The turkey is the star of the show on Thanksgiving Day, and it usurps the space in the oven. Doesn’t that bird know you have green bean casserole, sweet potatoes and rolls waiting in line? A little time-saving trick with laying the bird out flat while roasting is a complete game-changer. If you’re the type of person who thinks outside the box with an affinity for the unorthodox, keep reading. This method is for you.
A Simple Approach:
Who doesn’t want to save time on Thanksgiving? Mark Bittman of the NY Times, and the author of How to Cook Everything, set out to put together a minimalist Thanksgiving dinner to cut down on prep, cook time, and ingredients so he could have time and energy to actually enjoy the meal with family and friends. Bittman’s first spatchcocking video made its appearance in 2008. Since then a number of celebrity chefs have also applied the same method, with spatchcocking becoming an official foodie trend by 2012.
Advantages of Spatchcocking:
- It’s a Timesaver: To take the time out of the turkey roasting process, Mark splits and flattens out the turkey. With the turkey flattened out, the amount of exposed surface area increases and the overall thickness of the bird comes down to a nearly even level. With this preparation, you can blast the turkey at a higher oven temperature to expedite the cooking process. Depending on the size of the bird, it could take only 45 minutes to cook all the way through. Spatchcocking addresses the issues of not only time; but oven space too. With the turkey flattened out, you’ll still have room in the oven for pies, rolls, and anything else you may be baking.
- Flat Shape=Even Cooking: A turkey is pretty much spherical in shape, no wonder there are issues with even cooking! The legs will be far more exposed than a turkey in its natural shape. This is great because the dark meat needs to reach a higher temperature than the light meat in the breast. A flattened turkey won’t take up very much space in the oven leaving room for whatever else needs to get in there—even another turkey!
- Juicier Meat and Crisper Skin: all of the skin is facing up and fully exposed. This will result in a turkey with crackling crisp skin and even browning all around. As the juices render from the skin it will help keep the meat nice and moist.
- Better Gravy: With removing the backbone, you have another component to add flavor to your gravy. Make a quick stock using the neck, giblets and backbone, and use that in addition to the drippings from the turkey to make your gravy. No need to use store-bought chicken stock to make the gravy.
Break Down the Bird
Enough talk about why spatchcocking is so great. It’s so much easier than you might think! All you need are a cutting board, poultry shears, and a chef’s knife. As long as you’re not squeamish to the sound of bones breaking, it’s a cinch.
Follow These Easy Steps:
Pat the turkey dry and place it backbone side up on a cutting board.
Used poultry shears and cut on either side of the backbone starting from the bottom cutting up toward the neck. If you get to an area that you can’t get through with the shears, use a knife to crack through. You have now removed the backbone. Set aside to use when making your gravy. Turn the turkey breast side up.
Flatten bird out by pressing down on the breastbone with your palms, and break it (ribs will break too). You may need to stand on a stool for more leverage.
Tuck the wings under and move the legs out toward the side. Trim the excess neck skin. Your bird is now flattened and ready to go.
Watch this video by Kenji Lopez-Alt (another chef who swears by a flat bird) to get an idea of how this project of spatchcocking your turkey will flow. This recipe and many others are in Kenji’s new book, The Food Lab.
Our Kitchen Project:
We decided to give spatchcocking a whirl and see what all the fuss is about.
- After removing the backbone and breaking the breastbone and some ribs, we arranged it on our prepared sheet pan with carrots, onions, celery, fresh thyme and parsley underneath a wire rack.
- After arranging the wings and legs just so and seasoning with salt and pepper, we placed a ChefAlarm probe in the deepest part of the breast, set the high alarm to 157ºF (69ºC), and popped the bird into a 425ºF (218ºC) oven.
- The high alarm went off 1 hour and 12 minutes after closing the oven door. We spot-checked the temperatures with a Thermapen and found a cool area at only 137ºF (58ºC). During the roasting process the coldest area of the breast meat won’t be the same place you started in. If you find a lower temperature, return the turkey to the oven. Our turkey took 28 more minutes to reach 157ºF (69ºC), and this time it was the true low temperature in the meat for a total cooking time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. Not exactly the 45 minute turkey Mark Bittman made; but much faster than a traditional roasting method.
- At the same time we roasted a turkey of the same size in its natural shape, and its total cook time was 3 hours for a time savings of 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The skin on our turkey was so beautifully brown and incredibly crisp, and the meat was nice and juicy, just as promised by the experts. We may be sold on this method. Breaking down your bird is much easier than you might think, and with it laid out flat, the carving is simpler too.
We’ve exhausted the good points of this method, but what are the drawbacks? The most common complaint about spatchcocking is that it “just doesn’t look right”. Splitting a turkey and flattening it across a roasting pan doesn’t look like the romantic memories we have of a whole roasted turkey being brought to the table. But it tastes so darn good, and you’re going to save yourself time. So spatchcock that bird and carve it before it gets to the table! Problem solved. This year minimize your prep time in the kitchen and spend more time with your friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving!