How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Note: Serious eater Grace Yang, the blogger behind Gracenotes NYC, swears by the spatchcocking method for a perfect Thanksgiving turkey. What is spatchcocking, you say? Grace explains.

[Photographs: Grace Yang]

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. But as the host, it can be tough deciding which "fool-proof" method will insure the juiciest, most flavorful turkey.

After doing my research, I'm convinced spatchcocking is the way to go. Say wha? Spatchcocking? It involves butterflying the bird, removing its backbone and breaking the breastbone so it lies flat. The breast meat turns out very tender, the drumsticks are juicy and flavorful, and the entire thing is done in half the time.

While the typical turkey-roasting (for a 10- to 12-pound bird) can last about three hours, this shaves off at least half of that. Last weekend, I tested this approach and the turkey came out beautifully. Check it out, after the jump.

Brining

The first step to a perfect spatchcoked turkey is brining. Letting the bird sit in a salt-and-herb mixture overnight allows the wonderful flavors to distribute evenly. You don't have to buy an expensive brining kit. You can create a simple brine with basic kitchen ingredients.

Last year, I did a buttermilk brine with practically no salt, because my turkey was pre-brined, which turned out really well. If you buy a kosher turkey, there's no need to brine because it's already gone through a salting process.

brine.jpg

Simple Brine

1 cup kosher salt (very important)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon roughly cracked black peppercorns
1 handful of rosemary
1 handful of thyme
1 handful of sage leaves
1 gallon water
Tray of ice cubes

1. Combine all the ingredients, except the ice, in a pot and stir on medium heat until the salt and sugar combine.

2. After the salt and sugar have dissolved, turn off the heat and add a tray of ice cubes to the mix to quickly cool down the brine. Prepare your turkey for brining by removing the gizzards (you can save that for the gravy) and place it in a brining bag, a clean plastic bag that will cover your turkey (that's what I did) or a large container that will fit your turkey.

brine turkey.jpg

3. Place in a cool area (the refrigerator or somewhere chilly like the garage) overnight. If the brine doesn't completely cover the turkey, rotate it halfway through the brining process to ensure an even distribution. After brining overnight, wash off the brine and pat the turkey dry before placing it in the oven.

4. Create an herb butter to place under the turkey skin. This is the easiest and awesomest idea ever. Butter = good. Herbs = good. Butter + Herbs = VERY VERY GOOD. All you have to do is mix some butter with herbs, stick it under the turkey skin, and place it in the oven.

To make an herb butter: Find the herbs you want to flavor your turkey (like sage, thyme, or rosemary), chop them up, place them in a bowl, and plop in a stick of semi-soft butter.

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5. Thoroughly mix the butter and herbs by hand and break it up into pieces to stick under the turkey skin. Carefully separate the turkey skin away from the meat.

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While the turkey's in the oven, the butter will melt and distribute some great flavor, especially to the breasts!

Spatchcocking

6. Now it's time to spatchcock the turkey. Most sources recommend spatchcocking a 10- to 12-pound turkey (or chicken), but I have to feed 14 people so I went with a 16-pounder, and it turned out well. (A pound per person is usually safe).

7. After brining the turkey, rinse it off so the residual brine doesn't stay on the turkey and set it on your counter. I covered mine in Saran Wrap for easier clean-up.

8. Find the backbone of the turkey and with very sharp kitchen scissors or poultry shears, start cutting along one side. Then cut along the other.

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My brother David helped so I could snap these photos.

At this point, the backbone's almost removed. If you need help and the scissors aren't cutting it (ha!) try a chef's knife.

backbone almost removed.jpg

And the backbone's been removed!

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9. Save the backbone for flavoring stews, broths, or other soups. I froze mine to use later. After the backbone has been removed, spread out the turkey.

flattening out turkey.jpg

If you've ever wanted to see the innards of a turkey, here's your chance.

turkey innards.jpg

Spread eagle. Er, wrong bird.

10. After spreading out the turkey, flip it so the breasts are facing the ceiling and break the breastbones. (Warning: you'll hear a loud popping sound when they break.)

breaking breastbone.jpg

11. Before placing the turkey in the oven, rub the skin with some olive oil.

Roasting

turkey before oven.jpg

A spatchcocked, brined, herb butter-filled, olive-oiled turkey!

12. Roast the turkey at 450°F (undisturbed) for 20 minutes.

13. Remove from the oven. The skin should already be slightly browned. Baste it, or rub it with butter, and return it to a 400°F oven. Roast for another 30 minutes or so. (Since my turkey was larger, I had to roast it for an extra 40 minutes.) Make sure the thigh reads 160°F before removing the turkey from the oven.

Resting

turkey after roasting.jpg

Our spatchcocked turkey, out of the oven.

14. Let the turkey rest. If you follow no other tips, PLEASE follow this one. After taking the turkey out of the oven, do not start carving it right away! Doing so releases all of the wonderful turkey juices. Instead, let the bird rest for 10 to 15 minutes to achieve maximum juiciness.

Ooohing and Aaahing

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Me and David with our turkey.

Everyone at our party loved the spatchcocked turkey. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the entire thing was done in half the time a traditional roasting method takes. Have you ever tried spatchcocking a turkey?

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How to Spatchcock a Turkey

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