Recipe: Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt Spatchcocks His Turkey

J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of The Food Lab at Serious Eats, swears by spatchcocking—or butterflying—as the quickest, most even method of cooking turkey.

Kenji López-Alt - Spatchcocked Turkey
Spatchcock a what? You may not know what the term means, but spatchcocking—or butterflying—results in faster, more even cooking without drying out your turkey. Just try it! (Photos by J. Kenji López-Alt)

Traditionalists may be taken aback by the very notion of anything less than a beautifully stuffed turkey as the crowning centerpiece of their elaborate Thanksgiving dinner tables. But to brine or not to brine? Wet or dry brine? Free-range or Butterball? Deep-fried or oven-roasted? These are the questions that plague American households every year around this time.

This year, we asked self-proclaimed “culinary nerd-in-residence” J. Kenji López-Alt to share his expertise on the matter since his new tome, The Food Lab: Better Cooking Through Sciencefeatures entire sections on turkey and chicken. As former test cook/editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the now-managing culinary director of The Food Lab at Serious Eats, Kenji swears by the spatchcocking method, as he attests to in his instructional video below.

Spatchcocking—or butterflying—your turkey has its benefits. If you can get past the presentation, you’ll find that this method allows for quicker, more even cooking, resulting in crispier skin and juicier meat. It’s also better for carving, and you’ll have the advantage of more bones to to flavor your gravy while your turkey is roasting.

Kenji suggests dry-brining and air-drying your turkey the night before. When you’re ready to cook it, first line your baking sheet with foil. Then, to prevent your turkey drippings from burning before your bird is done, he suggests spreading a layer of chopped vegetables in your roasting pan beneath the turkey. The vegetables will release their own juices as they cook, preventing the drippings from burning and creating a flavorful base for you to add to your gravy at the end.

Cooking your turkey this way solves pretty much every problem encountered when cooking a turkey whole. All you’ll need is a good pair of kitchen shears and an instant-read thermometer.