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Say It: Spatchcock, the Fastest Way to Roast a Turkey

November 15, 2013


  • 1 Turkey (you choose your size!)
  • Salt for the rub (1 tablespoon for every five pounds of turkey; for a smaller bird, you might need a bit more.)
  • Fresh herbs for the rub. (I use a combination of fresh marjoram and thyme; you could use rosemary and sage, or your favorites.) 2-3 thick sprigs of each for a small bird, and 5-6 for a large one.
  • White wine (one glass for the bird, one for you)


  1. If you want to roast a spatchcocked turkey, you really should buy your bird from a butcher who will “butterfly” it for you. Make sure you have her or him give you the backbone and other parts that are removed, as they are perfect for roasting and making a rich stock for gravy.
  2. If you must butterfly the bird yourself, get the sharpest kitchen shears you can find and patiently snip (it may feel like hacking) down each side of the backbone. A good sharp cleaver or a good sized butcher knife may be necessary to cut into the pelvis, if you’re roasting a larger bird. Then cut deeply into aptly-named keel bone between the two breast halves – it does look just like the keel of a ship – which will allow you to flatten the breast. This is important in roasting the bird evenly. Don’t worry about removing the keel bone altogether; snipping the cartilage along one side should allow you to spread the two breast halves apart.
  3. Wrap up the turkey back and neck in butcher paper or put them in a plastic bag; refrigerate until you need them. They are perfect for roasting separately, to make gravy.
  4. Blitz the salt in a food processor with the leaves and slender stems of the herbs.
  5. Thoroughly pat the bird dry inside and out, and then rub the salt gently into the skin, using a bit more on the thickest part of the breast. Sprinkle the herbed salt evenly over the inside areas of the turkey as well.
  6. Put the turkey into a large plastic bag, with the two back edges together, so that it looks rather like it did before you removed the backbone. Squeeze out as much air as you can from the bag, and secure it shut. Then, sit the turkey in the bag, breast side up, in a large bowl. Put it in the fridge for three days, rubbing the salt into the skin gently every day, and turning it upside down in the bowl 24 hours before you plan to cook the bird. (I strongly recommend using a bowl because, no matter how good your re-sealable bag may seem, it’s likely to leak. So let it leak into the bowl, and not into your vegetable drawer.)
  7. The night before you plan to roast the bird, remove it from the bag, and put it on a large plate with the back pieces together and the breast up. (If your fridge is stuffed, like mine usually is the night before I roast a turkey, you can also wash and dry the bowl to use instead.) Put it in the fridge until an hour before you plan to begin roasting. If you’re getting up very early on T-Day, you can do this in the morning, as long as the bird has at least 6 or 7 hours to sit uncovered before you remove it from the fridge.
  8. An hour before you plan to start roasting the turkey, take it out of the fridge and put it on a rack set inside a large roasting pan, spread out of course. Pull the legs forward, as shown in the photo. For some reason, I don’t own a decent flat roasting rack, so I set my largest cookie cooling rack on three sturdy stalks of celery, to give it a bit more stability.
  9. Heat your oven to 450 degrees. When it’s been 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes, put the turkey in. I usually add about a cup of water, to keep the juices from browning too much before the turkey releases its juices into the pan. Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees; then, roast for about 10 minutes per pound, total.
  10. Cover the breast after an hour with heavy foil (or after an hour and a half for a larger bird). I usually pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Then I pour myself one — this is optional but recommended. (For a larger bird, I’d do this about an hour before I expected to remove it from the oven.)
  11. The turkey is done when the thigh’s internal temperature is 165 degrees. Start checking early though (about half way through the expected total time), as the temperatures and heat circulation activity of your oven, the number of times the door is open, the temperature of your refrigerator and the ambient temperature on your counter, etc., all contribute to extreme variability in the actual time required to roast any particular bird. Also, it seems that larger birds require less time per pound. Although I was told by Melissa Clark on the Gilt Turkey hotline last year that a large bird should be roasted at 450 degrees for 1/2 hour and then 10 -12 minutes per pound at 350 degrees after that, I learned from a FOOD52 member via the Hotline that her spatchcocked 30 pound turkey was done in about 3 1/2 hours, instead of the 6 hours that formula would require. So start checking early, especially with a larger bird.
  12. When the internal temperature of the thigh has reached 165 degrees, take the bird out of the oven, remove the foil and let the roast rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  13. Meanwhile, use the pan drippings in very small quantities to season your gravy.