Spatchcock Heritage Turkey for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving-Turkey-Cartoon-4As the few remaining loyal readers of GourMay are aware, Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.  I am obsessed with the struggle to cook the “perfect” turkey and each year fortunately brings me closer to achieving that goal.   This year (with a few minor and inconsequential variations), I will “spatchcock” my heritage turkey using the preparation method described in the latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated (Nov – Dec 2014).   For Tea Party activists who no longer read, there is a FREE video demonstration that will be on the Cook’s Illustrated website for 4 months.

Cook’s Illustrated follows two techniques already highly recommended by GourMay:

  1. Make sure you use a Heritage turkey.  We will use a Bourbon Red, but Cook’s Illustrated (“CI”) plans to use “Mary’s Free-Range Heritage Turkey.”  According to CI, Heritage turkeys were “nearly extinct in 1997,” but have rebounded nicely and are vastly superior to the factory-processed turkeys sold at most markets (even under questionable “organic” labels).
  2. Also, I thoroughly agree that the dry brine cited by CI is as good as most complicated wet brining techniques that I sadly recommended in 2009.   By all means brine the turkey with salt and allow it to rest uncovered in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

The most difficult part of cooking a turkey is to make sure the white meat is moist and the dark meat is thoroughly cooked.   The white turkey breast is generally moist at 155ºF, but the dark meat (leg and thigh) needs another 20ºs or 175º.  Last year, I cooked the turkey on a closed Weber and almost achieved perfection, but I couldn’t control the internal temperature and it could have done with about 30 minutes less cooking.  This year, I will spatchcock the turkey using the technique beautifully illustrated in CI.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe is quoted in its entirety below:

Cook’s Illustrated:  How to Cook Heritage Turkey


  • 1(10- to 12-pound) heritage breed turkey, neck removed
  • Kosher salt


  1. 1. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and lightly grease rack. With turkey breast side up, using sharp knife, slice through skin between breast and thigh down to joint on both sides. Using your hands, pull each leg quarter back to expose joint between leg and breast. Remove legs by cutting through hip joint and then skin. Slice through membrane connecting breast to backbone. Bend backbone away from breast to break where it meets rib cage; use knife to remove completely.

    2. Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering legs and breasts. Rub 1 1/2 teaspoons salt evenly inside cavity of turkey breast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each breast, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each leg. Tuck wings underneath breast. Place turkey legs and breast, skin side up, on prepared wire rack. Refrigerate turkey parts, uncovered, for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

    3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer breast to large plate and set aside while leg quarters start roasting. Flip leg quarters skin side down and transfer to oven; roast until thighs register 140 degrees, 45 to 75 minutes.

    4. Flip leg quarters skin side up and place breast, skin side down, on wire rack next to leg quarters. Return to oven and roast for 1 hour.

    5. Flip breast skin side up and continue to roast until breast registers 155 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours longer. Remove turkey from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 60 minutes.

    6. While turkey is resting, increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Stack turkey assembly on second baking sheet to prevent excess smoking. Return turkey to oven and roast until skin is golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.

    7. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve turkey and serve.

I wish you all a warm and caring Thanksgiving.

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