Art Of The Turkey - The Easy Way

During Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas or any other family and friends occasion we are reminded of the great times we have had and the great food we have enjoyed together.  Most great visuals of the food part of the Holidays depict a traditional cooking exercise, with MOM starring in the Norman Rockwell posed with browned turkey on the platter approaching the table a classic example of Americana.

Thats out, my technique changed three years ago when I learned about Spatchcocking from a show on TV and since this is a political year  “I fired Norman and went rogue”.  I went to the technique of “Spatch-cocking” a twelve pound hen, and a twenty-one pound Tom, with simple seasonings.  The hen served well for Thanksgiving and the Tom fed the whole crew on Christmas.

The term “ Spatchcock” is believed to have come from Ireland or Scotland and is shortened from”Dispatching the Cock” or flattening the bigger birds.  Males are larger and called Cocks and Females are smaller and called Hens. This was so more of them would fit in the oven, which was fire, wood driven, and as many as ten birds at a time were cooked, and cooked evenly for those big rowdy feasts.   


Spatchcocking A Turkey Is Just Another Smart Method

🦃  There are a nearly endless supply of ways to cook a turkey.
  Most are methods passed down from generations and strict rules apply. Mostly for personal adoration, the new method of spatchcocking is for personal ease.  Speed, better taste and common sense.  Some people want the perfect golden brown centerpiece, we call it the Norman Rockwell method.  More for thanks and credit to MOM than common sense cooking about the bird.

🦃  Some deep dip the turkey in boiling oil, AKA the Redneck Oil Cooker and deep fry it outdoors in the back yard.   
Occasionally (last year) starting a four alarm fire and burning the back yard and almost the house down when a perfectly kicked football scored a goal.

🦃  Some attack the bird with a possible trillion combinations of herbs and spices resulting in “Was that Turkey”?  Still others care only for the breast meat and pay a ridiculous premium for the driest part of the turkey which no doubt they will overcook.

🦃  Many homeless houses dry it out.  Thats what gravy is for.  Now, large charities make one Normal Rockwell for the press to see and photograph.  The real meals are breasts only. Quicker, faster, safer, just buy the breasts and a slicer, douche or drown it in gravy and it feeds the masses.

🦃   I am in the NONE OF THE ABOVE METHODOLOGY since the basic problem with roasting a whole turkey or chicken, lies in the fact that while leg meat, with its connective tissue,  fat, and deep color should be cooked to at least 165°F to be palatable, lean breast meat will completely dry out much above 150°F*  and taste is more important to me than the presentation folks have seen for a millennium. 

🦃   This technique is faster and more efficient and eliminates most of the wasted time and wasted parts left over which few eat and allows more time for entertaining and with less kitchen chores.  Thats the alternative plan if you have picky eaters and only eat breast meat like kids and some adults with a lack of good culinary experience passing the Mac and Cheese syndrome down to the kids. 

🦃   We turned the leftovers into first overs by incorporating the less popular cuts into Turkey stew and soup, cooking albeit slower into a crock pot,  but at the same time the main breast portions were cooking.   This parallel cooking of the wings, related parts, and the legs and thighs related parts were on a 2nd tray lower in the oven cooking at the same time as the breasts and tops of the thighs. Then…

🦃   I pulled the wings and legs 2nd tray at one hour, couple whacks with the cleaver for sizing and into the crock pot with broth and of tons vegetables and at the end added two cans of cream of Chicken.  This created a very rich soup for Thanksgiving or stew, from Christmas to New years.  Almost a Turkey pot pie soup.

The 2nd tray parts fall apart in the crock pot so you have 100% usage, and it improves the wings and legs flavor.  I just use tongs to pull the bones out when the meat falls off.  I had  a lot of meat from the tom, and actually finished cooking by setting the crock pot on low and went to bed.  The next morning doing portion control with the  Tupperware. For the two of us it lasted two weeks.

This results with 100% usable Turkey less the guts.  If you knew what I knew,  with what they are fed in growth hormones alone to make 8-12 week wonders, I will not use spare parts for gravy or any other purpose other than keeping my garbage man employed.

🦃  Both recipes are below and absolutely zero wastage.  These are not wild turkeys, the factory holiday birds are bred to just eat, they don’t fly and they don’t dance, so they will get big breasts and the rest is to me useless and to most folks and most of those parts, well they are not that popular anymore.  

We decided to do this as the kids usually wanted the turkey leg, took one bite and left the rest on the table till the dog managed to find it.  Now the whole leg gets used in the soup less fat skin and bones.

🦃  Interesting trivia about the WhiteHouse Turkeys...  Named Tater and Tot, they were raised in Northwest Iowa on the Domino family farm. The National Turkey Federation provided the farm with 25 six-week old turkeys in August, according to the Iowa Farm Bureau. 

The 25 turkeys enjoyed a plush upbringing, receiving hand feedings, baths, and soft rock music. But it wasn’t all "Iowa Nice": the flock was whittled from 25 to 10, and the 10 received "podium practice," per the Farm Bureau, much like the Iowa caucuses.   

🦃   In the end, two 18 week-old birds emerged victorious from the Hawkeye State and were named by local schoolchildren: Tater, weighing in at 40 pounds, 2 ounces, and Tot, a healthy 39 pounds, 8 ounces.   Then, it was America's choice. Ballots were cast via Twitter: 51% for Team Tot, 49% for Team Tater.  Turkeys have two unique attributes, they grow extremely fast doing nothing but eating all day and they are one of the few birds that can take off vertically.  Fast growth and vertical ascension are their keys to survival in the wild.

🦃   Keep it simple.  Using Spanish or the hotter Hungarian paprika, with the usual partners, Sage, Rosemary, Salt Pepper, and a few florals, like Garam Masala, we are creating a Turkey thats cooked even, moist with a crisp and edible skin, and filled with enticing smells and aromas.  The fast cooking produces a fully moist Turkey.   Some will prefer simply using poultry mix right out of the McCormick bottle. Thats your call.

🦃  Now the cheap birds 10-12 lbs known as young turkeys get used with the breasts in Barbecue, Hot-wing Sauce, Honey -Sriracha, Teriyaki and other smaller in-house ( not for occasions) usage like a big chicken.

Economics Of It - 101

We have PUBLIX groceries here in the South and as a loss leader PUBLIX sells “ Young turkeys” which we now know are grown fast specifically for the holidays and volume and the price is excellent.  About 59-79 cents a pound.  If you selected a fresh Butterball Brand, you can almost double the price, the best I have seen is $1.09 a pound and I can taste the difference so they are cooked and treated differently.  Whole turkey breasts were  $2.09 + a pound.

With Publix’s great specials at 59 cents a pound, the two twelve pounders cost a total of 14.50 cents or something like that and since we have a clean well maintained running deep freezer I bought another couple 12 pounders and two more 10 pounders for future reference.  They limited two per purchase I just went three times.   share the with my gal and her family.  Thats a years supply.

In the same time you cook one turkey Spatch cocking has the room for two at once.  After I start about an hour and a half later, maybe two hours I have enough food for a week for several folks.  The variations below will allow you to make the stew into several varieties all with a different taste.

Spatchcocking Methodology

A Spatch cock, or “Spattlecock”, is poultry or game that has been prepared for roasting or grilling by removing the entire backbone, and breaking the sternum of the bird.  

Thus by flattening it out before cooking allows the broken bird to cook more even throughout at even higher temperatures.  It may also be known as “butterflying” the bird. 

I simply say and coined it "we flat-lined the bird”.  Our oven like most has a heating element on the bottom and an element on the top and where you place the bird has a lot to do with what you wind up with.   

At these temperatures middle is best. With the ancillary parts, legs, 1/2 thighs, and complete wings on a lower tray.  I use the commercial Foil Trays from Gordon Food services, very heavy and inexpensive.  No muss, no fuss, no cleanup. I clamp the bird to the grid with wire if needed when cooking more than one.

Cooking Times - Advantages Are Substantial 

🦃     You will spend less time in the kitchen.  Basically all carving, the major surgery is done ahead of time.  There is Little or no cleanup during and after the dinner meal. 

🦃     Because of faster cooking times, in our twenty year old  Kenmore  Stove our twelve pound bird was done in 1:10 minutes.  Our 21 pounder took 1: 30 minutes to 168-170 degrees F. which is based on a preheated oven at 450F. 

🦃     They were cooked and fit flattened in foil commercial 21 inch oven trays with sealing tops for travel, nice heavy duty,  from Gordon Food Service for $2.50 - 2.79 for the top and bottom. 

🦃    We unpacked and laid the big 21.5 lb.  bird on the cutting board and removed the wings, and legs using a sharp knife, heavy duty OXO shears and at one point the 21 pounder got the 1-1/2 inch garden branch cutter for the really tough leg bones. Only for kitchen use, the branch cutter does not go outside.

I Will Be Hated For This By The Gravy Purists
I have no use for the inner guts, giblets or any other part of the digestive track of the bird, so they get pitched.   Oh, Oh, here we go, here come the purists.  This is not about taste nor process, it is about health.  I do not care for the organs as they have most of the synthetic chemicals the bird gets with the food it is fed for enhanced growth. 

I worked in the food industry and continue to monitor it and while many of the companies adhere to strict rules, many simply don’t.  It is systemic from the farm to the table, be it in your home or restaurant.  When something is made grown or is processed,  food like served at fast food establishments, and might be bad, money is still the bottom line and throwing something out, using it beyond its date, putting it in the stock pots or other “tricks” do not sit well with me.  

Do not put some growers and farms beyond this bar.  Raw food is money and you just don’t throw it away till the Dirty Dinning police or the County Agricultural Restaurant people close a place down.  Happens thousands of times a day.

I do not use the inner parts, nor the sternum I remove for gravy, forget the gravy, too many good ones on the shelves.  In powder form mixed with Turkey or Chicken broth from Lawrey’s, or GFS,  and in jars from Campbell’s, Heinz, Custom Culinary.  Many choices out there.

Then I dress it up with a dark wine, a small can or two of sliced or chopped mushrooms, garlic, onion or shallots and/or  enhance flavor herbs (Sage, Rosemary, Thyme)  or simply by adding a tablespoon of Poultry season, and I don’t need a stock pot.  It’s called “  the old pan on the stove technique”, simple and just eliminated four steps and a lot of cleaning for nothing.

The best parts are ready to serve.  90% of those at holiday time eat the breast meat and 100% of the secondary parts are now making other dishes because this 21 pounder fed 12  [6 adults 6 kids] and we had enough breast meat left for sandwiches and left overs for a week, almost  five pounds, and… The less desirable parts are already making about  four to five enriched quart containers of incredible turkey soup for those frigid cold Winter months here in Florida when it drops below seventy-five degrees.

Stuffing Hints
I use the aluminum pans from GFC, because they are sheet or half sheet size restaurant quality, heavier than supermarket pans and with locking lids.   Start your turkey in the oven resting directly on top of a large tray of stove top stuffing mixed with a layer of chopped vegetables underneath the turkey as it roasts using the Trinity of onions, carrots, celery, a little sage and thyme. 

I may add broth to keep the stuffing soft occasionally, and not only will these vegetables add aroma and flavor to the turkey, they’ll also emit enough steam to effectively control the temperature of the baking sheet, preventing any juices from burning.

You can transfer 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.   When butterflied, you get direct contact between far more turkey and stuffing than you ever could otherwise.

Leftovers - The Crock Pot Stew
Take the ancillary parts, those wings,legs, partial thighs and any thigh leftovers that have cooked for an hour or more in the oven on a lower tray.   They go into a slow cooker already going on high with the following for Al’s Turkey Stew.  Have fun, nothing is written in stone, here is a good start with two ideas, similar ingredients, different tastes.  I start all soups and slow cooking with the Trinity as my base plus some form of bouillon.

  • Celery cut on the diagonal 2-3 cups
  • 2 Vidalia  Sweet Onions - diced
  • A whole bag of sliced crinkle Carrots
  • Two cans [2x16 = 32 oz] or one carton equivalent of Swanson’s Chicken Broth
  • 1 Can Del Monte Roasted Corn
  • 1 Can Del Monte Sweet peas
  • Lots of small bashed diced Raw Garlic - I love Garlic.
  • 1/4 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Two cans of Campbell’s Creme of Chicken Soup - do not dilute
  • 1/2 cup sweet white wine like Moscato.
  • More broth as needed [depends on how much Turkey you have]
  • One can Frenchs French Fried Onions added at the end
  • Season with rub below or from your personal taste buds.

And in just a few hours on high, when we got home later that night, I just put it on low and went to bed  the meat falls off the bones, grab your tongs and extract the bones,  and you have a crock pot of great soup for those frigid cold days here like in Florida when it drops below 90 degrees fahrenheit.  

The Thai Turkey Crock Pot 

  • Celery cut on the diagonal
  • 2 Vidalia  Sweet Onions - diced
  • A whole bag of sliced crinkle Carrots
  • Two cans or one/two cartons equivalent of Swanson’s VEGETABLE  Broth
  • One carton Swanson Thai Infused Broth
  • 1 Can Del Monte Roasted Corn
  • 1 Can Del Monte Sweet peas
  • Lots of diced Raw Garlic - I love Garlic.
  • 1/4 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Ginger either thin sliced or shredded on a box grinder
  • 1/2 cup green scallions, save some or more for garnish
  • 2 smaller thai chill peppers, jalopena red ones or larger orange/red habanero pepper devoid of pith [The white stuff]  and seeds.
  • 1/2 cup sweet white wine like Moscato.
  • Add one tablespoon soy sauce per quart [depends on crock pot size]
  • Add two tablespoons or more cornstarch to thicken [depends on crock pot size]
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds, Serve with Frenchs French Fried Onions [optional]
  • Season with salt and pepper to your personal taste buds.

Great Seasonings   

This is a universal coat rub for duck, wild fowl, chicken or turkey on a grill.  I caution you this is strong stuff designed to work on a grill and blacken.  On the grill the flames neuter it. But in an oven with Spatchcocking, don’t overdo it in the oven.   Instructions are simple.  Sprinkle on the bird, it does not need to be heavy.

For the oven, on the breasts, go lightly,  just sprinkle about 1/3 tsp. per pound onto the top surface and the bottom for aromatic and flavorful results.   Note this is a large amount and will store, for a twelve pounder just sprinkle it on evenly and the unused can be stored in a sealed glass jar with lid for later use. Rubbing some under the skin will increase the flavor.

Basic Ingredients 

This will duplicate something like Badia’s Poultry Southern Seasoning Blend popular here in the South

  •    6 tablespoons Salt    But for some watching intake, less salt is OK
  •    3 tablespoons Black pepper
  •    2 tablespoons Onion flakes or 1.5 tablespoons powder 
  •    2 tablespoons Garlic powder
  •    2 ground Bay Leaves
  •    2 tablespoons Dry mustard
  •    2 tablespoons Paprika
  •    2 Table spoons Brown sugar
  •    1 tablespoon Sage
  •   1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper   

🍗    OPTION ONE - 1 flat teaspoon Garam Masala  (Indian, very floral)  So is Rosemary, Basil and Thyme
🍗    OPTION TWO  - 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon Cayenne  (Very Louisiana and hot)  
🍗    OPTION THREE - 1 tablespoon Cumin  / with 1/2 teaspoon  Chile Powder  (Very Mexican)

🍗   OPTION FOUR  - 3/4 teaspoon Nutmeg is commonly used in New England


Warning:   Turkeys And Salmonella

Here’s a guide you can use to ensure that your family and friends don’t remember the year you hosted Thanksgiving as the year everyone got sick.

👺 Thawing the turkey and the two-day rule.  Buying your turkey early? Better keep your bird frozen until you are ready to thaw or you may be on your way to the grocery store for a new one, according to Hanes.

"Once a frozen turkey is thawed, it should be cooked within two days," Hanes said. She said some people prefer a fresh turkey, so they should plan on waiting to pick it up from the store until one or two days before they plan to cook it.

👺 It takes 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey to thaw, according to the USDA.  USDA guidelines guidelines on refrigerator thawing times:
4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

You can thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, or if you are strapped for time, you can use the microwave or run cold water over the wrapped bird in a sink.

👺 How do I know if the turkey is spoiled?  Maybe you left your turkey in the fridge for a week, or it sat in your trunk in the garage for a few hours, regardless you should be wary of using the product. Many times people can tell if a turkey is spoiled by the "texture and smell" of the turkey. Hanes said the skin of the turkey may become slimy, and the smell is often described as "rotten eggs or like sulfur."  
It smells a little strange..., It gets trickier with detecting food borne pathogens, according to Hanes.  “You can’t see, taste or smell food borne pathogens, so if E. coli, Salmonella or Staph are on the turkey, you wouldn't know it," she said.

👺 To wash or not to wash?​    Don't wash your turkey. While many people might think that rinsing the turkey will remove bacteria from the bird, nothing could be farther from the truth, according to the USDA.

"Juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and your guests very sick," according to the USDA.

Make sure that all surfaces and plates that come into contact with the raw turkey are sanitized and make sure to wash your hands.

👺 Doesn’t matter if it wiggles, or jiggles like it should, the bird has to be 165 degrees   Regardless of whether your turkey is the perfect shade of brown or if the drumsticks jiggle, the bird is not safe until it reaches 165 degrees, according to the USDA. Use a food thermometer to check the bird in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost parts of the wing and the bird's thigh.

👺 No, we aren't done yet. Leftovers:   Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of eating and should be safe for three to four days after your meal. If you freeze your turkey, it should be ok for two to six months.