Roast Turkey in Parts Recipe

A whole roast bird may be traditional, but roasting your Thanksgiving turkey in parts is the best way to achieve even, thorough cooking from breast to leg.

Roasted, carved turkey on a platter with sage leaves. A pitcher of gravy is next to the platter.

Serious Eats / Liz Clayman

Why It Works

  • Separating the breast meat from the leg meat before roasting your turkey allows you to cook both white and dark meat to the proper temperature.
  • Simmering aromatics and the turkey carcass in stock creates a flavorful base for gravy.

Have you ever sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, assembled your plate, taken a bite, and thought, This turkey is okay, but it's just too moist and evenly cookedMe neither. Let me make a prediction: You will never have that reaction to a traditional roast turkey.

Here's the problem with turkey: above 145°F or so, white meat begins to dry out. Dark meat, with its connective tissue, on the other hand, has to be cooked to at least 165°F. How do you cook a single bird to two different temperatures? It's difficult at best, and downright impossible at worst, even more so when you consider the variation in shape and thickness of turkey meat, especially on the breast of a large bird.

Turkey Talk

Separating the dark meat from the white is the only way to nail the 20-degree temperature differential between properly cooked thighs and breasts. As a delicious added plus, separated legs can be slow-cooked to break down their connective tissue and provide a wonderfully silky mouthfeel.

As for the reasons to tie the breast into a cylindrical roast, look no further than Kenji's post on turkey-stuffed turkey from last year:

Even cooking. Because of its symmetrical shape, the turkey heats through along its entire length at the same rate. Nobody gets stuck with a dry piece.
Better seasoning. By removing the breasts from the carcass, you expose more surface area, allowing the seasonings to reach the space between the breasts, hence reaching the center of the turkey roll. Similarly, brining is more effective (though with low temperature cooking and an even shape, brining is wholly unnecessary).
Crisper skin. While it's possible to get crisp skin on this beast by popping it back into a 500°F oven for a few minutes just before serving, an even better way to do it is to sear it in butter in a big skillet on the stovetop--an endeavor that's reasonably simple with the breast's reduced size and more convenient shape.
Easier carving. With no bones and an even shape, carving this turkey is as simple as slicing a tenderloin.
Better gravy. With the entire carcass of the bird at your disposal, it's easy to make a delicious, very turkey gravy. I make mine by chopping up the bones, browning them, making a stock with aromatics, enhancing with some marmite and soy sauce, then thickening. Delicious!
Your family will like you more. Unless you're a kitchen control-freak (I am).

The butchery itself is actually pretty simple. Just remember to use a very sharp knife and to use your hands as much as possible.

After separating the appendages and deboning the breasts, I assemble the roast by stacking the breast halves on top of each other smooth-side-out, making sure the thin end of each half is aligned with the thick end of the other half. This guarantees relatively even thickness throughout its length. I wrap the cylinder back up in the skin and truss it with a series of half-hitch knots or. If that's not your bag, you can use several simple granny knots all along the length of the roast.

The easiest way to cook the bird is to roast all of the pieces in a 300°F oven on a couple of rimmed baking sheets fitted with a rack. Pull out the breast when it reaches 145°F (tent it with foil to keep it warm) and the legs/wings when they hit 165°F. After that, crank the oven back up to 500°F, and about 15 minutes before you're ready to serve, bang everything back inside to crisp up the exterior skin (or you can sear the breast piece in hot butter in a skillet). All told, roasting should take less than 2 hours for a 12 to 15 pound bird, which is significant savings over a traditional roast turkey. Carve the bird, and serve.

When you take your first bite of juicy, evenly cooked meat, I think you'll agree it's well worth the extra effort of butchery. Well, unless the Swedish Chef is on. Priorities, people.

November 2010

This recipe's headnote was written by Aaron Mattis, while the recipe was developed by J. Kenji López-Alt.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 25 mins
Cook: 4 hrs 15 mins
Active: 45 mins
Total: 4 hrs 40 mins
Serves: 8 to 12 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole turkey, 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8kg)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 2 large ribs celery, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 12 whole black peppercorns

  • 1 quart (900ml) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, divided

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil

  • 3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter

  • 3 tablespoons flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon marmite

  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) soy sauce

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife, remove legs from turkey and set aside. Using a large cleaver or heavy chef's knife, cut backbone and carcass away from the turkey breast. Separate turkey wings from breast. Chop backbone and carcass into rough pieces with the cleaver. Season liberally with salt and pepper. For best results, transfer turkey parts to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and let rest, uncovered, overnight in refrigerator (see notes).

  2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). Spread onions, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns evenly across a rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1 cup (240ml) stock into baking sheet; reserve remaining stock. Place a wire rack on top of the baking sheet. (It may rest directly on top of vegetables—this is okay.) Set aside. Place turkey on top of rack on top of vegetables, trying to leave a little space between the turkey pieces.

  3. Roast turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a breast piece registers 150°F (66°C), 2 to 3 hours total. Remove breast and set aside. Continue roasting legs until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (77°C) when inserted into leg, about 30 minutes longer. (Depending on the pieces' arrangement, the legs might finish at the same time as the breasts.) The turkey pieces will not be browned. Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Strain vegetables from tray. Reserve liquid and discard vegetables.

  4. While Turkey Is Roasting, Make the Gravy: Roughly chop carcass and neck into 1-inch chunks. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add turkey carcass and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned on all surfaces, about 10 minutes. Add remaining stock. Add water until turkey pieces are barely covered. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to simmer while turkey roasts.

  5. While turkey is resting, pour stock through the same strainer and add to reserved stock from strained vegetables. Discard solids. If desired, cut giblets into 1/4-inch pieces. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until melted. Add giblets and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until flour is light blond in color. Slowly whisk in reserved stock, Marmite, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until desired consistency is reached, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  6. 30 Minutes Before Serving Turkey: Preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Place turkey in oven and cook until crisp and browned, turning breast once during cooking. Serve immediately with gravy.

Special Equipment

Half-sheet pan and wire cooling rack, large saucepan or Dutch oven, instant-read thermometer, fine-mesh strainer

Notes

For best results, roast your turkey on a wire cooling rack set in a half-sheet pan, instead of using a regular roasting pan. I strongly recommend dry-brining your turkey by letting it rest in the refrigerator overnight at the end of step 1. For more details, read this article on dry-brining.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
782 Calories
33g Fat
4g Carbs
110g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 782
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 43%
Saturated Fat 10g 51%
Cholesterol 420mg 140%
Sodium 648mg 28%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 1%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 110g
Vitamin C 1mg 3%
Calcium 73mg 6%
Iron 5mg 26%
Potassium 1013mg 22%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)