Every Thanksgiving I try a new turkey method – different turkey, different brine, different roasting method – and though I’ve had a lot of really good results, I’m never convinced enough to call a winner. Some are easy but meh, or great but too messy/involved.
Last year I tried two new approaches: 1) splitting the turkey in half (a cheater’s version of spatchcocking) and 2) dry brining. Much to my surprise, both methods made the whole turkey process much easier – and just as good – as any other year. Here’s the lowdown, if you want to try one, or both:
Dry brining: Just salt and time – that’s all there is to it. Sprinkle your bird the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and that’s pretty much all the prep you need. Dry brining, a salting technique used by the late Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe to produce her legendary roast chickens, gives turkey excellent flavor without the mess and refrigeration issues of wet brining. I’m officially over trying to safely store a toddler-sized poultry carcass sloshing in seasoned water.
Splitting the turkey: A split bird cooks in half the time of a whole one, freeing up valuable oven space on the big day. And in the fridge, two halves of a turkey take up much less space than one hulking body.
Regular spatchcocking (also less-accurately called butterflying) – easily managed with sharp kitchen shears on a chicken – is a daunting task on a heavy, slippery, 20-plus pound turkey. But I tried an alternate method from the Kitchn that easily splits the front half of the bird from the back half, allowing the white meat to cook separately from the dark.
Normal spatchcocking of a bird is kind of like slitting open a round globe and flattening it into a map of the world. First you cut along either side of the backbone and remove it. Then you open up the body and force down on the breastbone to collapse it, pressing the breast down so that the whole bird splays out more or less flat.
In the Kitchn’s method, you completely slice the two sides of the bird, separating the breast/wing front half from the thigh/drumstick back half. The white meat now cooks separately from the dark meat, and you can remove one half from the oven if it is ready before the other half is done.
As with regular spatchcocking, you can fully season both sides of the meat instead of having the undersides inaccessible in the turkey cavity. And all the skin is on top, giving you more brown crispness to go around.
The split turkey can cook at hotter and faster than a whole turkey. It’s a revelation to realize you can cook a turkey in 45 minutes instead of several hours. Even the largest turkey, which might take 5-plus hours when roasted whole, is done in two hours when cooked in half. read on…