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This spatchcock turkey recipe is the perfect way to cook a juicy, tender, delicious turkey in a fraction of the time it usually takes to cook a regular turkey -- only an hour and a half! I also show how to spatchcock the turkey as well as dry brine it so it's amazingly juicy and full of flavor inside and out with fantastically crisp skin. Absolute holiday perfection and the best way to eat a turkey!
"The juice from this turkey is ridiculous!" My husband told me when I finalized this recipe. Seriously, it was well-rested and the turkey was amazingly well-seasoned and insanely juicy.
Is a 'ridiculously juicy' turkey a figment of your imagination when your roasting your holiday turkeys this time of year? Then honey, I have got the life changing holiday recipe you've been waiting all your life for. Literally had a commenter call this spatchcock + dry brine method the 'moist maker' because they've eaten a lot of turkeys but my recipe was the juiciest!
You're more used to turkey being 'dry' or 'bland', right? Let me tell you, this will never be a problem for you ever again because you're looking at the post for the juiciest, most flavorful, fast cooking turkey you'll ever have.
No more tough, tasteless Thanksgiving turkey taking up the oven the entire day! It's a miracle, y'all.
What is a spatchcock turkey?
The spatchcock method is a technique used where the spine of a bird, in this case, the backbone of a turkey, is cut out and the sternum is cracked so that your turkey is laying flat, butterflied and the entire inner cavity is now exposed. A spatchcocked turkey cooks way faster (literally, a fifteen pound turkey roasts in 90 minutes!), can handle cooking at a high temperature, and cooks more evenly than a traditional roast turkey.
The breasts are done roasting at 165 degrees F, but those 'pop up' measures found in common commercial turkeys are meant to pop up at 185 degrees! An entire twenty degrees higher than what it needs to be, no wonder turkey ends up so dry and flavorless all the time! Pro Tip: Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh until it reads an internal temperature 165 degrees F. Bonus points for using an instant-read thermometer.
So why does spatchcocking a turkey work? It's because the breasts are lower than a traditional roasted turkey, there is more surface area getting hit with direct heat, and the bird can be cooked at a much higher temperature without burning anything since everything is on an even plane.
You have a shorter cook time as the turkey breast is on the same level as the thigh meat, meaning they aren't sitting up all high in the oven getting dried out.
How do you spatchcock a turkey?
First, you'll need a whole turkey. It needs to either be fresh or thawed. If you're thawing a frozen turkey keep this in mind: it needs 24 hours per 4 pounds of turkey, so a 16 pound bird needs 4 days of thawing in the fridge.
Then, cut out the wishbone. This helps so much with carving the turkey and getting the bird to lay as flat as possible. Use a paring knife to cut around the wishbone, being careful not to shred the breast meat around it.
Flip the bird breast side down so the backbone is facing up and the breasts are down.
Use poultry shears, heavy-duty kitchen shears, or a sharp knife to carefully take out the spine by cutting up each side of the backbone.
Remove the tail (it has glands that you don't want in your turkey or gravy) and keep the spine, it makes a fantastic stock and gravy! You might need someone to help cut through the bones or another pair of hands to hold the turkey while you cut the spine, it can get pretty slippery (and messy)!
Flip it back so the breasts are up again...
...and use the heel of your hand to break the breast bone between the breasts.
And boom, your turkey is spatchcocked! You can also remove some of the rib bones (carefully) to help with better carving and using kitchen twine to keep miss thanksgiving turkey's legs together after flipping the thighs outward.
Why dry brine for turkey?
Doing the dry brine for this recipe made things a lot simpler time-wise and space-wise, and it results in a super juicy, tender turkey. This dry brine is made with fresh citrus zest, brown sugar, black pepper, and kosher salt so it's really simple yet does the job perfectly for juicy, flavorful meat. You can also find my post for my base dry brine recipe, which has helpful tips and suggestions for making your own dry brine blends.
A dry brine uses osmosis (hey, science!) so the salt draws out liquid, dissolves into it, and then the meat reabsorbs the salty water while your turkey rests in the fridge overnight, resulting in the turkey meat being well seasoned, tender, and super juicy while also giving you amazingly crispy skin since the turkey is sitting uncovered in the fridge.
You'll want to completely cover the whole bird in the brine, the cavity side too. Get all into every nook and cranny, and don't forget those turkey elbows and armpits!
This works best on a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack over it, so the air is able to circulate around the whole turkey. This is also how we're roasting it; so that the turkey has the heat circulating around the meat and the skin and cooks quickly and evenly.
How to ensure perfectly golden brown and crispy skin
The overnight brine while uncovered really ensures that the skin is dry, which is the most important part of crispy skin. Moisture is your enemy. So after you pull that turkey out to rest before roasting, blot it gently with paper towels to absorb any sneaky moisture left on it.
For the ultimate in flavor and crispy skin, we are using butter. But not just regular ole butter, which has around 20% water content (the enemy of crispy golden brown skin!) we are using clarified butter, which is when you simmer the butter gently so the water evaporates and skim the foam (which are milks solids) away leaving just the actual butter fat.
Clarified butter is easy to make and with the liquids and milk solids removed from it, it makes perfectly crispy skin. I add chopped fresh herbs, the classics: thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley and liberally brush all that goodness on the bird before roasting but you can use dried herbs as well.
Don't want to fuss with clarified butter? Vegetable oil or another high-smoke-point oil like grapeseed, avocado, or peanut oil works well.
How to Roast a Spatchcock Turkey
After spatchcocking the turkey, you'll dry brine overnight on the wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet or in a large roasting pan with a roasting rack. I've had good results with dry brining up to 24 hours as well. No plastic wrap, no aluminum foil, none of that. We want air flow around that entire turkey.
You want crispy skin? You need to have that skin dry.
And don't you dare rinse off that brine, so help me God. Not a drop of water on that bird!
Day of cooking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. That is HOT, I know. But like I said before, you can roast the turkey fast and hot when it's spatchcocked.
The turkey will be roasting on that wire rack/roasting rack on a sheet pan, or in the roasting pan so don't transplant it anywhere else. Take the bird out 30 minutes before you want to roast it to take that chill off, cold proteins cause tough meat.
Blot the turkey with a paper towel to get all the excess moisture that may be on the skin. Remember water = enemy of crispy skin. Then brush the skin with clarified butter/ghee or vegetable oil. No extra virgin olive oil, it burns in high heat easily.
Roast in the oven until the thigh is 165 degrees F and the skin is golden brown but keep an eye on the breasts. You don't want the skin to get too brown, so cover them in aluminum foil if you notice they're browning too quickly.
Most important part: after it's done roasting you'll want to let the turkey rest on the counter top for at least 30-45 minutes.
Why? Because heat causes the juices to want to rise to the surface, and cutting into the bird while it's still super hot will cause all those juices to basically pour right out onto your cutting board. Letting the turkey come closer to room temperature allows those juices to settle back into entirety of the bird so you have juicy meat on your plate.
How to Serve a Spatchcocked Turkey
Time for the best part (aka everyone's favorite part) serving the turkey at the thanksgiving table!
The thighs and legs will easily pull away from the body. I keep the legs and thighs together because we eat the breasts on Thanksgiving, then use the dark meat, the wings, and bones for turkey stock and turkey pot pie Thanksgiving weekend.
The breasts are easy to carve since we took out that pesky wishbone. Remove them from the rib cage whole with a sharp knife (save those bones for stock!) then slice to serve!
And that's that: scientifically juicy meat that is flavorful and seasoned, skin that's crispy and beautifully brown, and a turkey that is cooked in 90 minutes. The perfect whole roasted turkey for any holiday table!
FAQ's for Perfect Turkey
Y'all have asked me a lot of questions over the years!
What size turkey can I use?
I prefer smaller birds over one large turkey. I do not suggest roasting a turkey larger than about 15-16 pounds. This recipe works perfectly for turkeys between 13-16 pounds, as larger turkeys won't fit in most roasting pans, a wire rack, or rimmed baking sheet. The smaller cook faster, they're more reliable when it comes to cooking time and temperature, and they're easy to find at your local grocery store.
Need more turkey? Two spatchcock turkeys are just as simple and easy to make as one, and they'll be done much faster than your traditional turkey. Can you cook two fo them in the oven at the same time? Absolutely
How many pounds of turkey do I need?
You're going to want a little over one pound of turkey per guest at thanksgiving dinner. More if you want leftovers.
Should I cover the turkey while it's brining in the refrigerator?
Only if you're going to brine it for multiple days. For the last 12-24 hours, uncover it so the skin can dry out.
Should I rinse off the brine?
No. For the love of all that is holy and crispy-skinned...Don't do it!
Can I use the pan drippings of a brined turkey to make gravy?
I would advise against it, as you can have some really, really salty pan drippings. Use some homemade turkey stock to make an amazingly easy turkey gravy.
Do I need to baste the turkey?
Nope, no basting needed! An added benefit to dry brining. Basting might actually ruin that crispy skin!
What to Serve for the Holidays
- Soul Food Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Southern Skillet Cornbread
- Slow-Cooked Southern Green Beans
- Grandma Reid's Southern Candied Yams
- Southern Yeast Rolls (Sister Schubert Copycat)
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
- Deep Dish Apple Pie
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- 1 (13 lb-15 lb) whole turkey, giblet bag and neck removed
Citrus Dry Brine
- 2 large oranges, finely zested
- 3 lemons, finely zested
- 2 limes, finely zested
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
- 3 stems of fresh thyme leaves, off the stem and finely chopped
- 2 stems of fresh rosemary leaves, off the stem and finely chopped
- 4 sage leaves, finely chopped
Spatchcock the Turkey
- Using a sharp paring knife, locate the wishbone in the neck area of the turkey. Gently cut around the wishbone, cutting it from the breasts. Save the wishbone for stock.
- Flip the turkey onto its breasts so the backbone is facing up. Using sharp poultry shears, start at the butt end and cut up each side of the spine until its completely removed. Save the spine as well for turkey stock.
- Flip the turkey breast side up, then use the heel of your palm to crack the breastbone and make the turkey lay flat. Flip the thighs and legs onto the top of the bird.
Make the Citrus Dry Brine
- In a small bowl, mix the orange zest, lemon zest, lime zest, kosher salt, and light brown sugar together well.
- Dry the skin of the turkey well with a paper towel, then generously rub the dry brine mixture over all the skin and the flesh on the underside. Place the turkey on a wire cooling rack on top of a large baking sheet and let brine uncovered in the fridge overnight, about 8-10 hours at most.
Make the clarified herb butter
- Before roasting the turkey, melt your stick of butter over medium-low heat in a small saucepan. As it melts, skim off the white foam until there are no white bits left. Take off the heat and add the chopped herbs. Set to the side.
Roast the turkey
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
- Pull the turkey out of the fridge 30 minutes before roasting, this helps get the chill off the as the cold will result in tougher meat.
- Blot the skin of the turkey gently with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture on the skin. Take a pastry or silicone brush and liberally brush the herb butter all over the skin.
- Roast the turkey on the wire rack on the baking sheet in your preheated oven. Keep an eye on the turkey breasts, put aluminum foil over the turkey breasts if they're becoming too browned too quickly.
- Roast the turkey for 90-110 minutes, or until a meat thermometer put into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
- Remove from the oven and let rest and cool for 40 minutes before serving.
Look at the post for FAQ's and carving tips.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 81Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 3758mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 4g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.