A wonderful YouTube video from Tante Marie’s Kitchen is called Just Put the @#$%&* Turkey in the Oven and you should watch it now for fun. I don’t have Tante Marie’s panache, but we have eaten some delicious Thanksgiving meals over the decades.
You need a Thanksgiving turkey for several reasons: stuffing, leftover turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, Turkey Noodle Soup, and stuffing. Here is a way to cook the turkey evenly and more important, provide twice as much stuffing while making sure the stuffing is cooked safely.
Turkey stuffing is delicious when baked in the oven. It is sublime if you put the stuffing into a turkey and then roast the turkey. Juices from the turkey season the stuffing in a very wonderful way. However, for the last couple of decades science has told us that stuffing inside a turkey doesn’t get hot enough to keep it safe. Yet who wants to eat plain baked stuffing?
In 2013 we found a new method from Julia Child’s 1989 book The Way to Cook and adapted by Cooks Illustrated. You mound the stuffing under a cut-up turkey, then roast the turkey. This method produces a larger amount of stuffing perfumed with turkey juices and it is safe. We have used it every year since then.
The first year we carefully arranged the turkey parts to simulate an entire turkey, and everyone was fooled into thinking that’s what it was. But this elaborate ruse is not needed.
1 natural unenhanced turkey, 12-20 pounds
(or whatever you can find–we have used supermarket turkeys)
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Spatchcocking the turkey
The only hard part of cooking this turkey is pretending you are an old-fashioned butcher. You need to detach the legs and back from the turkey via a process called spatchcocking. Equip yourself with good shears such as these Oxo Poultry Shears and a sharp boning knife or paring knife.
I recommend that you watch a Youtube video about spatchcocking to get a better idea of what to do. Here is a Dailymotion 2013 America’s Test Kitchen video that is excellent. The spatchcocking directions start at 2:16 and continue for 4 minutes. I have not found spatchcocking as easy as the video makes it look.
You will see references to brining the breast after you separate it. In those days brining turkeys was fashionable, but as Tante Marie says, nowadays we just put that turkey in the oven. So ignore brining.
Assume any raw turkey no matter how organic has bacteria that you do not want to transfer anywhere else in your kitchen. Therefore WASH YOUR HANDS after you touch the raw turkey BEFORE you touch anything else in your kitchen. Cooking the turkey will get rid of any bacteria that might be present.
With turkey breast side up, using boning or paring knife, cut through skin around leg quarter where it attaches to breast. Bend leg back to pop leg bone out of socket. Cut through joint to separate leg quarter. Do the same for the other leg.
Remove the thighbones to make carving the turkey easier. With skin side down, use tip of knife to cut along sides of thighbone to expose bone, then slide knife under bone to free meat. Without cutting away the skin, cut joint between thigh and leg and remove thighbone.
Sprinkle inside of each thigh with a little sage, salt, and pepper. Truss each thigh closed with skewers and kitchen twine.
Using shears, cut through ribs following vertical line of fat where breast meets back, from tapered end of breast to wing joint. Bend back away from breast to pop shoulder joint out of socket. Cut through joint between bones to separate back from breast. Refrigerate breast and leg quarters for 6 to 12 hours.
Save or freeze the thigh bones and the back to make turkey broth.
Meanwhile, make your Turkey Stuffing using our recipe or your own.
Cook turkey and stuffing
Heat oven to 425°F. Pat turkey breast dry with paper towels (leave leg quarters in fridge). Tuck wings behind back. Brush breast with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Find an ovenproof skillet or a half-sheet pan or some other pan large enough to accomodate the turkey breast. Heat the pan over medium heat. Place turkey breast skin side down into pan and roast in oven for 30 minutes.
Put stuffing in large roasting pan and pat stuffing into rectangle a little smaller than the pan. Take a little stuffing out to bake separately for the vegetarians.
Remove breast from oven, flip it, and place it into the roasting pan over two-thirds of the stuffing. Arrange leg quarters over remaining stuffing and brush with remaining teaspoon of oil. Lightly season breast and leg quarters with salt and pepper. Tuck stuffing under bird as much as possible.
Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook at 425°F for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue to roast until thickest part of breast registers 165°F and thickest part of thigh registers 180°F, 40 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes or longer.
Transfer breast and leg quarters to cutting board and let rest for 30 minutes.
While turkey rests, stir stuffing well, redistribute over bottom of roasting pan. Return to oven with heat turned off, or warming oven in your stove if you need your oven for other things.
Before serving, season stuffing with salt and pepper to taste.
Carve and serve turkey in the same pan with stuffing or separately.