spatchcocking a turkey { sort of }… and other obscene Thanksgiving traditions

We had an early Thanksgiving dinner this year and i spatchcocked the turkey  { sort of  } ~ I’ll explain more of  that in a moment.  I’m sorry,  but that just sounds like something obscene to me though you won’t find much that’s less sexy than a raw turkey.  It’s the second time I have prepared a turkey in this manner.  Over the years we have brined turkeys;  roasted them breast-side-down;  slathered butter and herbs between the skin and the breasts;  basted them with melted herbed butter every 20 minutes;  and wrapped them in bacon… all in an attempt to NOT  have dry white meat.  Nothing worked as well as spatchcocking,  which is removing the backbone of  the turkey and then laying the turkey skin/breast side up and pressing down on the breastbone until it cracks and the turkey lies flat.  I am not strong enough to crack the breastbone with my bare hands and I’m not a good enough aim to use a large meat cleaver.  My solution ~ cut the breastbone in half  ( AFTER removing the backbone)  so that you have two separate turkey halves,  each with a breast,  a leg,  a thigh and a wing.  Whoever carves the turkey needs to watch out for the sharp edges of  bone both on the top and bottom.  You roast the turkey at a very high heat of  450 degrees and a nineteen-pound turkey is ready in about 90 minutes.  A twelve pound turkey could be ready in an hour.  The skin is brown and crisp and the white meat is so juicy you won’t believe it.  If  it’s more important for you to have a whole turkey to carve at the table,  I’d suggest brining your turkey before roasting it in the regular manner on a low heat for several hours.  If  you are willing to carry in a platter of  perfectly sliced turkey to the dinner table,  spatchcocking will give you slices that not only look good but taste fabulous.  My brother and sister-in-law have the butcher at their grocery store cut frozen turkeys in half  for them and vacuum wrap each half  ( they pay for the turkeys then come back the next day ~ I don’t know if your butcher would charge you or not. )  You would still need to remove the backbone from each half  of  the thawed turkey to get it to lie flat so that it will cook evenly with the white and dark meat getting done at just about the same time.

I will tell you what I have learned about spatchcocking,  then give you links to complete instructions ~

1.  You  MUST  have poultry shears,  otherwise either the scissors will break or they won’t cut the bone.  I bought mine on Amazon  HERE  for less than  $11,   but I’m sure you could get them for a comparable price at  Walmart  or  Target,  etc.  Unless you plan on spatchcocking poultry several times a year,  don’t invest a lot of  money in the shears.  (Chicken works just as well as turkey when roasted in this manner.  And it’s easier to cut.)

2.  PREHEAT  YOUR  OVEN  to 450 degrees when you start removing the backbone.  Better that it be on an extra 20 minutes then to not have the hot temperature right from the start of  the roasting.

3.  Removing the backbone will be  MESSY!!!  The first year I used my largest cutting board but still ended up with turkey juices and blood everywhere.  This year I was prepared with several paper towels handy for immediate wipe-ups and disinfectant wipes for cleaning  EVERYTHING within sight as soon as the turkey was in the oven.  { First I cleaned my hands and forearms. }  {smile}  Even if  you don’t see anything  disinfect ALL of  the nearby counters in addition to the one you were using,  the sink(s),  the faucet and handles,  the poultry shears  and any other implements you use.  DO NOT  use a sponge as there is no way  ( including microwaving it )  to ensure that no bacteria remain.  I also wore an old t-shirt because you will get splattered, too.

4.  Use your broiler pan to hold the turkey while you are spatchcocking it.  The sides of  most roasting pans would be too high and make it more difficult to be using the shears.  A broiler pan  (WITHOUT  the insert)  has sides just high enough to contain all of  the blood and juices ( that don’t splatter on you or the counter),  but not so high as to get in your way.  Both cutting out the backbone and cutting the breastbone in half,  I cut about 3-inches on one end then 5-inches on the other end and went back and forth until the cuts met in the center.  MUCH easier then trying to go from the head end to the tail end all at one time.

5.  Make sure the turkey is not only thawed thoroughly,  but has been sitting at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before you start spatchcocking ~ every recipe I read for roasting a turkey,  no matter what the method,  recommended bringing the turkey to room temperature before cooking.  Some say you can leave a thawed turkey out for up to two hours,  but that seems excessive to me.  In addition to helping with the roasting process,  leaving the turkey out ( I left mine 60 minutes)  also ensures that the inside is thawed so that cutting is not made more difficult.

6.  Optional:  before spatchcocking the turkey,  I prepared 6 carrots,  3 or 4 red potatoes (russets are fine),  several stalks of  celery and a large onion by cutting them all into about one and one-half  inch pieces.  ( I cut the onion into six wedges.)  I put the cut potatoes into a bowl and covered them with water so they wouldn’t turn brown and then just placed the rest of  the prepared vegetables on top.  When I finished removing the backbone of  the turkey and cutting the breastbone to make two halves,  I rinsed each half  then patted it relatively dry with paper towels and set the halves on paper towels on the counter.  I then rinsed out the broiler pan,  dried it with paper towels ( so as not to spread bacteria with a cloth towel)  and spread the prepared vegetables across the bottom of  the pan.  They became the roasting  “RACK”  for the turkey.  As you can see from the photograph below,  the nineteen pound turkey was a little large for the broiler pan.  I  “squished”  the legs in as best I could,  pushed the wing tips down so they wouldn’t burn and placed the entire broiler pan on a larger baking sheet just in case there were more drippings than space in the broiler pan.  The turkey drippings season the vegetables and you have an extra side dish of  roasted vegetables when your turkey is done.  Just remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and use the remaining turkey drippings for making gravy, if  desired. Of  course,  you can forego the vegetables and use a rack,  just don’t roast a turkey,  whole or spatchcocked,  directly on the pan.

7.  Even a spatchcocked turkey needs to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.  As you can see from the photo above,  I placed the roasted turkey halves on a clean baking sheet  (that had NOT been in the oven)  for 30 minutes with foil placed  VERY  loosely over it ~ if  you wrap it tightly in foil,  the skin won’t remain crisp.

Below is a photograph of  the turkey halves in the roasting pan,  oiled and seasoned,  right before placing them in the oven.  I know it’s hard to see,  but there is a layer of  vegetables under the turkey.  { Please forgive the poor quality of  my photographs ~ this was the first time I used my new camera. }

I  looked at a bunch of  recipes before deciding to use Martha Stewart’s.  I adapted it because (a)  mine was a frozen Butterball turkey,  not fresh;  and (b)  I prefer a very light sprinkling of  fine sea salt or kosher salt,  even less garlic powder  { NOT garlic salt },  and a good coating of  poultry seasoning  { that’s the seasoning you can see in the photo above }  APPLIED AFTER RUBBING IT WITH OIL.  Before spatchcocking the turkey last year,  I’d always used butter,  not oil.  Because this way of  roasting the turkey cooks it so much faster and more evenly,  you don’t need to baste it or worry about the white meat being dry so you don’t need to spread butter under the skin.  I didn’t measure the amount of  oil I used,  though I’m certain it was more than two tablespoonfuls  {vegetable,  not olive oil which would bring it’s own flavor into the mix } but I poured quite a bit on one side,  making sure to rub it ALL over the skin and then did the same to the other side,  applying the seasoning afterward.  This was the best,  crispiest-skinned turkey I’ve ever had. It was also the moistest, both years.

Those are the only changes I made to Martha Stewart’s recipe.  Obviously,  use whatever herbs or spices you like.  You can find Martha’s recipe  HERE  and her video of  how to do the spatchcocking  HEREInstructions for how to carve the roasted spatchcocked turkey are  HERE.

SERIOUS EATS  also offers detailed instructions for spatchcocking a turkey  HERE.   { Theirs is much prettier than mine. }

Mark Bittman of  The New York Times has a video showing how to spatchcock a turkey  HERE.   He uses a boning knife rather than poultry shears and that scares me.

FOOD52 prefers to have their butcher butterfly the turkey,  but does provide instructions for spatchcocking   HERE.

If  you want more ideas,  just Google  “spatchcock a turkey.”


“The Turkey Song”    Adam Sandler

As for the rest of  the obscenities of  our  Thanksgiving traditions,  we have side dishes that could be considered desserts.  Here is our typical menu:

Crudite with Assorted Olives,  Soft Cheeses and Ranch and/or Bleu Cheese Dips

Roasted (Spatchcocked) Turkey

Roasted Vegetables  ( the ones used as the turkey “roasting rack”}

Cornbread Dressing

Candied Yams with Marshmallow Topping

Corn Pudding  (An egg custard with sugar,  creamed corn,  butter and cracker crumbs.)

Mashed Potatoes

Gravy

Green Bean Casserole  (I don’t like it so I’d never made it until this year.)

Cranberry-Pineapple Jello Salad with a Sweetened Cream Cheese Sauce on the side

Dinner Rolls  (My family actually prefers the packaged crescent rolls.)

Assorted Desserts  (Always including AT LEAST one pie ~ pumpkin with whipped cream topping ~ and at least one quick bread.)

Sweet Tea

Now if  that’s not an obscene amount of  food for five people,  I don’t know what is!  Either we can invite several guests or everyone has leftovers for days and days.  (I was so tired that I took two pictures of  the candied yams and none of  the corn pudding or cranberry jello salad or desserts.)

Cornbread Dressing

Candied Yams with Marshmallow Topping

Green Bean Casserole (Yuck!)

I hope everyone has a fabulous Thanksgiving!

How to Thaw A Turkey

Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the preferred method for safety reasons, but you can also thaw it in cold water. The thing to remember about both methods is that they keep your turkey cold while thawing – the key to preventing excessive bacterial growth.
The Fridge Method:
Using the following chart, simply place the turkey in its original wrap on a tray or in a pan to catch moisture that accumulates as it thaws.
8 to 12 pounds      1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds     2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds     3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds     4 to 5 days
To thaw turkey in the refrigerator:
Keep the turkey wrapped and place it in a pan; let stand about 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey. Let large turkeys stand a maximum of 5 days in the refrigerator. The giblets and neck are customarily packed in the neck and body cavities of frozen turkeys. They may be removed from the cavities near the end of the thawing period to expedite complete thawing of the bird. If desired, the giblets and neck may be refrigerated and reserved for use.
Cold Water Method:
If it’s the day before you plan to serve your turkey and you just remembered that it’s still sitting in the freezer, don’t despair. Check the wrapping to make sure there are no tears, and simply place the bird in its unopened bag in the sink or in a large container and cover it with cold water. If the wrapping is torn, place the turkey in another plastic bag, close securely, and then place in water. You will need to change the water frequently to assure safe but effective thawing. The National Turkey federation recommends every 30 minutes as a rule of thumb.
8 to 12 pounds       4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds     6 to 9 hours
16 to 20 pounds     9 to 11 hours
20 to 24 pounds     11 to 12 hours
Submerging the turkey has always seemed dangerous to me unless you are brining it.  I thawed my turkeys in the frig based upon the timetable above and still had to put them  ( in their original packaging )  under cold running water in the sink ~ first breast side up  then breast side down.  It will depend on the size,  but when the breast can be  “squished” in with your finger and the legs moved freely,  the turkey is mostly thawed.  I then let it sit for 60 minutes before spatchcocking.

Have turkey questions?  Call  1-800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372).

Or go to   http://www.butterball.com/

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4 Comments

Filed under Creative Every Day, NaBloPoMo, Post-A-Day2013, Post-A-Week2013, recipe

4 responses to “spatchcocking a turkey { sort of }… and other obscene Thanksgiving traditions

  1. Girl, that sounds like work! We deep fry the turkey in peanut oil. It’s a southern thing.

  2. Excellent post dani ♥
    Text and photos are making me salivate and feel really hungry…REALLY HUNGRY.

  3. That’s just wrong. No, I meant what MZ does! (but “spatchcocking” does sound like something a drug addled former child star would be caught doing during the wee hours in some Las Vegas hotel!)

  4. huh, never heard of this way of cooking it…this year we will be at my FILs house…which means we will be the ones doing the cooking so maybe i will convince T to try it….have a wonderful thanksgivng…smiles.

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