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How to Spatchcock a Turkey

©2015 Jennifer Causey

What’s the best way to roast a turkey? Kenji López-Alt recommends spatchcocking.

Q: What's the best way to roast a turkey? 

A: Spatchcocking, in a word. Not to brag, but I'm pretty darn good at Thanksgiving. Learning how to spatchcock a turkey is one of the reasons why it's my favorite holiday.

I've been the world's biggest spatchcock proselytizer since the first time I tried it. It's simply butterflying a turkey by cutting out its backbone and flattening it before roasting. Forget brining, flipping, marinating, sous vide–ing, or any other magic bullet. Spatchcocking is the real deal. It's far and away the best way to roast a turkey if juicy meat in both the breast and the legs, crisp skin, and minimal fuss are what you're after.

Spatchcocking offers a number of advantages. First, it produces a flat shape that speeds up cooking. What's more, the breasts end up slightly thicker than the legs, which means that they stay a little cooler and juicier. Second, with all the skin on top, you get plenty of channels for rendered fat to drain out of the turkey, giving you crisper skin and leaner meat. Third, because of its flatter profile, you can really blast it with heat without fear of the exterior burning before the center overcooks. This leads to cook times that are about half as long as a standard turkey. Finally, spatchcocking gives you a backbone to enhance your gravy.

HOW TO SPATCHCOCK

1. I start with a moderately sized bird: 12 to 14 pounds or less. If I'm cooking for a larger crowd, I cook two birds in one oven on stacked racks, swapping them halfway through, instead of opting for a larger bird.

2. Cut out the backbone with a pair of hefty kitchen shears (your butcher can do this for you), saving the bone for gravy. I flip the turkey over and spread it out so all the skin is facing up; then I season generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

3. Lay the turkey on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet (no need for an expensive roasting pan), and toss it into a 450° oven. You heard me: 450°.

4. In under an hour and a half, when the breast meat hits 150° and the legs hit 165°, you've got yourself the fastest, juiciest bird you've ever tasted.

5. Let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes to allow the bird's temp to rise and plateau (carve too fast and the juices will run out all over the board). Then carve, plate, and bring it to the dining room.

What's that? You have guests who just have to have that picture-perfect, Norman Rockwell turkey at the center of the table? Don't worry: One bite of the best turkey they've ever eaten will change their minds.