It’s Part 1 of my Nomtastic Thanksgiving series!
No, I said BUTTERFLIED—not BUTTERFRIED. Sorry to disappoint, butter lovers! And for you strict Paleo peeps, a note of warning: there’s butter in this recipe, though ghee is a fantastic substitute. (If you’re zero-tolerance when it comes to all forms of dairy, substitute duck fat or schmaltz.)
With this post, I’m starting a series of Thanksgiving-related recipe posts, and I figured I’d tackle the hardest one first. Every November, the prospect of roasting a whole turkey strikes fear into the hearts of even experienced cooks. The entire process—from picking a bird to carving it—can be daunting. No one wants to serve a dry, powdery turkey to their gathered friends and family…especially if you’ve got an in-law who’s just waiting to pounce on a kitchen blunder. But never fear: even if Olivia Soprano is your mother-in-law, this foolproof method will keep you in her good graces.
Step One: Pick a Bird
This article by Serious Eats covers everything you need to know about selecting a turkey. (In fact, it covers all things turkey.)
By the way, I learned a valuable lesson this year: Don’t get greedy. The first turkey I roasted to test this recipe was waaaaay too big. The gigantic 18-pounder(!) that I bought from Tendergrass Farms was delicious and came out beautifully (It’s the one I photographed for this post!), but it barely fit in my oven. My second bird (which I didn’t photograph) was a much more manageable 12-pounder that actually fit on my roasting tray.
Step Two: Gear Up
For my recipe, you’ll want to make sure you have a sharp, sturdy pair of poultry shears (to tear through thin bones and cartilage like a skilled orthopedic surgeon). You’ll also need an oven-proof wire rack and a baking sheet or large broiling pan.
Lastly, you’ll need an accurate meat thermometer to ensure perfectly cooked meat. If you don’t want to keep having to open the oven to check your turkey, your best bet is to get an in-oven thermometer.
Seriously: a meat thermometer is not negotiable. It’s the only way to make sure you don’t overcook your big, pricey turkey and disappoint your guests.
Step Three: Mark Your Calendars
If you don’t want to eat turkey-flavored popsicles on Thanksgiving, you have to start thawing your bird in the fridge beginning on the Friday or Saturday before Turkey Day. It’ll take 3 or 4 days to fully defrost, and then you’ll want to dry-brine the bird and let it sit for 1 or 2 more days in the fridge before roasting.
On Thanksgiving Day, make sure you allow for at least 30 minutes of resting time before you carve up the bird. So if you want the bird on the table by early afternoon, you need to pop it in the oven in the morning.
Step Four: Cook!
My Butterflied Big Bird recipe combines Judy Rodgers’ dry-brining techniques with J. Kenji López-Alt’s Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey and my own simple herb butter.
The turkey is spatchcocked and dry-brined with kosher salt, and then left to sit loosely-covered in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Underneath the crispy skin, the tender meat is flavored with an herb-infused butter (or ghee, if you prefer).