Spatchcocked Roast Turkey

October 15, 2012


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
Prep time: 24 hrs 45 min
Cook time: 3 hrs

Ingredients

  • 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)
In This Recipe

Directions

  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° 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.)
  16. Enjoy! ;o)

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Reviews (86) Questions (2)

86 Reviews

Arlene December 26, 2017
Spatchcocked my first turkey yesterday and it was, hands down, the tastiest turkey ever! I used your tutorial for cooking times only and it was spot on. I have an electric oven so am unsure about my oven temperatures. Checking the temp after roasting 4 minutes per pound is very wise advice so you can adjust cooking times as necessary. If you like dressing, try putting bread pieces (14 oz french bread, white bread, whatever kind you like) underneath and around your bird, mixed with minced veggies: 2 onions, 4 celery stalks and 5 cloves garlic, sauteed in 1T Sage, 1T Thyme and 4T butter. Pour just a little broth (maybe 1 cup) over the bread before roasting the bird. When the turkey is done you just spoon the dressing into a container and voilà! you have delicious dressing!
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames December 26, 2017
Thanks, Arlene. I'm so glad the timing suggestions worked for you! I've been doing this for a number of years, always with a smaller bird. After learning of some discouraging results with larger birds, I researched the roast time point - and must give the good people at SeriousEats.com credit for the updated rubric. I followed those guidelines this Thanksgiving and all agreed that it was my best turkey ever. <br /><br />Great idea to put the stuffing ingredients under the bird. I will try that next time. Happy New Year! ;o)
 
jodyrah November 20, 2017
Nothing revolutionary. Mark Bittman did this in 2002.
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 20, 2017
jodyrah, no one here is claiming that it's revolutionary. May I respectfully suggest that the dry brine (not in Bittman's recipe) results in a superior, beautifully flavored, moist turkey? As noted in the headnote, that dry brine is borrowed with gratitude from Judy Rodgers - also not revolutionary, but if I may say so, a good idea. ;o)
 
jodyrah November 24, 2017
I actually dry brine using kosher salt and baking powder (seriouseats.com). I put a compound butter (garlic, fresh herbs, lemon zest, and a bit of minced Thai chili) beneath the skin. Spatchcocked breast, roasted 450’. I use a meat probe so only an occasional check for over browning. Stock, garlic, quartered onions, meyer lemon, herbs in the pan makes for a wonderful gravy.
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 24, 2017
Sounds great, jodyrah. So many good suggestions here. I haven't tried the baking powder . . . have had good success with the herbs + salt, but I admire and trust Kenji so I'll look into this. Thanks for the tips! ;o)
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 20, 2017
To update this, to reflect the concerns of those with much larger birds: The 10 minutes per pound rule does not seem to have worked for some who used it on bigger turkeys. I tested this recipe on a smaller turkey and had to rely on someone else (it happened to be Melissa Clark of the New York Times) when scaling it up. Based on the comments below, my original instructions apparently recommend a much longer roasting time than is necessary. For birds in the 20+ pound range, please start checking at 2 hours and, as noted, put foil on the breast when it starts looking very dark. I see in one comment that someone with a 25 pound bird found it was done in 2 1/4 hour. Those with medium size birds, say 16 pounds, should check after 1 1/2 hours. Results can vary widely due to differences in ovens' heating and insulating properties, how often they're opened and shut, etc. The key here is to start checking the internal temperature early to prevent overcooking. ;o) <br />P.S. I'm going to ask the editors to revise the instructions in this recipe to reflect this additional information. I cannot do it because the recipe was a contest finalist and therefore is locked down.
 
Minnie November 25, 2016
I tried this yesterday and it was done at least 1 1/4 hours earlier than the instructions indicated per pound. I had a 16 pound bird (before taking out backbone). I've done spatchcock turkeys before and they turned out great. The legs on this one turned out like jerky, as previous comments say. I do not recommend this recipe, the times are very off. Very.
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 20, 2017
Minnie, I am so sorry to hear that. I will post another comment with more details on this, in the hopes that people looking at this recipe will scroll down to see it. ;o)
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 21, 2017
The instructions above have been revised to address the roasting time issues raised in this and several other comments. (Thank you, Lindsay-Jean!) ;o)
 
Ms. T. November 25, 2016
Great recipe, I love this method! Except for one thing...I've followed this method for the last two years and both times the breast was perfectly cooked and moist and delicious, but the legs were dried out and practically turkey jerked :( The first year I thought it was just because I didn't have the right size pan and so the legs were sticking off the pan with a cookie sheet underneath and I thought I must've created some uneven temps in my oven. But I tried again this year with proper pan and same deal. Small turkey--only 10 lbs. Was done in an hour. Anyone else have this problem and/or ideas to prevent it next time?
 
Ms. T. November 25, 2016
I meant "turkey jerky" not "jerked"...but a Carribbean spiced turkey is not a bad idea...
 
carlos November 25, 2016
Haha love both jerky and jerked! 😀 Our 25 bird cooked in about 2 and a quarter hours and the legs did the same this year. Maybe it's about lowering the heat from 400?
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 21, 2017
Ms. T, I'm sorry to hear about the dried out legs (but happy to hear that the breast was perfect!) Try putting some foil on the drumsticks about half way through. Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 21, 2017
Carlos, I've never actually roasted a bird this large, but based on the extensive research I've done using reliable sources (primarily on Serious Eats), I think your suggestion is probably correct -- the temperature in your case should be a bit lower. And you definitely should put some foil on the drumsticks, even with the lower temperature. ;o)
 
Anna M. November 24, 2016
This is the 3rd year we are spatchcocking a 30 lb turkey and we can never go back to the traditional, dry, way too time consuming way of cooking a turkey again! This is the easiest and tastiest way to cook turkeys! It is so much tastier, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and evenly cooked! Just remember to wrap the wings and legs in foil for a little longer then the first half of the cooking time, so they don't dry out. Antonia James, you have the best, step by step article I have found to date, and thank you for stating the amount of time per pound with this method. (No one else has!) Happy Thanksgiving! Anna Marie & Family
 
Anna M. November 24, 2016
I do not know why my comment is posted 3 times and I can not find a way to remove them. I do not brine and add salt & pepper before I place it in the oven and it comes out perfect. I do the stuffing separately in a large baking dish so it gets that golden brown crunchy top layer. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Anna M. November 24, 2016
This is the 3rd year we are spatchcocking a 30 lb turkey and we can never go back to the traditional, dry, way too time consuming way of cooking a turkey again! This is the easiest and tastiest way to cook turkeys! It is so much tastier, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and evenly cooked! Just remember to wrap the wings and legs in foil for a little longer then the first half of the cooking time, so they don't dry out. Antonia James, you have the best, step by step article I have found to date, and thank you for stating the amount of time per pound with this method. (No one else has!) Happy Thanksgiving! Anna Marie & Family
 
Anna M. November 24, 2016
This is the 3rd year we are spatchcocking a 30 lb turkey and we can never go back to the traditional, dry, way too time consuming way of cooking a turkey again! This is the easiest and tastiest way to cook turkeys! It is so much tastier, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and evenly cooked! Just remember to wrap the wings and legs in foil for a little longer then the first half of the cooking time, so they don't dry out. Antonia James, you have the best, step by step article I have found to date, and thank you for stating the amount of time per pound with this method. (No one else has!) Happy Thanksgiving! Anna Marie & Family
 
placidplaid November 24, 2014
I showed this recipe to a friend of mine and he wondered what size oven you'd need to accomodate the flattened out bird. He also thought it would be dry. <br />
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 24, 2014
A standard 30" oven is plenty large, even for a large bird. We have never had a problem with the bird being dry (especially when prepared with the dry rub as suggested), and in fact, it's amazing how juicy it is. The cooking time is greatly reduced. Overcooking is what dries out turkey. I haven't heard of any complaints from anyone else on this. ;o)
 
Maria C. November 23, 2014
This will be my first time ever cooking a turkey and I want to try this. I will be using a 24 pound turkey, what size pan or sheet should I use? Also, did you put the water into the pan with the turkey?
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 23, 2014
I don't know about the size of the pan, as I've never roasted one that large. I'll post a question over on the hotline about that. As for adding water, yes, I usually put just a bit in the roasting pan when I put the bird in, to keep the initial drippings, etc. from burning. Liquid is released during cooking, which tends to keep things in order, but I would keep an eye on it and add a bit more during the cooking, if necessary. (Good question!) ;o)
 
Maria C. November 23, 2014
Okay awesome thank you!
 
Author Comment
AntoniaJames November 24, 2014
Maria, here is the link to the Hotline discussion: https://food52.com/hotline/26727-how-large-a-baking-sheet-or-roasting-pan-should-be-used-for-a-24-lb-spatchcocked-butterflied-turke ;o)
 
Maria C. November 25, 2014
Oh nice!! Thanks you so much for doing that!
 
Paula B. January 11, 2014
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.<br /><br />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.
 
Paula B. January 11, 2014
The best I have found is a rub w/o salt...<br />1/2 cup tuscan seasoning<br />2 T Aleppo ground pepper flakes<br />4-6 cloves garlic very fine chopped<br />mix together well then add just enough olive oil to make a paste,<br />rub all all over the prepped (Spatchcock) bird <br />let stand 1/2 hour to an hour depending on size<br />and cook at 425 till golden <br />and you can feel the leg joint moving when you twist it gently<br />I do not remove backbone but smack it flat
 
calendargirl November 11, 2013
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!
 
Connie C. November 6, 2013
I agree that Antonia's directions are the best I've ever read..Julia's weren't so easy in her first two books!!<br />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!!
 
dymnyno November 22, 2012
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.
 
maryvelasquez November 22, 2012
I am thankful for the clear advice of AntoniaJames and my new poultry sheers! Can't wait to see how this turns out.
 
Whats4Dinner November 19, 2012
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!
 
fiveandspice November 14, 2012
Congrats again on being a finalist AJ! This simply a gorgeous recipe.
 
Kukla November 14, 2012
Congratulations AJ!! So happy for you, this is truly a great recipe!!!
 
aargersi November 14, 2012
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!!!