Serves a Crowd

The Easiest Thanksgiving Turkey

November 21, 2022
2 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 10 to 12
Author Notes

I always spend too much time each Thanksgiving season trying to figure out the best way to brine my turkey. I’ve tried everything, from simple salt water to an apple juice concoction with cinnamon sticks and orange peel. I knew that the salt in the brine was breaking something or other down in the turkey, making it less prone to shriveling up and drying out, but what I didn’t know was that I was water logging my turkey. The turkey was juicy, sure, but it was all a farce. The thing was just full of water! So this time around, I did a plain old salt rub overnight, like a light cure. This made sure that my turkey had its fibers broken down enough to not dry out, but also didn’t weigh my turkey down with flavorless water or overpowering apple juice. The skin was wonderfully crispy, the bird was perfectly juicy, and I was one happy lady. Another reason for my happiness was the spatchcock, or butterfly, method that I used this year. Simply put, you just need to cut the backbone out of your turkey. It is not a technique for the squeamish, but it works like a charm. Once you flatten the bird and put it on your roasting tray, the turkey will cook evenly on its new flat surface, as well as allowing for a much faster cooking time – well under an hour and a half! This is the only way to cook a turkey, folks. After years of sub-par turkey dinners, this one took the cake.
As a side note, people like to brine turkey in some kind of salt water or apple juice mixture, which is fine, but this just water logs the turkey and makes it tastes like water or apple juice. "Curing" the turkey with salt, however, gives the same benefit of breaking down the muscle fibers in the turkey to make it moist and juicy without taking on the flavor of anything of than delicious turkey. —CrepesofWrath

Test Kitchen Notes

“Roasting a turkey is my favorite part of Thanksgiving,” said no one ever. The reality is: Most people dread preparing the feast day centerpiece. So we set out to make a truly easy turkey recipe that’s totally foolproof.

Before we talk technique, let’s talk turkey–that is, buying the bird. As a rule of thumb, account for 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person. So if you’re hosting a 10-person feast, you’ll want to buy a bird that’s approximately 15 pounds. If you’re shopping way in advance of the holiday, stick the turkey in the freezer and defrost it three to five days before Thanksgiving, depending on its size. The USDA recommends allotting one day per four to five pounds; for a 15-pound bird, three days should be enough time for it to fully thaw. If you’re doing an overnight dry brine, transfer the turkey to the fridge on Sunday so that you can brine it on Wednesday evening.

Before cooking the bird, be sure to remove the neck and giblets, which you will stuff into its cavity. (If we’re honest, we think part of earning your Thanksgiving stripes is experience the very common mishap of forgetting to remove these parts!)

Tired of all the work without top-notch results? For an actually delicious, totally easy turkey recipe, spatchcock that bird. What this means is that you’re actually cutting out the backbone of the bird and breaking its breastbone in order to flatten it, reducing the cooking time by at least half and ensuring that the skin gets fully crispy.

Try it out and let us know if it’s in fact the best (and easiest!) roast ever.

What You'll Need
  • 1 13-15 pound turkey
  • 1-2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Prep your turkey overnight. Using paper towels, pat your turkey very dry, then rub salt all over the turkey, inside and out, and under the skin. Do not throw the giblets or neck away— save them for the gravy! You can spatchcock/butterfly your turkey before or after you do this—I did mine after for no particular reason at all. Place turkey in a brine bag (or large ziplock) in the fridge overnight (you can put it on a plate or in a roasting pan, lightly covered with foil, too).
  2. When you're ready to cook your turkey, heat the oven to 450°F. Toss the vegetables and rosemary together and spread them out on a roasting pan or a sheet pan lined with foil. Top the vegetables with a cooling rack fitted into the roasting tray itself.
  3. Spatchcock your turkey. Place a wet paper towel under a cutting board so that it doesn't slip around, and using a pair of kitchen shears (highly recommended) or a very sharp knife, carefully cut the backbone out of the brined turkey, starting at the tail end. Cutting through gets a little tough in certain areas, but follow the back bone and keep cutting. See the photos above if you're unsure, but I promise this is really easy and almost impossible to mess up. Do one side, then do the other. Be really careful not to slip or cut yourself—do not attempt this with a blunt knife.
  4. Once the back bone is out, set it aside to be used for the gravy, if desired. Flip the bird over so that it is breast side up. Using as much force as possible, press your palm into the "sternum" of the turkey, between the two breasts, and press down to flatten the bird as much as possible (again, see the photos above). Spread the legs out, away from the body, and tuck the wings in so that they don't burn in the oven. Rub all over with olive oil. Place the turkey on top of the roasted rack. Roast in the oven for 70-80 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 165°F.
  5. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving. Save any juices from the bottom of the pan to add to the gravy, if you like.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

1 Review

Elisa B. November 15, 2023
Best Thanksgiving turkey I ever made, my guests loved it!!