast halves apart.
  3. Wrap up the turkey back and neck in butcher paper or put them in a plastic bag; refrigerate until you need them. They are perfect for roasting separately, to make gravy.
  4. Blitz the salt in a food processor with the leaves and slender stems of the herbs.
  5. Thoroughly pat the bird dry inside and out, and then rub the salt gently into the skin, using a bit more on the thickest part of the breast. Sprinkle the herbed salt evenly over the inside areas of the turkey as well.
  6. Put the turkey into a large plastic bag, with the two back edges together, so that it looks rather like it did before you removed the backbone. Squeeze out as much air as you can from the bag, and secure it shut. Then, sit the turkey in the bag, breast side up, in a large bowl. Put it in the fridge for three days, rubbing the salt into the skin gently every day, and turning it upside down in the bowl 24 hours before you plan to cook the bird. (I strongly recommend using a bowl because, no matter how good your re-sealable bag may seem, it’s likely to leak. So let it leak into the bowl, and not into your vegetable drawer.)
  7. The night before you plan to roast the bird, remove it from the bag, and put it on a large plate with the back pieces together and the breast up. (If your fridge is stuffed, like mine usually is the night before I roast a turkey, you can also wash and dry the bowl to use instead.) Put it in the fridge until an hour before you plan to begin roasting. If you're getting up very early on T-Day, you can do this in the morning, as long as the bird has at least 6 or 7 hours to sit uncovered before you remove it from the fridge.
  8. An hour before you plan to start roasting the turkey, take it out of the fridge and put it on a rack set inside a large roasting pan, spread out of course. Pull the legs forward, as shown in the photo. For some reason, I don’t own a decent flat roasting rack, so I set my largest cookie cooling rack on three sturdy stalks of celery, to give it a bit more stability.
  9. Heat your oven to 450 degrees. When it's been 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes, put the turkey in. I usually add about a cup of water, to keep the juices from browning too much before the turkey releases its juices into the pan. Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees; then, roast for about 10 minutes per pound, total.
  10. Cover the breast after an hour with heavy foil (or after an hour and a half for a larger bird). I usually pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Then I pour myself one -- this is optional but recommended. (For a larger bird, I'd do this about an hour before I expected to remove it from the oven.)
  11. The turkey is done when the thigh's internal temperature is 165 degrees. Start checking early though (about half way through the expected total time), as the temperatures and heat circulation activity of your oven, the number of times the door is open, the temperature of your refrigerator and the ambient temperature on your counter, etc., all contribute to extreme variability in the actual time required to roast any particular bird. Also, it seems that larger birds require less time per pound. Although I was told by Melissa Clark on the Gilt Turkey hotline last year that a large bird should be roasted at 450 degrees for 1/2 hour and then 10 -12 minutes per pound at 350 degrees after that, I learned from a FOOD52 member via the Hotline that her spatchcocked 30 pound turkey was done in about 3 1/2 hours, instead of the 6 hours that formula would require. So start checking early, especially with a larger bird.
  12. When the internal temperature of the thigh has reached 165 degrees, take the bird out of the oven, remove the foil and let the roast rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  13. Meanwhile, use the pan drippings in very small quantities to season your gravy. (The drippings may be too salty to form the basis of your gravy, so unless you have a better method for making gravy, roast that turkey back separately and use its drippings instead. See my “Make Ahead Turkey Gravy” recipe for more detailed instructions.)
  14. Enjoy! ;o)
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Comments (64) Questions (2)

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7 months ago Paula Bauer

There is one thing that bothers me about so many recipes...too complicated! First one must learn basics to branch out. As a trained chef...now retired, I must say to all I coach...make it simple...relax...enjoy. Most posted recipes skip basics and jump right into a more advanced level. Consiquently people give up or get scared and do something wrong. Spatchcocking a bird is very simple. (see my other post below.) Cut the bird's back top to bottom...cut off all the extraneous fat and tissue and put in a generous pot...then add tail, neck and gizzards all and onion skins and onion ends...celery bottom and wilted top, maybe tomato stem ends if you are using tomato for ...say salad...throw in the stem parts and cover all with water...bring to a boil and immediately turn to simmer...start this before turkey goes into oven. When turkey is done, and resting covered on counter....pour simmered liquid through 3 layers of cheesecloth in a strainer....discard all solids and skim as much fat as possible off liquid. You now have a very tasty liquid for gravy....add a bit of Soy sauce for added color and a bit more flavor. thicken anf grave is ready.

The Aleppo pepper I use quite a bit, is deceiving...use too much and you can get into trouble. But an adequate amount will leave a very nice taste in your mouth after you finish eating the food it is in.

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7 months ago Paula Bauer

The best I have found is a rub w/o salt...
1/2 cup tuscan seasoning
2 T Aleppo ground pepper flakes
4-6 cloves garlic very fine chopped
mix together well then add just enough olive oil to make a paste,
rub all all over the prepped (Spatchcock) bird
let stand 1/2 hour to an hour depending on size
and cook at 425 till golden
and you can feel the leg joint moving when you twist it gently
I do not remove backbone but smack it flat

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9 months ago calendargirl

AJ, this was just the best last year and we are going to do it again this year. There is no reason to do a turkey any other way. Warmest greetings to you and yours!

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9 months ago Connie Cain

I agree that Antonia's directions are the best I've ever read..Julia's weren't so easy in her first two books!!
Will be enjoying Thanksgiving with Newlyweds ( daughter and son-in-law ) in SF and plan on cooking our turkey this way! Have been cooking chicken like this for years but never thought of doing a turkey! Brilliant! My vote is for you!!

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over 1 year ago dymnyno

This is the first time I have ever butterflied a turkey. I thought that I was going to have to bring out a chainsaw (my shears are in need of sharpening...maybe?) I won't do it any other way now. It took a little less than 2 hours for a 14 pound turkey and it looks evenly browned and perfectly cooked. I hope you had a great hike today (we did!) and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving with your husband and dear boys.

Kroka_kitchen

over 1 year ago maryvelasquez

I am thankful for the clear advice of AntoniaJames and my new poultry sheers! Can't wait to see how this turns out.

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over 1 year ago Whats4Dinner

Ah, and so it begins.....the bird is here, butterflied, I've yet to pull out the food processor to process the salt and herbs, but here we go!

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over 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Congrats again on being a finalist AJ! This simply a gorgeous recipe.

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over 1 year ago Kukla

Congratulations AJ!! So happy for you, this is truly a great recipe!!!

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I think this is an awesome recipe, and although I have never spatchcocked a turkey I think I will have my butcher do it for me and definitely give this one a try!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulation to you - I for sure want to try this - I started small on a cornish hen :-) but building my way up to a turkey. GREAT recipe!!!

Gator_cake

over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Congrats on a great recipe! I for one will never cook a whole turkey that isn't spatchcocked again.

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over 1 year ago Kathy Kelm

Spatchcocking a turkey is made easier using your handy dandy kitchen mallet or a clean hammer. Put your cleaver or heaviest knife parallel to the side of the backbone at the point where the ribs attach. WHACK the thickest part of the knife. Repeat going down. I use the scissors to clip the soft tissue after the bone is cut. I also use the whacked knife technique to massage large squashes and rutabaga apart. It is much safer to have your hands distant from the sharp knife and whack than to struggle inside a cold, slippery buzzard with scissors. Finally, the funitude factor with turkey whacking is awesome. Be sure to have timid folks watch. It REALLY makes the cook look authoritative!

Packynewscarf

over 1 year ago ChocolateDiva

My turkey was 16 pounds. I used a cookie sheet. I put chopped onions, celery and carrots on the cookie sheet then put the turkey on the rack on top of the vegetables with one cup of broth. You make gravy from these drippings.
Spatchcocked turkey is really great---it cooks so much quicker. However, much easier to have the butcher do this.

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over 1 year ago SJB

What size roasting pan will I need for a 12-14 pound bird?

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, everyone, for your kind words and helpful tips! ;o)

Packynewscarf

over 1 year ago ChocolateDiva

Your are oh so right about having the butcher remove the back bone. I always do this but my son brought home a frozen turkey from work and I was only able to cut down one side, but it worked. It still lay out flat like yours. My recipe is a little different, I cook it at 325 degrees.
Congrats on being a finalist! ! !

Paulnbuda

over 1 year ago Stubor

I really enjoy your writing style, Ms. James. You remind me of Julia Child ("and one for cook!" & "The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.")

Henrykiss

over 1 year ago arielleclementine

congratulations, AJ! brilliant!

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over 1 year ago NakedBeet

I love all the explicit instructions..something I have a tendency to do myself. Because I can't decide on which recipe for the vote, I'm going to combine the best of both worlds. I just read a long article on the non-merits of brining from serious eats, but this looks different and too good to pass up, plus the fact that you've been trying out different methods for 35 years, has me convinced. ; )

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over 1 year ago Kitchen Frau

What a great idea! You have made something that looks so intimidating seem so easy. I am keen to try it. Congratulations on being a finalist.

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over 1 year ago Jaynerly

Wonderful! I tried the Judy dry brine last year and loved it! I was left with a turkey that just about filled the oven though so spatchcocking is such a clever plan, a very worthy finalist congratulations!

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over 1 year ago EmilyC

Congrats on your well-deserved finalist nod AJ! This is such a smart recipe, sure to be made in lots of households this Thanksgiving!

Sausage2

over 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Brilliant AJ! Congrats on being a finalist!

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over 1 year ago Kukla

Many congratulations AJ!!! You are not only a wonderful cook, but also a great teacher and a talented recipe writer!

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over 1 year ago Fairmount_market

I can't wait to try this! Such wonderful detailed instructions filled with common sense. I love the idea of having more room in the oven for sides.

Chris_in_oslo

over 1 year ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

From the minute I saw this recipe, it had "finalist" written all over it. We don't generally do a turkey for the big holidays (family quirk), but I've spatchcocked enough chickens to know that this is a keeper. Besides the faster, more even cooking you get with a flattened bird, think of it--you might get 2 turkeys in your oven at once!

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over 1 year ago gingerroot

Congrats, AJ! What a beautiful bird and such a smart recipe.

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over 1 year ago ChezBob

Spatchcocked chicken is my # 1 method of cooking. As in the chicken recipe, the turkey should be weighted down to achieve the required bonding with the pan. Suggest two bricks wrapped in foil. It also helps to pound the turkey vigorously prior to cooking. My experience is that the flatter the bird against the hot surface the quicker it is done and the meat is juicier.
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over 1 year ago Madhuja

Congratulations on becoming a finalist! This recipe looks amazing! :)

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over 1 year ago mariaraynal

So smart, with great tips and instructions, AntoniaJames. Congrats on being a finalist!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations AJ on being a finalist! This is one beautiful bird and on my To Try list!!!

Mrs._larkin_370

over 1 year ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Congrats AJ! I've got a sage salted turkey breast on the menu for tonight's dinner, to celebrate the return of our electricity.

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over 1 year ago Midge

Such a brilliant recipe. Congrats AJ!

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over 1 year ago Sf2oak

I need to cook a kosher turkey which is already salted, how would you suggest I deal with that? I'm always afraid of adding salt to kosher meat products because they are already salted. TIA

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

You definitely should not salt it. Here's what I'd do. The night before, I'd just finely chop the herbs by themselves, and perhaps use a few more of them, and very gently lift up the skin on the breast, taking great care not to tear it, and push some of them inside. I'd then rub the rest of them into the outside of the bird, and the underside of the cavity. Then I'd put it in the fridge, uncovered in a bowl or on a plate if you have enough room, to let it dry out overnight. This creates the crisp skin. Some of the herbs will most likely come off in the water that no doubt will drain; so I'd probably rub a few fresh herbs into it again, right before roasting. You might want to ask this question on the Hotline, too, to get the collective wisdom of the community. ;o)

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Okay, I just took a look over on the Hotline to see if this issue has been addressed by others in the past. There seems to be a difference of opinion on this, so you probably should ask the question again over there, to see if anyone reading it this year knows for sure. My experience with kosher chickens is that they are perfectly seasoned, for my taste at least, without any additional salt. I don't know if that's the case with kosher turkeys. I suppose though that it ultimately comes down to how much salt is used, how carefully it's rinsed and whether it's been injected with a brine solution (a practice that seems to be common these days among a lot of commercial poultry processors). ;o)

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Alright, I just sent a note to Russ Parsons, who published the original "Judy Bird" recipe in the L.A. Times about five years ago. He's a great guy. (Everyone should own and read his tremendously useful "How to Pick a Peach".) Anyway, he said that there yes, you can use the dry salt brine method with a kosher bird, as there is not enough salt flavor left, after they rinse it, to make a difference. So, there you have it. From the expert. Sorry about all the back and forth on this. ;o) P.S. I'd still be cautious, and make sure I had a bird that had not been injected with a brine solution.

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations AJ, must say I have never spatchcocked a bird but your instructions are impeccable. Such a delicious recipe, I will sharpen the knife and give this a try.

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, sdebrango! I strongly recommend that you ask your butcher to butterfly it for you. They'll be glad to do it, and you'll be glad you asked them to! ;o)

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Since my knife wielding skills leave much to be desired, I will do just that. Plus after having had surgery on my hand it's not as strong as it used to be. Have always wanted to try a spatchcocked bird!

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over 1 year ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

This sounds so wonderful, Antonia!! Looks amazing too!

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, ccincalif!

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over 1 year ago calendargirl

Oh, this will be the one for us this year! After spatchcocking a chicken I wondered about doing it with a turkey and vowed to try it, but you have worked out all the bugs for us. Thank you so much, AJ! I will raise my wine glass to you, too.

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

calendargirl, you are too kind. Thank the Hotline and this wonderful community for this recipe. I would never have tried it without their help. I hope you do try this, and enjoy it. ;o)

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh dear! I've been traveling on vacation for nearly a week, and just read through this on my full screen. There's an error in Step 12 -- the foil should be removed from the breast and placed over the legs of the bird while it's resting. Sorry about that! ;o)

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almost 2 years ago judyschwab

We spatchcock the dry-brined turkey and then barbecue. But the cooking times are even more volatile with the added variable of charcoal. It's always raining, but the wine helps. Turkey is delicious and lots more room in the oven for sides. Make ahead gravy especially important if you're barbecuing.
Love your dry-brining tips. I'll definitely use them this year. Thanks!!!

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks, judyschwab. "Always raining but the wine helps" cracked me up! ;o)

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almost 2 years ago wssmom

I loved the spatchcocked and braised chicken recipe and always wondered how it would fare with a turkey! Winner!

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks, wssmom! I started with chickens and moved to turkeys, with the help (a lot of help!) from the Hotline. It really works well. Try it! ;o)

Barb

almost 2 years ago Miafoodie

Spatchcocking is new to me but I am definitly a convert. Love the fact that the skin is
crispy all over. Thanks for your very specific instructions, i.e. celery rack holders and of course the wine.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, the crispy skin is amazing. One of many good reasons to spatchcock the bird! ;o)

Henrykiss

almost 2 years ago arielleclementine

This is amazing! I'm going to try it for thanksgiving this year! Thank you thank you!

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I hope you do! Easiest turkey I've ever made, leaving plenty of time, and room in your oven, for all the other delicious things you'll be serving. ;o)

Mrs._larkin_370

almost 2 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

As I expected, a winning submission from you, AJ. I love the way the skin on the spatchcocked bird is uniformly crispy. Also, I love your celery/cooling rack kitchen hack.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks, mrslarkin! I learned the hard way that using carrots for this purpose can be tricky, if you don't make sure there's a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan, as they can easily over-caramelize, which makes the pan juices taste weird (a little bitter). Celery releases so much juice, and has a lot less sugar in it, so it tends to work much better. ;o)

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almost 2 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

This is really a great way to roast turkey. Thanks for the meticulously detailed instructions.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, drbabs! I just realized that one entire step was dropped when I first published this yesterday, regarding the variability in roasting time required, especially for a larger bird. So I fixed it. ;o)

Gator_cake

almost 2 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Since spatchcocking a couple of turkeys last year, I'll probably never go back to cooking them any other way! Love your added wine step, too.

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, hla! I'm not going back, either! ;o)

Dscn3274

almost 2 years ago inpatskitchen

Oh my! What a wonderful way to cook a bird! Love the 2 glasses of wine!

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks, ipk! I started pouring a glass of wine for any bird I roast, and one for me, many years ago. For a bird that's not brined, it makes the pan juices and gravy heavenly. But I've found also that it's a great idea even if you're not using the pan juices, because the fruit sugars in the wine makes the skin extra tasty. ;o)

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almost 2 years ago Lizthechef

You may have changed my Thanksgiving bird-cooking. Looks fabulous!

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almost 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, LTC! I hope you do try it. ;o)