The Single Best Way to Cook a Turkey
You may have thought that there was only one way to roast a whole turkey: get up extra early to put the bird in the oven (even earlier if you want to stuff it), then attentively baste until it's done. Think again! It's time to learn how to spatchcock your turkey.
Spatchcocking is a simple method of cooking whole poultry that cuts the cooking time in half, allows the breast and thighs to cook at the same rate, and produces a much more flavorful bird with nice, crispy skin. By removing the spine and flattening the turkey, the entire bird cooks more evenly. Normally, the breast is most exposed to the heat, so by the time the thighs are fully cooked, the breast meat is overdone and dry. Flattening the body minimizes the difference between cooking times of the thighs and the breasts by more evenly distributing the heat.
Spatchcocking also saves time. Most recipes require up to 3 hours to cook a turkey. When spatchcocked, the cooking time is reduced to around 80 minutes! This saves you precious hours to attend to side dishes, appetizers or desserts that may need the oven.
Lastly, making gravy with the backbone adds an extra level of flavor.
So free up some time, step up your gravy game, and serve the most delicious turkey you have ever cooked by learning to spatchcock.
You can make this meal even better by sourcing your turkey from a local and/or humane farm.
1 whole turkey, 12-14 pounds, preferably local and pasture-raised
1/2 c coarse salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
1.5 quarts chicken or turkey stock
2 Tbsp fat for frying
Backbone and neck from turkey
Approximately 1 c each of celery, carrots, and onion; roughly chopped (plus more for lining a sheet tray for the turkey)
1 sprig each of thyme and rosemary
Salt and black pepper, to taste
¼ c butter
¼ c all-purpose flour
Using a pair of poultry scissors, cut out the spine of the turkey. Starting at the tail of the bird, on each side of the spine, cut through the back. Around the leg joint, you will need a lot of pressure to cut through.
Turn the turkey over. Flip the legs so they are facing outward. Tuck the wings underneath the back, so they do not burn. Press down on the middle of the breast, as if you were giving it CPR and press hard until you hear a crack and the turkey lays flat.
To dry-brine the turkey:
Place the turkey on a sheet tray with a wire rack.
Mix the ½ c of salt with the 2 Tbsp of baking powder. Sprinkle salt mixture over all over the skin of the turkey. Try to cover all areas. You will not use all of the salt. Cover until you can see a thin, white dusting over the turkey.
Refrigerate for 1-3 days. The longer the turkey sits, the juicier and more flavorful it will be.
To cook the turkey:
Pull the turkey out of the fridge at least two hours before cooking to bring it to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Add some veggies to a sheet tray (under a wire rack), such as onion, carrot, and celery. This will prevent the turkey drippings from burning. Place the turkey in the oven on the center rack.
Cook until the breast meat reaches 150ºF and the thigh reaches 165ºF, about 80 minutes for a 12-14 lb turkey. Please note that the USDA recommends all poultry be cooked to an internal temperature of 165ºF. Remove the turkey and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before carving
While the turkey is cooking, to make gravy:
Cut the backbone into manageable size pieces.
Melt 2 Tbsp of fat in a pot then brown the backbone and neck (if it came with the turkey) in the pot. Add a handful each of onion, celery, and carrots, and a sprig of thyme. Add 1 ½ quarts of chicken or turkey stock (homemade is always best). Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 45 minutes. Then strain the stock and discard the solids.
After the stock is finished, in another pan, melt the butter. Once melted, slowly add ¼ c of flour and mix well. Let this cook for approximately 3 minutes, until golden brown. Slowly pour stock into the butter mixture, stirring constantly to break up any clumps. Bring this mixture to a simmer until the desired thickness is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy your crispy-skinned, juicy turkey topped (or smothered) with flavorful homemade gravy!