How to Cook a Turkey in Half the Time

By Joanna Sciarrino


This year, we are all about the art of spatchcocking (yes, spatchcocking) our Thanksgiving turkey. Don’t let the complicated name deter you from this refreshingly simple method: All you really have to do is butterfly it, or remove the backbone, and lay it flat, skin-side up, in a roasting pan. Why should you spatchcock? There’s more surface area, which means more even and better browning—and it also cooks up fast. Really fast. (A 12-pounder is roasted to perfection in 90 minutes flat.) That said, if you’d rather not spatchcock your bird this Thanksgiving (there’s always next year!), we hear you. But if you’re going to go for the whole bird, you’re going to want to do it right. Here’s a primer on how to make the most of your roast.

Buy a Better Bird
Heritage breeds have more flavorful meat than the average turkey, but they aren’t typically available at every grocery store. Order online (or from a specialty butcher) on November 1. Why choose a heritage turkey (frequently raised breeds are the extravagantly plumed Narragansett and Bourbon Red) over an average supermarket one? Despite the higher price point, they’ve consistently come out on top in taste tests—including one of our own. Typically, heritage turkeys are raised on an organic diet and raised free-range, so although they are fed grain, they are also free to forage outside. Conventionally farmed turkeys are often injected with additives and preservatives (like saline solutions) before being packaged.

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Don’t Forget to Defrost
Even worse than an overcooked turkey is a still-frozen one. To defrost it in the fridge, put the bird on a rimmed tray to catch any poultry juices and allow six hours per pound—safely three full days for the size we recommend (12 to 14 pounds). Don’t forget: Raw poultry goes on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, so any stray drips don’t contaminate other food.

Keep the Brine Dry
We love a good wet brine, but a dry brine spares you the hassle of figuring out how and where to chill a giant, submerged bird, while still yielding insanely juicy, perfectly seasoned results. Even if you don’t spatchcock, you can still make use of the method.

Bake the Stuffing
Stuffing the cavity might seem like a delicious idea, but it lengthens the turkey’s roasting time, and you miss out on the crispy bits—and we happen to think the crispy bits are the best part. Do what we do and bake the stuffing separately—you’ll never go back. Although you can riff endlessly on stuffing, to make a good one, you’ll need stale bread, a little fat (sausage is your friend here), something oniony, and plenty of stock; nobody likes a dry stuffing, after all.

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Build Flavor
A half-inch or so of stock or water in the roasting pan prevents drippings from scorching and guarantees plenty of rendered juices for an extra-tasty gravy later. Making your own poultry stock will really amp up the volume; this is one instance where store-bought just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Give It a Rest
Resist the urge to carve immediately! A cooked turkey (removed from the oven when the temperature registers 165 degrees) needs to rest for at least 30 minutes for the juices to redistribute. And do yourself—and your guests—a favor: Don’t carve it at the dinner table. Give yourself plenty of space and a clear work station in the kitchen, then present a platter of meat once the meal begins.

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photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott