Spatchcocked turkey logistics
November 20, 2014 12:24 PM   Subscribe

For Thanksgiving this year, I decided that I will spatchcock/butterfly the turkey. Problem? I've never cooked a turkey before, and I need some help thinking through specific logistics of size and scissors. Detailed questions inside!

My turkey is going to be 22-23lbs from a local farm. I'm trying to make sure I have the right roasting pan for this, but I have no idea what the dimensions of a flat 22-23lb turkey would be. Do you? (I have access to a 18x13x3.5 roasting pan with a flat rack on top of it -- would that work?)

Will I be able to sharpen my normal kitchen scissors / knives sufficiently to do this or do I super duper need to buy poultry shears?

Right now I'm planning to put the stuffing in the roasting pan under the turkey, and the turkey on top of the flat rack so that turkey drippings get on the stuffing. Is there anything that could go wrong with this?

Any other tips helpful/appreciated. The goal is to do a modification of this recipe (basically doubled, with a spatchcocked turkey, stuffing under, and no basting).
posted by aaanastasia to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oops, ok the turkey is actually going to be 23-24lbs.
posted by aaanastasia at 12:31 PM on November 20, 2014

You'll want to read through what Kenji has to say at Serious Eats, since he does a lot of testing (and is a huge proponent of the spatchcocked bird). There's also a video about the process, which might answer your scissor question. And if not, he's pretty good about responding to comments (and they also have an overall Thanksgiving Q&A going on now so check there too).

I am a firm believer that dressing should be cooked entirely separate from bird or you compromise both the dressing and the bird. From the above article:

However, you can start your turkey in the oven resting directly on top of a large tray of stuffing, transferring the turkey to a rack in a rimmed baking sheet about half way through cooking before the stuffing has a chance to start burning. This is actually an even more effective way of getting turkey flavor into the stuffing than to stuff it into the turkey itself. After all, you can only fit a few cups of stuffing at most into the cavity of a whole turkey. When butterflied, you get direct contact between far more turkey and stuffing than you ever could otherwise.

The final disadvantage is that if you're not careful, the pan drippings will start to scorch, smoking out your apartment as the turkey roasts. There's a very easy solution to this: just add a layer of chopped vegetables underneath the turkey as it roasts. (I use onions, carrots, celery, and thyme leaves, but you could add other things like parsnips, fennel, or garlic, for instance).

posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've battled my way through a few spatchcocks with regular kitchen shears, but I think I'd prefer to use more serious snippers given the choice. I've found knives to not be helpful, although a heavy cleaver could probably work if you get the angles right.

I agree that Kenji's tutorials on Serious Eats are without peer. In addition to some veggies below the turkey tray, I add about a half inch of water to the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching of pan drippings.
posted by quince at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can probably do this with standard kitchen shears and a chef's knife. I would not use your very favorite sharpest santoku, but I've done it with various chef's knives on turkeys of that size and it's been fine, both for the bird and the knife. It will be a little slippery and awkward, but it can definitely be done.

I think a turkey that big will probably be bigger than 18x13". I can't recall the dimensions of the ones I've cooked, since we did them on a grill with a big grate and we weren't really worried about that.

Good luck! Post back and let us know how it turns out.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:51 PM on November 20, 2014

I do a modified spatchcocked turkey, from an old Julia Child/Jacques Pepin recipe. It's a bit of work, and I don't do the legs the exact way the recipes calls to, but it's a great cooking method.

the video-
the recipe-

Basically, you remove the legs, and cook them separately from the breast, which sits on top of the stuffing (if you do your stuffing w/the bird). It's really good. I don't do the gravy in the recipe or the stuffing etc just the technique. Good luck!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:12 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine tried a test case on Monday to see if she wants to spatchcock her turkey next week, and it turned out really hard to press down flat. I think she needed someone to help press it down, and it wasn't all that big of a bird. A 23-24 pound bird might be pretty difficult to flatten down.
posted by blurker at 1:31 PM on November 20, 2014

Are you buying this bird direct from the farm or via a local butcher? Because our local butcher (not the supermarket, the meat market) will spatchcock your turkey for you (if you buy from them, of course). I understand transport is interesting, though.
posted by anastasiav at 1:39 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm getting it direct from the farm. If there's any way that I can get them to spatchcock it, I for sure will.
posted by aaanastasia at 1:42 PM on November 20, 2014

Yeah, I was going to say that I have the butcher spatchcock my birds. Call the farm and ask, you won't be the first to do so. Do it BEFORE you pick up your bird, so it can be ready for you.

if you have to do it yourself, you can do it by cutting the back out, you're going through much smaller bones than if you're trying to cut around the spine.

This is BY FAR the best way to roast a bird.

Also, do dressing separately. The risk you run is food poisoning (I've had it from stuffing) and letting greasy drippings fall into your oven, starting a fire or at the very lease, creating smoke.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on November 20, 2014

I think you're going to have trouble fitting the turkey into your pan. I'd go with a baking sheet and wire rack. Also, make sure that your oven is large enough to handle a bird this size (or maybe this is only a concern for us tiny apartment dwellers).

I'm a fan of doing stuffing in the crockpot, as it's easier to monitor doneness and adjust seasoning that way (and sample throughout the day....yum!).
posted by melissasaurus at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I spatchcocked a turkey last year, following the Serious Eats recipe linked above (drying in the refrigerator first makes for really good crispy skin). I started cutting on one side of the backbone with kitchen shears, then tried pruning shears, and eventually finished the other side with a semi-fancy serrated boning knife I borrowed from my sister-in-law at the last minute. You could probably do it with just about any kitchen implement and some brute force, but a good sharp knife will make it 10x easier.

As far as size, mine was only 12-13lb and it just barely fit on a rack over a standard half sheet. I made the dressing separately.
posted by bradf at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2014

Whoa, whoa. That's a HUGE turkey. I would be surprised if you could comfortably fit it properly flat in a home oven at all. Much less in a pan that allows for air/heat circulation—like 2" of clearance on every side. If you have a standard 30" oven, your inside dimensions are 25ish" x 16ish" x 16"; at this size the absolute biggest pan I use in mine is a three-quarter sheet at 22" x 15" which I used (every inch of it) when I spatchcocked a 17 lb turkey last year.

The Serious Eats tutorial is using a 12-14 lb turkey in what I would assume is a half sheet (18" x 13"). Here's a photo from this NomNomPaleo post that shows a 12-14lb bird going into a home oven. Here's a thread from Chow about spatchcocking large turkeys—someone reports that she had to use a full size pan (26" x 18") to fit her 26 lb bird, which she says "barely fit" in her oven.

Not to harsh your turkey buzz—but I know from sad experience that modifying cooking plans the week before Thanksgiving is vastly preferable to doing it the morning of. Since it doesn't sound like you need the whole carve-at-the-table Norman Rockwell thing I would strongly consider cooking it in two halves, on two racks. OR just cut the leg quarters away from the breasts; then you can arrange them to fit more closely.

Other random tips—1) I found that drippings in a pan with so much surface area to spread over tended to smoke very fast; your plan is good but you probably won't want to cook the stuffing the whole time you're cooking the turkey, and you can fill the pan with chopped vegetables the rest of the time to cut down on smoking. 2) I owned no kitchen shears that can cut through a turkey backbone that large—I ended up using a cleaver to hack my way through. And breaking the breastbone/getting it flat is totally a thing; I needed the weight of someone much burlier to crack it. Once that job is done taking out the keel bone really helps it to lay very flat.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also think it won't fit in a pan or oven. I also would consider splitting it into 2 halves.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 4:25 PM on November 20, 2014

It sounds like you're planning to spatchcock the turkey by cutting through the rib cage, but it's actually easier to halfway bone it. Look up any boning instructions (e.g.), and follow them to pull the rib cage and spine out of the bird. No need to hack through ribs or crack the keel, and afterward you can cook the breasts as a separate roll and pull them out when they're done (which will be sooner than the dark meat).
posted by d. z. wang at 7:37 PM on November 20, 2014

That... that is a big bird. I've only ever spatched smaller avians, and have always been able to do it with a heavy knife. For this size, I would absolutely suggest shears.

Spread out flat this isn't going to fit in anything other than a commercial oven, so your best bet is to actually chop/snip out the spine and divide in half for cooking on two racks.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:50 PM on November 20, 2014

I've always been able to use regular kitchen shears. Remember that you'll get the most force by snipping with the tip. But I've never tried to spatchcock a bird that big, I think you'll want to have the butcher do it for you if you can. Also agree that this is too big of a bird to get into your oven without cutting it in half. Honestly, I would do two smaller birds instead.

Logistically, it's going to be so much easier to just deglaze your roasting pans and mix the drippings into the dressing. (More even mixing, too.) There's no real flavor advantage to the drippings going into the dressing gradually as it cooks. Maybe you're less of a klutz than I am, but a bird on a rack over a roaster that is also full of cooking food is an accident waiting to happen.
posted by desuetude at 2:22 PM on November 21, 2014

Response by poster: Halfway there update: Called the farmer and requested a smaller turkey! Now anticipating 15-18lbs.
posted by aaanastasia at 9:08 AM on November 24, 2014

Good call! I think a 3/4 size sheet pan will probably do you (and the roaster will still be too small). It's a bit of an odd size so check out a restaurant supply store if you can.

ALSO I just saw the recipe link you put at the end, are you planning to use that glaze/marinade (I know you said no basting, but at the beginning)? Because it will 100% burn if applied before cooking on a turkey cooked hot and fast, as butterflied birds are. If you do want to use it I would maybe just rub some of the aromatics under the skin before cooking and put on the full glaze only for the last 15-20 minutes of cook time.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:32 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UPDATE: I totally chickened out (turkeyed out?) of spatchcocking. Instead roasted it at 325 for about 4.5/5 hours (breast side down for most of the time, up for 30 min). It turned out great!
posted by aaanastasia at 5:01 PM on December 1, 2014

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