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Not Your Grandma's Turkey

"Thanksgiving, when the people who are the most thankful are the ones who didn't have to cook". ~Melanie White

When I think of Thanksgiving, I cannot help but to think of my grandma, we called her Oma. We were always so excited for her turkey, the crispy skin, dressing, and her fluff of a concoction she called "Pink Salad." It was all so much work. Maybe this was why we only had turkey at Thanksgiving and Easter.

As I look back, I question my grandma's sense of timing. Roasting a turkey takes ~20 minutes a pound, right? It did not matter what time we would plan to eat our feast, or how big, or small, the turkey was. Oma was compelled to slide her bird in the oven by 5 am. To say that she probably overcooked her turkey is an understatement.

There are things I miss about Thanksgiving, though I miss my Oma most of all. I also miss her poppy seed cake (a secret recipe from Aunt Clara) and, leftovers when dinner is not at my house. I now make my own smaller turkey each Thanksgiving weekend to fill this gap.

We all have our food fetishes so here's a "truth moment." The real reason I make my own turkey is to pick at the crispy skin. If your family is anything like mine, the glistening skin of the turkey, crispy from the oven is worthy of a food fight. Obviously, a learned behavior in my house!

I found a recipe a few years back, introducing a new (old) cooking method for poultry called "spatchcocking." The photo alone was reason enough for me to try it. The added bonus: plenty of crispy skin to fight over. When you roast your turkey this way, all the skin gets crispy and browned, not just the bit on top of the traditionally roasted bird as it sits in the oven. This technique has become my favorite way to roast a bird. It is so simple and delicious! I do it more than a few times a year. Not only is it beautiful, the meat gets evenly cooked so all of it is juicy. The white meat does not dry out in an effort to brown up the dark. And, in terms of cooking a really big bird, it is quick.

"Spatchcocking" really is a word. It's a silly little word for cooking a turkey (or chicken) whole, but first removing the backbone. (I use a pair of sturdy kitchen shears to cut along both sides of it) I then flip the whole bird over, and push down really hard to crack the sternum. Next, you flatten out the turkey after breaking the breast bone. I liken it to a "butterflied" bird.

To prepare, all it takes is a quick brush with olive oil, salt and pepper, bake it off at 450 degrees. A 12-pounder takes about 70 minutes for a perfectly cooked bird. (Don't forget to baste it halfway through).

By now, you must know, I like to experiment with herbs and spices. I really like garlic, sage, and thyme on my birds. If I feel a little on the wild side, I'll slather on some Dijon before sprinkling on the herbs. In addition to a quick cook in the oven and a crispier-golden skin, there are a few other benefits of spatch-cocking. (I can vouch for all of them.)

* First, there is no need to get up at 5am.

* When you flatten out the bird, you gain space. There is much more room in your oven.

*Removing the backbone makes poultry so much simpler to carve.

*And, one more. I no longer feel compelled to dip EVERY bite of meat into a puddle of gravy. You get a moister (and in my opinion, better tasting) meat.

Here is my recipe for Spatchcocked Turkey. It bakes in a little over an hour. Enjoy! The crispy skin will look amazing. Pick at it. No one has to know you roasted the bird with the skin on!

One of my spatchcocked dinners, a 10 pound, small-ish turkey, roasted with olive oil, sage, and thyme. The local butcher did the honors of removing the back-bone, so it was a breeze to flatten out. Once in the oven, done in about 70 minutes!

Spatchcocked Turkey


1 whole 8-10 pound turkey

2-3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard, optional

1 teaspoon dried Sage

1 teaspoon dried Thyme

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Place turkey, breast side down, on a work surface. Starting at the thigh end, cut along 1 side of backbone with kitchen shears. Turn the turkey around; cut along other side. Discard backbone or save for stock. Flip the turkey on what was its back bone, and open it like a book. Press firmly on breastbone to flatten.

2. Rub turkey with 1-2 Tablespoons oil mixed together with the crushed garlic and Dijon. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Sprinkle with sage and thyme. Brush 1 tablespoon oil in the center of a rimmed baking sheet slightly larger than the size of the turkey. Place the turkey skin side up, on baking sheet.

3. Roast it about 70-80 minutes (until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast reaches 165 degrees F).

4. Transfer the bird to a carving board, and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces, and serve with pan juices.

My Oma with my daughter and son.

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