I’ve mentioned before that my word for 2020 is “fearless.” I’m pretty fearless when it comes to experimenting with spices. I’m less fearless with activities that involve deft handling of a knife, especially if it involves cutting or filleting meat—except sausage … I’m good with slicing sausage.
This past Thanksgiving I continually heard about spatchcocking (and how wet brining is so over) … and how much better it is to cook turkey spatchcocked. Think about it. A turkey cooks outside in, so the center takes the longest. Meantime, the legs and breasts dry out. So back in January when dear sweet husband asked if I would make another turkey and grabbed a 20-lb bird on sale, I agreed. And when dear sweet husband asked what I wanted for Valentine’s Day … it was a dining-in experience with a spatchcocked turkey front and center.
Spatchcocking: the Bird is the Word
It’s uncertain exactly where the word spatchcock came from, and I learned far more about its derivation than I care to share in this blog. Its origin is not only uncertain but may have been wholly unrelated to cuisine: a military term. As a cuisine-related word, British, Irish and Indian peoples claim it. Spatchcocking is also known by a much prettier word: butterflying. Specifically, you cut out the spine and lay the bird flat. Once you cut out the spine and flatten it, you pat it dry, dry brine it, and cook. Bonus? It cooks faster, too!
Which brings me to the Irish claim that it’s an abbreviation of “dispatch cock”—a quickly prepared fowl. That makes sense to me, since this method is a quicker way to cook a bird … even a giant bird that outsizes all of your cooking dishes. I had no pan quite big enough to cook this turkey. After all was said and done, its legs hung over the edge of the pan like a giant in a tiny bed. And not just any legs … giant, delicious turkey legs like you’d carry around at a Renaissance Fair or theme park.Jump to Recipe
About That Spatchcocked Turkey
As I laid out that turkey, I thought about a quote that emerged during my research for this piece: how we are capable of cruelty. Yikes! I am an unapologetic meat-eater but I wouldn’t call myself cruel. I subscribe more to the Native American idea of respecting the life that has been taken for nourishment of others.
Suddenly, as I stood with my shears in front of that helpless, lifeless giant of a turkey, thinking of cruelty as part and parcel to spatchcocking, I didn’t feel very fearless. And I felt silly to boot—because this poor bird was already dead, and it certainly wasn’t going to feel the snips and crushes I was getting ready to inflict. And from the beginning, I just wanted to see if spatchcocking this turkey would, indeed, prove to be rapturously delicious.
I took a deep breath, along with a bundle of mixed emotions, channeled them into my cooking shears, and cut…. You need some strong shears and strong hands. I got a knife to break through some tougher spots. Dear sweet husband joined in. Then I flattened, with a lot of pressure that led to only a little crunching sound. I vowed if I were going to be serious about prepping meat I had to get back to a weightlifting regimen. Then I patted it dry, applied a rub of salt, pepper and sage and put that giant bird in the oven. And you know what?
It cooked faster. It looked amazing. And it tasted rapturously delicious, especially paired with a Cacio e Pepe topped with a garlicky spinach sauté. We will definitely spatchcock a turkey this coming Thanksgiving. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it.
“Preparing meat is always an act of physical labor. Whacking rib eye with a rolling pin. Snapping apart an arc of pork crackling. And there is something inescapably candid about it, too. If you’ve ever spatchcocked a goose- if you’ve pressed your weight down on its breastbone, felt it flatten and give, its bones rearranging under your hands- you will know what I am talking about. We are all capable of cruelty.”― Lara Williams
- 1 whole Turkey
- 2 TBSP salt 1 ¼ tsp salt for every 5 lb
- 2 tsp pepper ½ tsp peper for every 5 lb
- 2 TBSP sage 1 ¼ tsp for every 5 lb
- Locate spine of turkey and cut one side from leg end of turkey using shears. Cut the other side and remove spine.
- Press rib cage and flatten out bird. Pat dry.
- Dry brine and place on baking pan or platter. Allow to sit about 8 hours or overnight for best results.
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Cook until exterior is browned, then reduce temperature to 325° F. (You can increase to 350° or even 375° for a faster cook and depending upon size of bird, just watch browning and tent if needed.)
- Cook until internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 150° F and internal temperature of thigh is 165° F. Cover with foil to prevent overbrowning if needed.
- Let sit 30 minutes before slicing and serving.