For this year’s Thanksgiving, I wanted to make sure that my turkey was absolutely amazing. I started researching pretty early (as in, after I finished last year’s Thanksgiving dinner). Most websites suggest brining the turkey and injecting the turkey with flavor throughout the roasting process, but I did BOTH last year and my turkey still wasn’t the best it could be. Injecting the turkey while it roasts is a bad idea because everytime you open the oven door, the temperature decreases slightly and you prolong the cooking time, which means by the time the meat is ready to eat, it’s going to be dry and overcooked. I still believe in brining (I did it this year as well) but you really have to make sure you do it for at least 8 hours to reap the benefits.
Here are my suggestions to make a great Thanksgiving Turkey:
1. Brine your turkey. Brining the turkey in a salt and herb mixture overnight allows the flavors to be evenly distributed. I did a simple brine this year (last year, I did a buttermilk brine with practically no salt because my turkey was pre-brined and the turkey turned out really well). However, if you buy a kosher turkey, there’s no need to brine the turkey because it has already gone through a salting process.
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
Place the gallon of water in a stock pot (doesn’t have to be large enough to fit the turkey:
Add the kosher salt to the water:
Next, add the brown sugar:
Then the peppercorns:
Stir over medium heat until salt and sugar have melted. After the sugar and salt have melted, place ice cubes in the brine to cool it down.
To get the turkey brined, let’s start with one young Butterball (make sure your turkey isn’t still frozen):
Place the turkey in a brining bag that’s placed on a roasting pan or something that will be able to hold the turkey overnight in the fridge (or cold garage, or in ice):
Dump the cold brine into the bag:
Make sure the turkey is submerged in the brine and stick it in the fridge. If the turkey is only half in the brine, make sure you turn the turkey around halfway through your brining to evenly distribute the brine.
2. Create an herb butter to place under the turkey skin. This is probably the awesomest idea EVER. Butter = good. Herbs = good. Butter + Herbs = VERY VERY GOOD. This is probably the easiest way to add flavor to the turkey; all you have to do is mix some butter with herbs, stick it under the turkey skin, and place it in the oven.
To create an herb butter, find the herbs you want to flavor your turkey with (I chose sage, thyme, and rosemary):
Chop up all of the herbs and place in a bowl. Add a stick of slightly soft butter into the bowl:
Carefully separate the skin from the turkey meat and place the mushed up herb butter all over:
3. Spatchcock the turkey. Say what?! Spatchcocking, or butterflying, is a great way to ensure an amazing Thanksgiving turkey. Last year after my Thanksgiving party, I watched Grant Achatz make a turkey sous vide. While I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to make anything sous vide, the thing that stuck with me was the fact that he said it’s really stupid to cook the turkey whole (since white meat and dark meat don’t finish cooking at the same time). Well, since I couldn’t do the turkey sous vide style, the next best thing was spatchcocking. Spatchcocking is a great way to make turkey because the backbone is removed and the breastbone is broken, making the turkey lie flat for more even (and faster) cooking. Most blogs recommend spatchcocking a 10-12 pound turkey (or chicken), but I had to feed 14 people so I went with 16 pounds and it turned out well (it’s usually about a pound per person). Also, spatchcocking cuts the amount of time the turkey is actually in the oven; last year, I had to roast the turkey for about 3 hours, this year, I was down to an hour and a half (and this year’s turkey was the same size or larger than last years).
After brining your turkey (if you choose to do so), rinse it off so the residual brine doesn’t stay on the turkey and set it on your counter (I covered my counter in saran wrap for easier clean up):
With a pair of sharp kitchen scissors (or poultry scissors if you have the equipment), find the backbone and start cutting along one side:
Cutting the backbone is hard work, but David helped out:
David cutting the other side of the backbone off:
The backbone, once taken off, can be used in stews, broths, and soups. I froze mine to use at a later date:
A turkey without a backbone:
After you cut the backbone off, spread open the turkey:
A spread out turkey:
Flip the bird around and break the breast bones (there’s a loud pop when you break the bone):
David flattening out the turkey:
Place the spatchcocked turkey on a baking pan (we flipped the turkey to its side so it would fit more evenly on the sheet):
The turkey goes into the oven for 20 minutes (undisturbed) at 450 degrees. After 20 minutes, take it out of the oven and baste it (or just rub butter on it like I did). Bring the oven down to 400 degrees for another 40 or so minutes and make sure the thigh reaches around 160 degrees. Our finished turkey:
David carving the juicy bird:
Me bringing it out to our guests:
Me and David, very proud of our spatchcocked turkey:
Tigger, begging for scraps:
4. Let the turkey rest. If you don’t want to follow any of my other tips, PLEASE follow this one – after you take the turkey out of the oven, please don’t start carving it right away! Doing so releases all of the juices from the turkey and makes your bird dry and flavorless. Instead, let the bird rest for 10 – 15 minutes to obtain maximum juiciness.
Our carved turkey:
I hope my tips for creating a juicy and flavorful bird were helpful – if you need additional resources, there’s a great tutorial in Martha Stewart Living’s Thanksgiving issue, Mark Bittman has a video tutorial, and blog post about spatchcocking, and you can definitely google spatchcocking turkey for more help. I also wrote another post about tools you’ll need to spatchcock. You can check it out here.