If you've been cooking your Thanksgiving turkey as a whole bird, you are missing out big time. There are several disadvantages to this method - it takes way longer to cook, you can't season it properly unless you brine it, brining it leaves a mushy texture, the dark meat cooks too slow meaning you'll get overcooked and dry white meat, it's really challenging to cut and carve, you end up with a bunch of wasted meat still on the bone, and you can't use the bones for stock until after Thanksgiving. Have I convinced you yet?!
The secret is to break down the bird in some fashion. You can either spatchcock it by removing the backbone. Or my favorite way is to break it down into all its parts like if it was a whole chicken. See my steps here. Now with all the turkey parts, you can follow the steps below to make the most incredibly delicious turkey in under 2 hours. After you give this a try for the first time, I can promise you will never go back to the old method of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey whole again.
- One 12-14 pound turkey
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic power (not garlic salt)
- 2 tbsp oil
- Stuffing like my Trail Mix Thanksgiving Stuffing (optional)
- 8-24 hours before cook time, break down the turkey into 2 breast halves (bone on), 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 upper wings, and 2 lower wings. Skin should remain on. No wing tips, backbone, neck, or other parts. Use those for stock.
- Dry off all the parts using paper towels and also dry off the tray or rack that they will sit in.
- Combine the salt, pepper, and garlic and rub evenly over all the parts. There should be enough for a 12 pound turkey. If you need more, just follow the ratio of seasonings or simply use extra salt and pepper.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
- Subtract 3 hours from when you want to eat. So if you want to eat at 5pm, start the next steps at 2pm.
- Remove the turkey parts from the fridge and allow the turkey to set out at room temperature for 1 hour.
- While you wait, prepare the stuffing and add to a large greased roasting pan. Or if not cooking with the stuffing, just grease a roasting pan or tray.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- After an hour at room temp, coat the turkey parts with oil and arrange them on top of the stuffing or directly on the tray. If the parts start to overcrowd each other, grab a separate greased tray to roast any parts that don't fit like. This Thanksgiving I roasted the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks with the stuffing and roasted the wing parts on a separate tray.
- 2 hours before you want to eat, place the tray or pan in the oven and let cook for 30 minutes until the skin starts to brown.
- Reduce heat to 350 degrees and cook for another 45 minutes (so 75 minutes total).
- Now start checking the temperature of the meat ideally using an instant read digital thermometer. The turkey is done when the breast meat is 160 degrees or warmer and the thigh meat is 175 degrees or warmer. It should be around the 80-90 minute mark so 5-15 minutes longer.
- Remove the turkey and transfer the turkey parts to a cutter board. Cover with foil and let rest 15-30 minutes. The residual heat will elevate the meat temperature to 165-170 for white meat and 180 for dark meat.
- If you cooked with stuffing underneath, give the stuffing a stir. Either turn the over off and stick back to keep warm, Or if the stuffing is too moist or you want a crispy top for better presentation, turn the oven up to 450 degrees or even turn the broiler on low and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Watch carefully though to make sure the stuffing top doesn't burn.
- Now my favorite part, slice the turkey breast and thigh meat. You won't believe how easy it is to cut and serve the turkey meat this way.
- Leave the leg and wing parts whole for your family or guests to take/fight over.
- Now just wait for everyone to take their first bite and be blown away by how delicious turkey can actually be if prepared the right way.
Variation for Next Time
- This year the dark meat cooked a lot faster than the white meat because they were smaller standalone parts. Next year I may either start the breast 10-15 minutes sooner than the dark meat parts or I may keep the thigh and drumsticks connected and use the wing parts in the stock or roast separately.
- I also kept the ribs on the breast which made it somewhat of a challenge to slide afterwards. It wasn't too hard to slice between the breast meat and rib bones to remove but may be easier to just remove the breast bone before cooking. That may impact flavor but may also speed up the cook time of the white meat.