The only times I cook a whole turkey are for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Preparing and cooking such a big bird is truly a labor of love (or a pain in the keister). Over the years, I've tried a variety of options for the bird: different brines, different herb or spice rubs, and different cooking techniques. Last year I used a recipe from the Food Network by Chris Cosentino that called for separating the breast from the legs of the turkey, and applying an herb compound duck butter under the breast skin. The legs are placed in the oven long before the breast. I was hoping I'd struck gold with this technique. When I roast a whole bird, I start it out breast down and then flip it during cooking to prevent overcooked white meat. If I could eliminate the turning, it would save me some hassle while preparing the rest of the meal. Unfortunately it did not work as well as I'd hoped. The breast meat came out superbly juicy and flavorful, but the cooking times recommended did not work for me. The legs were done long before the breast, which is not a great situation with a crowd of hungry people clamoring to eat.
I did not want to abandon the idea so rather than figure out timing for 2 different pieces, I decided to butterfly the turkey so it would cook at a more consistent rate. I've butterflied many a chicken, so figured it wouldn't be too different. I was very wrong. It's much, much harder! The pelvic bones of the turkey are too hard to cut through with kitchen shears. A combination of kitchen shears through the ribs, and a cleaver through the pelvic girdle worked the best for me. This is a good illustration of the technique: http://thefrugalchef.com/2009/11/how-to-butterfly-a-turkey/ An even easier technique is to ask your butcher to butterfly the turkey and crack the breast bone.
To season the bird I did a dry brine with a paste of salt and honey under the skin of the legs and breast. I generally do a combination of salt and sugar for my wet brines, so why not try the same for the dry brine. I made a shallot confit using duck fat, and added some herbs and spices to slip under the skin after the turkey finished brining. The hard work up front really paid off in the end! The resulting turkey was finished cooking in about 2 hours, the breast and thigh meat were done at the same time, and even the notoriously dry and bland breast meat was succulent and flavorful. An added bonus is the shallot confit becomes like a built in gravy!
(Note: The backbone, plus neck and giblets make a fine stock that can be combined with the drippings to make gravy. Or just freeze the pieces to make stock later.) —hardlikearmour
This was the best turkey I've ever had. I was surprised at how many of the individual flavors came through in the meat -- to date, I don't think I've had a turkey this flavorful. I spooned a bit of the drippings onto each serving, which highlighted the flavors even more, and I made an amazing gravy out of the drippings the next day. A few make ahead notes: you can make the confit ahead of time, and you can even prep the rest of it in advance and then just assemble and plop in the oven for a short amount of time (2 hours!) the day you plan on eating. One of our testers had difficulty finding duck fat, so be sure to call a few places ahead of time to see if it's available. For not much work, the reward (taste and accolades) is too great not to make this recipe! —Dawne Marie