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In only 13 more days, the biggest and best feast of the year will be gracing tables across the United States, and most of the festivities will revolve around a turkey. Whether you are serving a wee 8 pound bird or planning to feed an army with a 20 pound Turkeysaurus Rex, you want the centerpiece of the meal to be a tasty, juicy, and picture perfect.
Turkey isn't exactly famous for being easy to cook. It tends to go from savory to sawdust much faster than any of us would care for. Oh, and don't forget about the tradition of getting up in the middle of the night to start cooking if you want to serve a Thanksgiving lunch. Everyone knows that you have to cook a turkey for HOURS, right?
In previous years, we have discussed great methods for roasting and smoking everyone's favorite fowl, but this year, in the interest of saving you a lot of time and trouble, we will be spatchcocking.
What is spatchcocking? It's a method of splitting open and laying flat a bird before cooking. Thanksgiving is a great time give this preparation a try. The resulting turkey cooks faster, meaning less opportunity to dry out your white meat, and has a very crisp skin. When you butterfly poultry, all of the skin is exposed to the heat at once. The skin cooks evenly, no flipping required.
A warning for the squeamish: this recipe is extremely easy, but does require that you do a small amount of butchering. If you recently watched a documentary made by vegans or think fondly of your time as a vegetarian (you know, third semester of your sophomore year in college), this may not be for you.
10-12 lb turkey
1 stick of butter
Firing the oven: bring your oven temperature up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the fire die and spread the embers over the floor. Place the insulated door and rest the oven for 30 minutes. Bank the embers to one side.
1. Unwrap your turkey and drain off any purge (the reddish pink combination of water and proteins that is probably filling the cavity). Remove the neck and giblets, reserving for your gravy if you like. You can give your bird a quick cold water rinse if you want.
2. Blot the turkey with paper towels to dry the skin and stuff the cavity with paper towels. Cover the turkey with paper towels (on a platter or sheet pan) and place in the refrigerator until the oven is heated.
3. While your oven is resting, take the turkey and rest it on the breast, with the back facing up. I chose to cover my work area with plastic sheeting (ok, fine, it's a cut up garbage bag) to minimize clean up.
4. Using your poultry shears, cut the backbone from the turkey. This is done by starting to snip along one side, from neck to cavity, then repeating on the other side of the backbone. This does require a little hand strength, but it only takes a few minutes. I found that the easiest method was by using small snips with the point of the shears, rather than wedging the shears to the hilt and trying to hack through.
Do not try this with the pair of scissors you use to open your chip bags.
5. After the backbone is removed, you can choose to arrange the turkey on a sheet pan or roasting pan over a bed of celery, carrots, quartered onions, and/or fresh herbs. The vegetables will release enough liquid to ensure your herbs don't vaporize and catch the turkey drippings (pro tip: use the veg in your stock/gravy). If you choose to skip the veggies, use a roasting rack and plan for your drippings to burn away.
I did neither of these things; instead, I propped my turkey up on balls of aluminum foil. I'm resourceful like that.
6. Give your turkey a last once over with paper towels, making sure it is as dry as you can get it (dry skin = crispy skin). Trim away any excess skin around the neck or elsewhere. Brush both sides of the turkey with melted butter and season liberally with salt and pepper. If you have another seasoning you like, go for it, but you truly don't need anything else. Tuck the wings behind and turn the thighs so that they are lying flat against the pan.
7. Place the turkey in the oven, add the insulated door, and cook for 1 hour. After an hour, my bird was crackling, crisp, and golden brown. I gave it an extra 15 minutes to ensure the meat was brought to temperature (165 for the thigh, slightly less for the breast).
That is some crispy salty goodness
8. Rest the turkey for 30 minutes. Undoubtedly you know by now that if you immediately cut into the turkey, all of the moisture will run out of it and you will be left with shoe leather.
9. That's it. Really. I have to say, I used only salt, pepper, and butter and this was one of the best turkeys I have ever tasted. I did not share. I did not offer tastes to my co-workers. I packed up the entire bird and took it home, where I ate it, hunching over protectively, glaring wildly at my husband and dogs if they dared take a step in my direction. It was that good.
I will most definitely be cooking my Thanksgiving turkey(s) with this method. I might see a few raised eyebrows when I bring out a lazy, splayed entree, but I feel pretty confident that what is lacking in presentation is more than compensated for in tastiness.
Or you can just carve it and serve it like this:
I like what I see here. This turkey looks super. Nice description and explanation. Happy Thanksgiving!