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
Test Kitchen Notes
Though it may sound like a old-fashioned culinary term, spatchcocking is in fact one of the biggest hacks around when it comes to cooking poultry. Essentially, to spatchcock (or butterfly) a bird is to remove its backbone and flatten it before cooking.
You can spatchcock any bird, but let’s talk turkey. As the author notes, cooking turkeys present a number of challenges, from fitting a large bird into the oven along with everything else needed for Thanksgiving dinner; how the breast meat is finished cooking long before the dark meat come up to temperature, not to mention just how dang long it takes to cook a big ol’ turkey. When spatchcocking, these problems disappear: the flat bird neatly fits in a standard half sheet pan, so you can easily pop in a casserole dish of stuffing or a pan of Brussels sprouts on another oven rack. And as for the over- or undercooking risk, when the entire turkey lays flat on the tray, it cooks more evently, as heat hits the whole thing directl. Perhaps most importantly, the turkey will cook in significantly less time than non-spatchcocked—figure about 6 minutes per pound if following this recipe, or until thigh meat registers 165°.
A few things to keep in mind when spatchcocking for the first time. Defrost the turkey before starting, and note that this can take several days if it was frozen. Place the turkey on a large cutting board and remove giblets from inside either end’s cavity (save them for stock!). Dry off the skin with paper towels, then flip the bird breast-side down. Using your sharpest pair of kitchen shears, cut out the backbone from pole to pole—it helps to start from one end, cut up about halfway, then turn around the bird and finish cutting from the opposite end, then repeat on the other side. Save the backbone with the giblets, then flip the bird breast-side up. Either shallowly snip just the interior flexible breastbone (without cutting through the meat or skin), or, by applying as much weight as you can to the skin-side, break the breastbone by pressing down firmly until the turkey sits flat. You’re ready to brine! Also, as our author notes, if this process simply isn’t for you, buy your turkey from a butcher who will spatchcock it for you. —A&M
- Prep time 24 hours 45 minutes
- Cook time 3 hours
- Makes whatever sized bird you have
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Blitz the salt in a food processor with the leaves and slender stems of the herbs.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Heat your oven to 450° Fahrenheit. When it's been at 450° for at least 20 minutes, put the turkey in. I usually add about a cup of water, to keep the pan juices from browning too much in the early stages. For a small or medium bird—up to 18 pounds—roast at 450° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°. For larger birds, start at 425° degrees and lower it to 375°. Knock all of these down 25° for a convection oven.
- The turkey is ready to take out of the oven when a thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the breast, without touching the bone, reaches 150° and the thickest part of the thigh hits 165°. It’s okay if the thigh temperature exceeds 165°; dark meat isn’t as noticeably affected as breast meat by a bit of over-cooking.
- Figure on roasting the turkey for about 6 minutes per pound, total (including the time at the higher temperature). You may need more than 6 minutes per pound, depending on how true to the dial your oven heats, how often the oven door is open, the temperature of the internal turkey meat when you put the bird in the oven, etc. I heard of one 30-pound turkey needing 3 1/2 hours, while another was ready right at 3. We start with 6 minutes per pound because you can always cook it a bit longer if necessary. You can’t do much to fix turkey meat that’s roasted too long.
- Check the internal temperature after the bird has roasted for 4 minutes per pound, e.g., for a 12-pound bird, after 48 minutes. It probably won’t be anywhere near done by then, but a smaller bird could be, if the oven is running hot. If you don’t have one of those handy-dandy leave-in thermometers that let you know when you’ve reached the desired temperature, continue to check occasionally. How often you should check depends on the size of the bird, the readings you get, and how hot your oven actually is.
- Cover the breast with foil after about 45 - 50 minutes, or whenever it starts to look very dark. I usually pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Then I pour myself one. This is optional but recommended. Based on the comments of others, I suggest putting foil on the legs of larger birds, if the drumsticks seem to be getting too crisp.
- Once the internal temperature of the breast at its thickest part has reached 150°, take your beautiful turkey out of the oven, remove the foil and let that bird rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. An hour of rest works, too, while giving you more time to finish preparing your sides and to enjoy your company.
- 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.)
- Enjoy! ;o)