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My T-Day turkey is looking like it's going to be in excess of 20 lbs this year, and I'm nervous about how long the darn thing is actually going to be in my oven when I have pies, bread, sides, etc. to prepare.

Martha Stewart has a brief article on spatchcocking a turkey (removing the backbone and breaking the breasts so the bird is 'flat') and I was curious as to if anyone has ever done it before with a big bird, and to what degree of success. Did you baste the turkey while it was cooking? Heaven forbid I feed my picky family a dry turkey, I would never hear the end of it.

I would practice with a large bird, but there's no way we'll be able to eat 40 lbs of turkey in a month!

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My six pound chicken did quite well with this technique lying in its drippings, but that's not 20 lbs or a turkey. –  justkt Nov 2 '10 at 21:37
    
I would suggest brining to avoid having a dry turkey. I would suggest looking at instructions for assembling a turducken, but I believe that they do not debone the turkey in that case, just the chicken and the duck. –  Manako Nov 2 '10 at 21:53
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I'm sitting here stunned that spatchcock is evidently a real cooking term. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 4 '10 at 20:01
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@JSBᾶngs Equally astounded. I've always just heard that referred to as "butterflying". –  Gregor Nov 22 '11 at 19:50
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Also, to the OP, make sure you have a big enough roasting pan! If you have a V-shaped rack, you can put that upside-down under the bird, but I still ended up needing to fold extra aluminum foil extensions for my pan. –  Gregor Nov 22 '11 at 20:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I've spatchcocked our turkey the past two years and will never go back to the usual way. It just cooks so much faster. The spatchcocking itself isn't to hard, although you do have to be willing to inflict a little violence on the turkey.

I basically follow Mark Bittman's recipe. The video is located here. I do, however cook a larger bird. The time I did it with an 18 pound bird it too a bit more than 90 minutes.

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I see three excellent questions here:

1- How to cook a turkey without drying it out. How do you keep turkey from getting too dry?
The quick answer to this question is always brining. I love brined turkey but often the drippings are too salty to make a gravy which is a tragedy. For that reason, and because of the faster cooking time, I wouldn't brine a butterflied turkey- or at least less than usual.

Basting is unnecessary and will not help the meat stay moist. It will add flavor but if the meat is cooking in its own juices this won't be necessary.

2- How to cook a turkey without monopolizing your oven.
I use Alton Brown's turkey roasting technique. He roasts at 500F for some time to fry the skin and then drops the heat for the actual roasting. If I am cramped for oven space I will do the 500F in the oven and then move the turkey to an electric roaster for the remainder of the cooking time. It doesn't brown as completely but the meat cooks beautifully.

3- The question you actually asked: have I ever butterflied a large turkey.
Of course the larger mass will take longer to roast but it will still be faster than traditional roasting so I wouldn't worry about it become too dry. The recipes that I found after reading your question sound delicious:
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/recipes/2007/11/14/herb-crusted-roast-butterflied-turkey/
I think you should go for it.

Thank you for asking this question. I am definitely going to try this with one of my turkeys this year.

** EDIT **
I did it and it was delicious. Besides the faster cooking time and resultant juiciness- I also appreciated the greatly expanded surface area that allowed me to get more flavoring against the meat.

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Harold McGee actually disagrees with the brining turkey suggestion: nytimes.com/2008/11/12/dining/12curi.html –  justkt Nov 2 '10 at 23:03
    
@justkt - I am interested in trying his suggested method. It sounds like it would taste good but it doesn't sound like it will be what people expect to eat on Thanksgiving. His points all make sense- the juiciness is less meaty- but personally the best turkey I have ever had was brined. –  Sobachatina Nov 2 '10 at 23:12
    
@justkt - continued... Let me know if you try his suggestion before I do. –  Sobachatina Nov 2 '10 at 23:13
    
I've tried it with chicken, but the turkey isn't my responsibility this year, so I don't know that I will get to it with turkey until after Thanksgiving (when they are cheap). –  justkt Nov 3 '10 at 17:52
    
Your edit is spot on, as it maximizes area and doesn't need to be flipped, this cooking method is perfect for a glaze! –  Gregor Nov 22 '11 at 19:59

As an alternative to spatchcocking, you can simply cut it in half. This is useful if grilling, as it's a bit easier to move around and flip.

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November 2010's Bon Appetit features a step-by-step for roasting a butterflied turkey. The stuffing is tucked under the skin. They do recommend having the butcher take out the backbone for you.

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