Turkey in 45 minutes of cooking time – juicy and delicious – using this unique preparation
On this website, we tend to be a bit more spartan about food preps, and sustenance in general. But part of the benefits of prepping is having some extra ability to live comfortably, and enjoy the things that are good in life. And Moist, delicious Turkey, while it should be commonplace, simply is too often a luxury for many families on Thanksgiving. We can help you put an end to the dry turkey and jaw pain.
The trick to perfect turkey? Properly dry-brined spatchcocked turkey.
Here are the benefits of a dry brined, spatchcocked turkey, and why you want to try this recipe and style of turkey preparation this Thanksgiving holiday:
- Only 45-55 minutes of cooking time generally
- Dry brining is easy and relatively cheap and has much less food sanitation concern
- You get to teach the turkey who is boss
- It’s hard to screw up
- It’s beautiful
- The turkey is moist; flavorful, tender and the skin can be finished crispy if you desire
- Did we mention it’s MUCH easier to get foolproof success by preparing a properly dry-brined turkey of any size than a whole, unprepared turkey?
From a prepper’s perspective a properly dry-brined turkey that is prepared in the spatchcock style also has some prepper-specific benefits:
- Less fuel to heat and eat
- Easier gravy
- Simple preparation from a food perspective
- Less waste and less difficulty – basically set it and forget it, while learning how, in real time to determine if a turkey is ready for consumption
- Less mess and different components needed
- Extras for the freezer or other meals
- A neck/backbone for stock
An obligatory note: While many home cooks and professional chef’s will be able to tell with fantastic accuracy whether a turkey is done to the necessary internal temperatures, it is still poultry. Poultry can cause foodborne illness, and should be checked with a thermometer to ensure proper levels of doneness.
The typical way to check in in the thickest part of the leg/thigh area. Below we will include some indicators that should help you to tell when a turkey is properly cooked in an oven using consistent and constant heat at the desired temperature, but nevertheless, we must warn you to check for proper internal temperatures to be absolutely sure.
Here are some ways to tell if a spatchcocked Turkey (or chicken for that matter) are properly cooked or nearing completion:
- The ends of the bones (the tips of legs, wings and butt, and the tip of the cartilage underneath the breast) are rendering away the fat and edges. The bones are showing the pulling away of the meat and shrinkage at the bone tips significantly. These areas may be browning significantly, and even look a tiny bit burnt. This indicates that the bones have been helping to cook the meat internally, and that the meat and fat has been sufficiently cooked through at the parts which are most evenly matched in size/thickness.
- The juices of the bird are running clear and clean with no traces of red or pink, when poked with a fork or knife in one of the thicker areas (particularly the thickest part of the breast meat or the thigh/leg junction in the meatiest area)
- Dark brown and hints of burning, almost black spots are starting to be seen on the highest or most outward areas of the bird – these will be smaller than a quarter, and up to a half dollar at most, generally when done
- Skin is separated from the bird and crispy, while there are significant gravy drippings and other rendered fats in the sheet tray (the ideal way to cook a spatchcocked turkey)
(A chicken can be cooked in about 35-40 minutes also. Usually it’s about 20% faster than a turkey all things considered – also you can cook at 425, not at 450F)
So what is spatchcocking? And why does a turkey benefit from spatchcocking?
Spatchcocking is the preparation style that consists of cutting out the backbone of the bird and removing it in a single piece by making two cuts along ribs and to contour the backbone/neck of the turkey. After this cut is made, the turkey is laid carcass down, breasts up and smashed flatly to make it as short as possible in height.
The legs are splayed out to ensure all skin sides are up, and all internal carcass areas are flat upon a tray (a half sheet tray is an excellent option for this prep and cooking style).
The flattened fowl allows for a lower overall profile to be more evenly cooked in the consistent heat of an oven, and allows for a much higher temperature, without burning that is typically of turkeys in uncut configurations.
The breast is the thickest part of the turkey if it is spatchcocked, and therefore, maintains the juiciness it is intended to, while the fattier areas are cooked to perfection also, as they are harder to overcook.
Because the total shape and size are more evenly distributed, the bird cooks with heat on more surface area, and can get conduction heat from the tray, as well as even, direct convection heat all around with much more contact in place. There is not an additional cavity to rob the meat of heat, and the bones heat quicker, helping to properly cook the bird from all directions.
What is dry-brining? And why does a turkey benefit from dry-brining?
Dry brining is simply using salt to remove excess moisture from a commercially prepared turkey and to change the protein configuration of the turkey meat to ensure that the meat is properly rested, treated and conditioned to benefit from the natural properties of the salt. It is essentially encasing a turkey (or other item) in salt and allowing it to condition the protein structures of the meat in the fridge overnight or for up to 48 hours.
Additionally, it allows the chef or cook to utilize less seasoning at final preparation, and reduces difficulty in seasoning an otherwise difficult to season bird. Of course you can use different herbs, spices or sauces as needed, but you can do that much later in the preparation cycle, because the salt does a majority of the flavoring work.
Commercial turkey’s are full of salt solution, and it will drain out in the form of “pink juices” and the overall taste experience is much better after dry brining as a result.
The salt really does physically change the alignment of the proteins of the turkey meat and you will notice significantly better tenderness, generally.
Some important notes when dry brining:
- There will be a lot of juices, you may have to empty the try more than once.
- It will seem like you are using WAY TOO MUCH salt, but don’t worry, you are literally going to wash the salt off with water before you final prep the bird
- The time is your biggest helper here, so plan for at least 18 hours in the fridge
- You cannot reuse the salt or seasonings
- You should use paper towels if you can, to dry the bird after washing (you will wash with clean water twice) – more on that later
Here’s the process to prepare the perfectly dry brined, spatchcocked turkey:
Step 1 to properly dry brining and spatchcocking a turkey for Thanksgiving
Wash your turkey, pull out the offal and the bags inside the carcass, while washing with your hands in clean running water in a sink. NEVER WASH WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN CLEAR WATER. You will never use soap or any cleaning agent (some items in meat prep are best served with vinegar in addition to water, for example, tripe). Clean water ONLY for turkey (or chicken).
Step 2: Butchery and flattening
Use heavy duty snips to cut along both sides of the backbone. Even tin snips can work, or very heavy duty poultry/kitchen shears. This means you will end up with a strip that contains the neck and backbone and a turkey that can be laid flat on its internal cavity side. Reserve the backbone for soup stock, stock for other dishes like gravy, potatoes, stuffing, etc.
Step 3: Dry Brining and using the right salt
Dry the turkey as well as you can – use a pat-dry technique with paper towels and throw them away as you get through each set of sheets. You can use cloth towels if they are cotton or linen and if they are properly washed and disinfected with bleach and hot water as well. We prefer paper towels.
Once dry, salt immediately and heavily. You should see about an eighth an inch or even as much as a quarter inch of salt in some spots. You should not have any area not salted – the skin side and carcass side should be white with salt – Kosher grains are preferred for their size. DO NOT USE IODIZED SALT.
Small granule sea salt can also work but this can get expensive. You should get salt into the skin, and massage to lightly separate the skin from the meat to some extent – do not overdo it. The bird will shrink during brining, and natural skin separation will occur.
Step 4: Let time do it’s thing
Smash the bird as flat as possible and cover the tray tightly in saran wrap/plastic wrap (aluminum foil can work but clear plastic is preferred and try to keep fridge air out of the tray, so wrap tightly).
Step 5: “…the waiting is the hardest part”
Refrigerate overnight, for 18-48 hours. After about 36 hours, there are diminishing returns, and the fridge environment can actually do more harm than good to your bird.
Step 6: Final Prep for a perfectly dry brined and spatchcocked Turkey
Take out and wash with clear water completely, drying to very dry again. No salt should remain. You can very lightly salt and pepper the bird, or season lightly with your choice of herbs. DO NOT SAUCE before the bird is nearing completion.
The bird MUST be dry before you cook it. It will also feel significantly different. It will almost feel tough, tacky, and stretchy. But it will seem significantly “dehydrated” and will have lost significant weight/volume (10-15% or so).
After seasoning, you can arrange on a sheet tray, and cook, along with vegetables about ½-¾” thick, like carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, etc. This is your decision – it’s not required for this recipe, but is a great accompaniment, especially considering the veggies will cook at the same rate as the turkey if cut this way (flat, thick and wide).
Step 7: High heat, low time – maximum crispiness
Cook at 450F yes, 450F for 45 minutes, then check for rendering as stated above, and reduce to 375 for another 15-20 minutes.
If you start to get significant burning (more than the size of a half dollar at any spot, you should check for doneness and remove from the oven, generally). All in, it’s about 45 minutes to 1 hour of cook time, depending on your oven and altitude.
You will want to cook at low to middle of the oven, to ensure not too much direct heat on the skin side. DO NOT BROIL. If you cannot get above 425, that is acceptable, but cook for 55 minutes before evaluating for doneness. Check the internal temperature listed on the wrapping plastic of the turkey to ensure it is at safe levels.
Step 8: Rest for success
Rest the bird for about 15 minutes, carve, and enjoy the best turkey you have ever eaten.
Spatchcocked turkey is a huge success for most first time adventurers. The even sizing of the bird and the direct and indirect intense heat lowers total time, and improves overall cooking and skin crispness.
With a sharp knife you can cut perfect slices of breast and with the right handling, you can easily pull juicy, tender chunks of dark meat from the bone. You can carve the bird simply, and the crisp, rendered wings and chicken legs offer a rare delicacy. Of course, gravy can be created from “drippings” and the total flavor of the bird will be incredible.
With the right mix of veggies your gravy has a depth and nuance that is noticeable, especially with a bit of tangerine, lemon, mushroom, garlic and rosemary being placed on and around the turkey during cooking.
Remember to let the bird rest after cooking to re-distribute the juices, but you should not have to baste, butter, or sauce the bird to maintain moisture. You can sauce at the last 10-12 minutes if you prefer a certain sauce/flavor, but generally, you will be pleasantly surprised by the overall flavor. Juiciness will be significant if you follow the instructions.
Keep us posted about your successes with this Thanksgiving preparation, and let us know how much you loved the taste and textures of this spectacular way to treat a bird! We hope you enjoy your meals!