Are you roasting a turkey for the holidays? If you’re in search of a foolproof method for making a bird that is deliciously succulent, perfectly seasoned, and cooked to perfection with a crispy, golden-brown skin . . . read on!
As any cook worth his or her salt knows, roasting a turkey that will be the centerpiece of your feast is a big responsibility—particularly if you paid big bucks for a humanely raised, free range organic heritage bird. If you’ve ever eaten dry, over-cooked turkey you know that prep and roasting method can make the difference between a memorable or lackluster meal.
My secret to great turkey is a three-fold process: brine, air dry, and spatchcock. This method requires planning & prep 2 to 3 days prior to roasting, but the extra effort results in a bird that is perfectly cooked and seasoned every time!
Step One (three days prior to roasting): Brine the fresh or thawed bird.
Brining is the process of soaking the meat in a salt water bath, either with or without added herbs & spices. This method is especially good for lean meats like poultry to make them juicier and more flavorful. The salt dissolves proteins in the meat which relaxes the fibers so they can absorb some of the liquid. This process “plumps” the bird. If the brine contains herbs the meat will be infused with their flavor. As a rule of thumb, the turkey should remain submerged in the brining solution for about one (1) hour per pound of turkey.
I highly recommend the all-in-one Brown Bag Brine Kits from The Local Spicery (available at their store in Tiburon, California and Sunday Marin Civic Center Farmers Market booth or online). The kit comes with a large brining bag, sea salt, brining spices, and dry rub spice. I bought their Traditional bag which blends aromatic bay leaf, juniper, and fennel with a traditional Poultry Seasoning. They also offer French Herbs and a spicy Yucatan Chetumal blend of paprika, chiles, Mexican oregano, and their popular Axiote Seasoning Blend.
- To prepare the brine: Heat one (1) gallon of water to a simmer in a large stockpot with added sea salt & spices. Continue simmering on lowest heat for 5 – 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add ice to total (2) gallons of solution. Cool completely.
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Discard packaging. Rinse thoroughly in cold water and pat dry.
- Place turkey in the brining bag. Nestle the bag (open end facing up) in a large ice chest and pack with ice on all sides. Add the cool brine solution to submerge the bird, and secure closed with a twist tie.
- Leave the bird in the brine ice bath for (1) hour per pound of turkey.
Step Two: Air Dry
To seal in the juices for a moist, delicious turkey allow the bird to air dry in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to roasting.
- Remove the turkey from the brining solution and rinse thoroughly inside and out. Pat dry.
- Place turkey on a shallow roasting pan, uncovered, in the refrigerator and allow the outer skin to dry (ideally for at least 24 hours).
Step Three: Spatchcock
Spatchcocking is the process of cutting out the backbone of the turkey and scoring the inner breast bone. The bird is then laid flat on the roasting pan, skin side up, like an open book. The benefits of roasting your turkey this way are two-fold. The meat will cook much faster, and have a uniformly crisp, golden-brown skin. No basting is required! My 13.85 pound turkey was roasted to perfection in just 1 hour and 15 minutes! *This method also works well for roasting chicken.
- Transfer turkey from the refrigerator to a large cutting board, back side up.
- Use a sturdy pair of poultry sheers to cut along the length of the backbone on both sides from tail to neck. Remove and save for stock or discard. * I found it helpful to have someone hold the turkey steady as I cut out the backbone.
3. Score the inside breast bone with a sharp knife until it cracks open.
4. Turn the bird over, skin side up, and lay flat on a prepared roasting pan.
5. Rub the skin of the turkey generously with butter or EVOO and desired herb mix. *If you brined the turkey, no additional salt is necessary. Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature while oven preheats.
6. Heat oven to 400. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Place the bird on the center oven rack, and roast until the thermometer reads 165-170 F. *start checking for doneness at about (1) hour.
7. Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving. The turkey will continue to cook as it rests, and the internal temperature should rise to 180-190 F.