It seems a lot more people this year will be cooking their own Thanksgiving meal given the restrictions on travel and gathering sizes. I've had some practice over the last few years with all sorts of different ways of doing a Thanksgiving dinner. And every year, I feel I get better and better.
Two years ago I discovered a method of cooking the turkey that forever changed how I do it going forward. It's called spatchcocking and it involves removing the backbone using kitchen shears. This allows the turkey to open up and lay flat on a roasting pan. By cooking it this way, the turkey can cook quicker and more evenly. No more dried out breast with undercooked dark meat. And no more 3+ hour cook times. A 12-16 pound bird can cook in 75-90 minutes.
A spatchcocked turkey really is the ultimate way to roast a turkey. It happens to also be celebrity cook, Alton Brown's favorite way to cook a turkey. The only downside is you don't get that picture perfect whole roasted turkey. Instead it looks a little splayed out. What I like to do to make it more presentable is to just go ahead and break down the cooked bird into its various parts and serve it that way. Plus my guests tend to prefer I do it that way so they can pick and choose their slices and pieces of turkey instead of waiting one slice at a time from the whole bird.
Below is my recipe and procedure for a perfect Thanksgiving spatchcocked turkey.
- One whole turkey, ideally organic and never frozen (12-16 pounds)
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp ground pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic, about 6 cloves (or 1.5 tsp dried)
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
- 2-4 tbsp olive oil to form a thick paste
- Mix up the herb paste by combining the ingredients in a bowl.
- 1-2 days prior to Thanksgiving, take the turkey out of the fridge, wash it out, and remove the innards.
- Put on cutting board or rimmed baking sheet breast side down exposing the backbone.
- Using a really sharp and sturdy pair or kitchen shears, cut out the backbone by cutting up one side and then the other.
- Save the backbone along with the neck and even the wing tips to turn into the turkey stock.
- Flip the bird over and press with the heel of your hands on both breasts until you hear the breast bones crack and the breast lays flat.
- Rub the paste over the bird. Be sure to get some under the skin of the breast directly on the breast meat. And be sure to get some on the underside. If you run out of rub, just use salt and pepper on any areas not yet seasoned.
- Put the bird on a rimmed baking sheet skin side up and put back in the fridge uncovered for 24-48 hours. This will help the skin dry out to make it crispy when it cooks.
- Remove the bird from the fridge on Thanksgiving day 60-90 minutes before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Put the bird on a clean baking sheet with rims to catch the juices. If you'd like, you can put the bird on a cooling rack and then on the baking sheet which can help with airflow and to crisp up the underside of the bird while it cooks.
- Cook for 30 minutes then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook for 40-60 minutes longer until both the breast and thigh temperatures reach 165 degrees. Use a thermometer to check just to make sure.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Transfer the bird to a cutting board and start to divide the bird into the main pieces by separating the thighs from behind the breasts, then the drumsticks from the thighs, then the wings from the top of the breast, then the breast from the breast bone and ribs.
- Now slice the breast and thighs against the grain into 1/4-1/2 inch slices. I try to leave some skin on with each slice.
- Arrange the white meat slices, dark meat slices, wings, and drumsticks on a tray and serve.