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Our family has two traditions on Thanksgiving: cooking delicious food to share with family and friends as well as running the local Turkey Day 5K. Some of you out there are already doing the math and calling shenanigans on doing both of those things. I hear you. The Turkey Day 5K run starts at 8 am about 20 minutes away and a 16 lb turkey needs to be roasted before noon. How is that possible?
Thanksgiving Turkey and a 5K
I can assure you that I am not a particularly fast runner. I also do not possess a space-age convection pressure-oven to speed up cooking times. Note to self: add pressure-cooker oven to list of things I irrationally fear might blow up in my face like a tire or can of biscuits. Don’t pretend like cracking open a can of biscuit dough isn’t a harrowing experience for everyone.Jump to Recipe
Your best tasting turkey in half the time
The secret is to dry-brine and spatchcock the turkey to both increase the flavor and reduce the necessary cooking time. According to the experts at Southern Living a 16 lb turkey should take about 4 hours to cook, not counting prep. I don’t have time for that and even if I did, I have side dishes I want to cook instead of babysitting a turkey all day.
The turkey comes out perfectly cooked in about 2 hours. The skin is crispy, nothing is overdone, and you have enough time to knock out that 3 mile run. Let’s pretend you are weird and don’t run a 5K the morning of Thanksgiving to burn calories in prep. I’m not sure why you still wouldn’t prefer this recipe over the traditional version. It is faster, tastier, and uses less space in the oven.
I’ll assume you are going to brine your turkey because you aren’t an animal. You could do the standard brine but a wet brine is a hassle. I hope you have a bucket large enough to hold the turkey with the brining liquid and a place to keep it cold. You probably don’t have a Home Depot bucket size space in your fridge at home so that means constantly monitoring the temperature of your salty friend.
The 5 gallons of turkey with brine will weigh a ton and be an annoying project you’ll swear you’ll not do again the next year. So why bother in the first place with that nonsense. Do a dry brine. The quick story is you functionally use the same ingredients as the wet brine minus the water and apply it directly to the raw turkey days in advance. It accomplishes the same task of keeping the turkey in contact with the salt and spices to marinate but won’t spill all over your floor. It’ll happen, trust me.
Spatchcock… what now?
Warning out there for those of you that are squeamish, this next part will be an adventure. We won’t be going all Dr. Frankenstein on this bird but spatchcocking a turkey is probably not something you had on your bucket list. It is basically butterflying a whole turkey if you are familiar with that culinary technique. A whole turkey takes a long time to cook (and does so unevenly) because of the shape and large cavity. We need a way to remedy both problems.
Enter the spatchcock process. Take your raw turkey and flip it upside down to how you are used to seeing it presented. With your sturdiest kitchen scissors (those exist, get some you coward), start cutting down the length of the bird from tail to neck about an inch on each side of the spine. The goal is to completely remove the spine as cleanly as possible. The secondary goal is to continually gross yourself, and bystanders, out with the sound of bone crunching as you carve your way through. Like I said… not for the squeamish.
You’re my butterfly, sugar baby ~Crazy Town
Once you’ve finished sharing your best The Predator impression with the turkey spine, flip the turkey back over onto the awaiting sheet pan. Slowly unfold and press down on the turkey until it lays flat. Ignore the cracking sound as it bends to your will. It should eventually lay flat and resemble the a butterfly, making you realize where the name for the technique probably came from.
It sounds gross and to me, as a 90% vegetarian, it is a little gross. Not really any more gross than dealing with a raw turkey for any other roasting preparation though. The difference is now we have a turkey lying flat on a sheet pan marinating in a dry brine. This shape will slide into your fridge easily since it takes up far less vertical space. Try finding space to fit a whole turkey standing up in your holiday fridge. Good luck.
Pro Tips & Acknowledgements
- Ziploc makes huge bags for storing sweaters, toys, and such that are perfect for sealing up the entire turkey on the sheet pan to keep the raw meat separate in your fridge.
- Chop up some root vegetables like carrot, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, etc and place them under the turkey while roasting. The turkey drippings will coat the veggies as they roast and you get a free side-dish
- Inspirations for this hybrid dish:
Dry Brine, Butterflied Roast Turkey
- 1 16-18 lb Turkey
- 10 tbsp Kosher Salt Spice mix
- 2 tbsp Baking Powder Spice mix
- 4.5 tbsp Rubbed Sage Spice mix
- 4.5 tbsp Dried Thyme Spice mix
- 4 tsp whole black peppercorns Spice mix
- 1.5 tsp whole allspice berries Spice mix
- Grind all of the spices together in a spice grinder until the peppercorns are coarsely ground. Set aside.
- Thaw turkey and remove the package with the neck, gizzard, and liver. I toss that out but you do you.
- Get out a sheet pan with an inset cooling rack. You need something to elevate the turkey slightly off the bottom of the pan.
- *See full description above* BE CAREFUL HEREFlip the thawed turkey on its back (breast down). With a pair of sturdy kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the spine to remove it.
- Flip the turkey back over (breast up), unfold to lay out flat, and press down until it truly lays flat. You might hear some cracking and that is ok. Fold in the wings and drums to fit on the sheet pan if necessary
- Liberally coat both sides of the turkey with the spice mix. Be generous
- Cover the turkey. I use a huge ziploc bag for toys and clothing that I can just slide the entire sheet pan into. Put in the fridge at least overnight but up to 3 days.
- Thanksgiving day: remove turkey from fridge 1 hour prior to cooking
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F
- Drizzle a little oil on the outside of the turkey if you want the skin a little crispier
- Roast the turkey for 30 minutes at 500 F
- Reduce the temperature to 350 F and cook for an additional 1.5 – 2 hours
- Remove the turkey when internal temperature reaches 161, loosely cover with foil for 15 minutes, then eat.
Note: feel free to find this and other recipes I’ve shared on my recipe page
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