Yeah, I know. For some people a roasted turkey is strictly a Thanksgiving affair. But many people also feature turkey for the Christmas holiday table. Turkeys can be a challenge. You want the skin crisp but if only the breast if facing the heat, the skin on the thighs below tends to get greasy and unpleasant. You want moist white meat but it can get overcooked while waiting for the dark meat to reach the right temperature. Bottom line? Roasting a turkey can be an aggravating guessing game.
So, I’m going to make it easy for you. Spatchcock your bird and roast it at high heat.
Spatchcocking is a way of breaking down the bird so it will rest flat in a roasting pan and cook evenly. You avoid the age-old problem of having the white meat dry out while the dark meat continues to cook below. Instead, you have moist meat from the drumstick to the breast. And because it roasts at high heat, the turkey cooks quickly and the skin all over the turkey is fully exposed, making it all nice and crisp.
But heads up–it really only works well with turkeys 14 pounds and smaller so it will fit in a roasting pan. Think that’s not a big enough bird for a crowd? Well, I had 14 people for Thanksgiving dinner at my house and with all the sides that 14-pound bird was plenty and there were still some leftovers.
Here’s how you do it. Place the turkey on a cutting board and pull out whatever may be in the cavity (neck, giblets), trim any excess fat, and drain the bird of any liquid. Pat it down with paper towels so it’s as dry as possible. Using a very good pair of kitchen shears, cut the bird from one end to the other along the backbone. Most people cut the backbone out entirely but I like to keep it and roast it too. When you’ve done that open up the bird skin side up with the breast facing you. Place the heel of one hand over the breast bone and your other hand over the first. Bear down on the breast until you feel and hear a crack. That would be the breast bone. Now your turkey can rest flat on the pan, which is where it should now go.
Pre-heat a conventional oven to 450° F.
I season my bird lightly with garlic salt and paprika. Then I rub in olive oil (you can also use butter) and squeeze fresh lemon juice all over before tucking the remaining lemon halves under the bird. You can also add slices of onion and fresh herbs.
Put the turkey in the oven and let it roast for about an hour and 20 minutes. Don’t baste it. Really. Just leave it alone so the skin gets crispy.
At 1 hour, 20 minutes, pull the turkey out of the oven and measure its temperature with a meat thermometer to test if it’s done. The breast should hit 150° and the thigh should be 165°. If you’ve hit that, turn off the oven and lightly tent the turkey (if not, put the turkey back in the oven and try again in five minutes). Let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.
Yeah, it’s that simple. Here’s my cheat sheet from year to year:
P.S. This is a great roasting technique for chicken and even Cornish game hens (just shorten the roasting time).