The Food Lab: How to Make an Herb Butter-Rubbed Spatchcocked Roast Turkey in Under 2 Hours

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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This herb butter-rubbed variation of our original spatchcock turkey goes from fridge to table in 2 hours. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

So you've seen our spatchcock turkey and you're intrigued by the promise of extra-crisp skin and ultra-moist meat, all in about 90 minutes...but there's just one thing that bugs you: You're the kind of person who likes to put decals on their car or glitter on their greeting cards. In other words, plain old salt and pepper just ain't gonna cut if for ya.

I hear you. Despite the simplicity and turkey-forward flavor of a roast with nothing but a little salt and pepper, I, too, occasionally crave something with a little more excitement. Every once in a while, I just have to reach for that packet of pink Japanese bath salts instead of the box of Mr. Bubble, if you know what I mean.

Well, here's the recipe for you. It's got all of the same crisp skin and juicy meat as the original recipe, but with a flavor-packed herb butter to coat it.

Step 1: Butterfly

To begin, start with a natural turkey that weighs between 10 to 15 pounds. I find 12 pounds to be just about the sweet spot. Next, either ask your butcher to remove the backbone (make sure he gives it to you for your gravy!), or follow the step-by-step instructions here—through step eight—to do it yourself.

Step 2: The Herbs

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Though we're calling this an herb butter, in reality it's equal parts herbs and equal parts alliums. I use a mix of parsley, sage, and thyme (rosemary proved too overpowering every time), along with shallots, garlic, and chives, all pulsed in the food processor until chopped.

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In goes a stick of butter. Remember, Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks and being with family. Not for counting calories.

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Season with salt and pepper, then blend it all up into a nice, even paste, like this.

Step 3: Skin the Bird!

Now we could melt this herb butter and just paint it all over the surface, and believe me, we'll be doing that in a bit. But why stop there? We're going to put the herb butter under the skin, as well.

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To do that, you first have to separate the skin from the flesh underneath. Enter the space under the breast from the bottom of the bird. Don't be shy here, this turkey has seen a few things in its time, and it's anything but coy.

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The turkey will need to have its legs serviced as well, so make sure you get way in there, lifting the skin from the thighs.

Step 4: Butter Up!

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Pick up the herb butter in big clumps with your hands then insert those clumps all around the turkey under the skin. You should end up using about half of the herb butter under the skin.

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Once the big clumps are in place, massage them from the outside until they form a relatively even layer of butter and herbs.

Step 5: Paint it On

Melt the remaining herb butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave, then paint it onto the bird using a pastry brush. I like to use a silicone pastry brush because it lasts forever, is heatproof, and doesn't shed hairs onto your turkey the way a standard pastry brush can.

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Your turkey is now primed, pumped, pre-gamed, and ready to party. And the party is gonna be HOT.

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Step 6: Roast!

How hot, you ask? Oh, about 450°F hot. Into the oven the turkey goes. We're aiming for skin that's deep brown all over and irresistibly crisp and crunchy, and it all takes place in under 90 minutes. I mean it. If you're able to resist taking a grab at a little corner of skin as you take the turkey out of the oven, then you are a stronger man or woman than I.

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When all is said and done, your legs should register no lower than 165°F on an instant read thermometer, while your breast meat should register between 145 and 150°F for optimal juiciness.

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Now is the time to break out that fancy-pants Thermapen your dearest loved one got you for your birthday last year. (They did get it for you, didn't they?)

Step 7: Rest and Carve

Once the turkey has had a chance to rest (this helps keep it nice and juicy), it's ready to be carved. Just follow this video:

And that's about all she wrote. Incredibly crisp skin, juicy meat, and a blazing-fast cook time all come together in one recipe. It's why I recommend it year after year and why it's what's going to be on my table for all the foreseeable Thanksgivings to come.

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