Meet food director Chris Morocco's preferred method to roasting a whole bird.
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If turkey is so good, how come so many of us cook only one a year? When was the last time you ordered turkey in non-sandwich form at a restaurant? Yet it has winged its way into the center of a holiday tradition that sets most cooks up for a difficult time.
It’s understandable why. Few home cooks roast enough turkeys to feel truly comfortable with the process and a year is a long time to wait between attempts. Spending so much on a whole bird creates pressure to stick with recipes you are familiar with rather than trying something new. But here is something that any cook can do to completely transform how they roast turkey, other than simply opting out: Roast it in parts.
Roasting a broken-down turkey in parts has distinct benefits over roasting a whole bird. When I say “in parts,” I mean breaking it down into legs, wings, and a bone-in breast, and roasting these on a large rimmed baking sheet. This method allows seasoning to reach previously inaccessible parts of the bird, putting salt in places it otherwise has a hard time reaching. It promotes deeper browning, enhanced fat rendering, and crispier skin because the oven’s heat can hit more surface area, faster. That means cooking and resting times are greatly reduced. (Read more about how long it takes to cook a turkey.)
Combining that technique with some turkey best practices (using a dry rather than wet brine; starting in a hot oven, then reducing the temperature; basting with a glaze rather than pan juices; resting the meat adequately before carving) produces roast turkey as it should be: juicy meat wrapped in burnished crisp skin. And the dark meat is a revelation here. Instead of being stuck under most of the turkey, steaming away as the top of the bird roasts, the legs are exposed to just as much heat as the breast is, pushing them past cooked-yet-still-bouncy into full tenderness.
If there is one fault with this approach, it is that presenting a bunch of turkey parts—however amazing they look—isn’t quite as dramatic as a whole bird. That is a visual you will just have to let go of. Because in return, literally everything about the turkey will be better. Best of all, whoever you serve it to will have a full year to talk about how great it was before they eat turkey again. Maybe some things are better kept for special occasions after all.
How to break down a whole turkey:
Place a 12–14-lb. turkey, breast side up, on a large cutting board and pat dry.
Grip a wing and pull it outward so you can see where it attaches to the body. Using a sharp boning or chef’s knife, cut through the joint to separate the wing from the breast. If you hit bone, you’re in the wrong spot; pull the wing out farther to help you get into the place where the joint meets the socket. Remove wing; repeat on the other side.
Cut through skin connecting 1 leg to carcass.
Pull leg back until ball joint pops out of its socket; cut through the joint to separate leg. Repeat on the other side.
Now for the breast. You can roast the breast as is with the backbone attached, or you can turn the breast over (as shown below) and trim the lower part of the backbone that was formerly adjacent to the legs by breaking it at the midpoint or, using a sturdy chef’s knife, by cutting between the vertebrae to divide it.
Coarsely grind 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle; transfer to a medium bowl. Add ⅔ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt, 2 Tbsp. garlic powder, and 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar and mix dry brine together with your fingers. Place turkey pieces, skin side up, on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Sprinkle dry brine liberally all over both sides of turkey, patting to adhere. You may not need all of it, but it’s good to start out with extra since some will end up on the baking sheet. It is important to have the turkey elevated on a rack so it absorbs the salt mixture evenly (rather than sitting in a pile of salt on the baking sheet). Let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour or chill up to 1 day.
Once ready to roast, let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before roasting, then lightly coat with neutral oil before placing in oven.
Get the detailed recipes via Bon Appetit US: Maple butter glazed turkey.