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When you think of Thanksgiving dinner, you probably envision a huge, round, whole-roasted turkey trussed up and set at the center of your dining room table. It's beautiful, sure, but is it really the best way to prepare the iconic holiday bird?
No, definitely not. Spatchcocking is a superior method in virtually every way.
But what is spatchcocking, you ask? Essentially, it's a fancy term for butterflying your bird and roasting, grilling, or smoking it while it's laid out flat. This method does require a little elbow grease, a lack of squeamishness, and a good pair of kitchen shears, but in the end it'll get you the best turkey you've ever tasted.
Spatchcocking can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend roasting your bird.
Opinions differ on how quickly you can cook a spatchcocked turkey. Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt—perhaps the internet's foremost spatchcocking evangelist—says you can cut the cooking time in half, to about 80 minutes. The New York Times' Mark Bittman, meanwhile, claims you can do it in just 35 minutes.
Either way, your bird will be done a heck of a lot faster than the 2 to 5 hours Butterball says it'll take to roast a whole bird.
Why is it so much faster? Because a flat turkey cooks more evenly, it can handle higher heat. With a whole turkey, you have to cook at a low temperature (~325°F) to avoid overcooking and drying out the outermost layer. When the bird is butterflied, you can turn up the heat (to about 450°F) without worry. As you'd imagine, the cooking time drops precipitously.
One the biggest benefits of spatchcocking your turkey is that it keeps the meat moist while providing you with crispy skin. According to Kenji from Serious Eats, this has to do with how the flattened turkey sits in the pan—all of the skin faces upward in open air, while the exposed meat is on the bottom.
That means the skin has plenty of uninterrupted dry heat to get nice and crispy, while the meat stews in all the fat and juices that render out, keeping it perfectly moist.
We hear you: "But how can that be? You can't stuff a flat turkey!"
True. Technically, it won't be real "stuffing." (We'll save the stuffing vs. dressing debate for another day.) But whatever you choose to call it, your starchy stuff will be more flavorful (and more plentiful) if you use this method.
Kenji writes at Serious Eats that all you have to do is lay the spatchcocked bird on top of your stuffing ingredients. This gets plenty of turkey drippings into the breading and allows you to prepare more stuffing than you'd be able to cram into a whole turkey's cavity. He adds that you should move the bird to another pan halfway through cooking so the stuffing doesn't burn.
If that's not enough good news for your tastebuds, you can also use the turkey's discarded backbone to make superior gravy. Kenji even walks through the process in his in-depth spatchcocking tutorial video:
Sure, a plump, whole-roasted turkey is an iconic Thanksgiving centerpiece, but it's not really the most convenient mountain of meat to tackle come dinner time. Maybe your uncle takes pride in his hard-won carving skills, but meat that comes to the table ready-to-eat is preferable to us.
A spatchcocked turkey is far simpler to carve, and can be just as visually appealing when presented the right way. Serious Eats and MarthaStewart.com each offer mouth-wateringly gorgeous ideas for how to plate the carved-up turkey to best effect.
A roasted spatchcocked turkey is crispier, juicier, and quicker than a conventional whole bird, but you can cook a butterflied bird in plenty of other ways.
If you want a different taste, you can grill your spatchcocked turkey. We particularly like the under-a-brick method. Need even more flavor and have some time to kill? Try smoking the bird. If you're a hardcore smoking fanatic, feel free to use your smoker. The rest of us can do it on a regular kettle grill with a little patience.
Even the way you prepare your bird can change the way it tastes. Mark Bittman suggests that you arrange its legs differently compared to most recipes, while Kenji suggests you remove the wishbone along with the spine.
We've covered a whole cornucopia of different turkey cooking techniques here at Reviewed.com, but none of them compare to the ease and speed of spatchcocking. So go ahead and give it a try! Who knows, maybe this year you'll actually want to eat some turkey along with all those great sides.
This article was originally published on November 16, 2014.
November 18, 2016