The Easiest Thanksgiving Turkey

in under 90 minutes

I really hate cooking turkey. I used to, anyway. I mean, I still hate carving the thing. It’s too much pressure and I’m still not great at yet. I suppose if I practiced more, I’d get better at it, but it’s so daunting and also, how many times a year do you even cook a turkey? That’s right. One. One time a year. Plus, turkeys are expensive so I’m not really in the business of buying a few to practice my butchering skills on. I guess I could start small, but I’m already pretty good at carving a chicken. I just find that things get more slippery when you’re working on a 13 pound bird (or more). I also have trouble with leverage. Maybe my kitchen counters are too tall? I’m 5’5″ and I feel like I can’t never really get the right angle on the bird without having to stand on my tip-toes or something. Maybe next time I’ll get a sturdy step-stool to stand on. Aside from carving, brining is always a pain in my ass, too, but I have always felt the need to brine my bird or else risk having a dry turkey. Well, folks, have I got news for you! Brine no more and worry about carving no more. These two techniques that I’m about to share will give you a perfectly juicy bird that is nice and flat for easy carving. Allow me to crack an egg of knowledge.

Now with a step-by-step video!

I always spend too much time each Thanksgiving season trying to figure out the best way to brine my turkey. I’ve tried everything, from simple salt water to an apple juice concoction with cinnamon sticks and orange peel. I knew that the salt in the brine was breaking something or other down in the turkey, making it less prone to shriveling up and drying out, but what I didn’t know was that I was water logging my turkey. The turkey was juicy, sure, but it was all a farce. The thing was just full of water! So this time around, I did a plain old salt rub overnight, like a light cure. This made sure that my turkey had its fibers broken down enough to not dry out, but also didn’t weigh my turkey down with flavorless water or overpowering apple juice. The skin was wonderfully crispy, the bird was perfectly juicy, and I was one happy lady. Another reason for my happiness was the spatchcock, or butterfly, method that I used this year. Simply put, you just need to cut the backbone out of your turkey. It is not a technique for the squeamish, but it works like a charm. Once you flatten the bird and put it on your roasting tray, the turkey will cook evenly on its new flat surface, as well as allowing for a much faster cooking time – well under an hour and a half! This is the only way to cook a turkey, folks. Kramer and I were honestly amazed at how well this bird turned out. After years of sub-par turkey dinners, this one took the cake.

the easiest thanksgiving turkey

Anywho, I wanted to share this turkey recipe with you before I took a bit of a break over the next week. I’m headed to Phoenix for my sister-in-law’s wedding! Kramer and I couldn’t be more excited for her and her fiancé, Eric. It’s going to be 80 degrees and sunny, too, so I’ll be damned if I’m not planning on going swimming as much as possible. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week!

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyThanksgiving is for spending with your bros.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyStep one: salt your turkey overnight. This is better than a wet brine for so many reasons, the most important of which is that your bird does not become water logged, but the muscle fibers are still broken down enough to give you a moist, juicy bird with deliciously salt, crispy skin. Science!

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyRoughly chop your vegetables and place them on your baking sheet under a cooling rack, or in a roasting pan with the rack on top.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyNow it’s time to cut the back bone out of the turkey.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyIt’s a fairly straight-forward process.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyBut certainly not for the squeamish!

the easiest thanksgiving turkeythe easiest thanksgiving turkeyLooks like it’s from Alien, right?

the easiest thanksgiving turkeySo you’ve got your back bone-less bird.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyFlip it over and push down HARD to flatten it out.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyNow you’re cooking with gas. Throw the bird in the oven for 70-80 minutes.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyNow you’ve got all this good looking stuff – time to make the gravy.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyBrown your giblets, neck and back bone, then add in the vegetables.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyAdd in your broth and bay leaves, then simmer for 45 minutes.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyThen strain the solids from the broth.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyMelt your butter, add your flour, let it brown and then slowly whisk in your broth. Keep warm until ready to use.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyLook at that beautiful, crispy bird.

the easiest thanksgiving turkeyCarve and enjoy!

the easiest thanksgiving turkey

The Easiest Thanksgiving Turkey
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10
The easiest way to cook your Thanksgiving bird is to spatchcock it, or cut out the backbone, allowing it lay flat and cook evenly in under 1 hour and 30 minutes.
For the Turkey:
  • 1-2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 13-15 pound turkey, spatchcocked/butterflied
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the Gravy:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • backbone, neck and giblets from the turkey, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1½ quarts (6 cups) homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  1. First, prep your turkey overnight. Pat your turkey very dry, then rub 1-2 cups of salt all over the turkey, inside and out, and under the skin. Do not throw the giblets or neck away - save them for the gravy! You can spatchcock/butterfly your turkey before or after you do this - I did mine after for no particular reason at all. I put my turkey in a brine bag in the fridge overnight while it sat with the salt on it, lightly closed, but you can put it on a plate or in a roasting pan, lightly covered with foil, too. [As a side note, people like to brine turkey in some kind of salt water or apple juice mixture, which is fine, but this just water logs the turkey and makes it tastes like water or apple juice. "Curing" the turkey with salt, however, gives the same benefit of breaking down the muscle fibers in the turkey to make it moist and juicy without taking on the flavor of anything of than delicious turkey.]
  2. When you're ready to cook your turkey, you can rinse it if you want. I didn't, but if you're worried about it being too salty, go ahead, just make sure you pat it super dry. Then, chop your onions, carrots and celery. Line a baking tray with foil if you don't have a roasting pan, then toss the vegetables and rosemary together and spread them out on the baking tray or roasting pan. Top the vegetables with a cooling rack fitted into the baking sheet or the roasting tray itself. Set aside.
  3. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. It's time to spatchcock your turkey if you haven't already. Place a wet paper towel under your cutting board so that it doesn't slip around, and using a pair of kitchen shears (highly recommended) or a very sharp knife, carefully cut the backbone out of your turkey, starting at the tail end. Cutting through gets a little tough in certain areas, but just follow the back bone and keep cutting. See the photos above if you're unsure, but I promise this is really easy and almost impossible to mess up. Do one side, then do the other. Be really careful not to slip or cut yourself - do not attempt this with a blunt knife.
  4. Once the back bone is out, set it aside to be used for the gravy. Flip the bird over so that it is breast side up. Using as much force as possible, press your palm into the "sternum" of the turkey, between the two breasts, and press down to flatten the bird as much as possible (again, see the photos above). Spread the legs out, away from the body, and tuck the wings in so that they don't burn in the oven. Rub the whole thing with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Place the turkey on top of your prepare sheet or roasting pan and place in the oven for 70-80 minutes, until the breast registers 150 degrees F and the thighs register 165 degrees F. Please note that the larger the turkey, the longer the cooking time. I would aim for around 5.5 minutes per pound.
  5. When the turkey is done, let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving. Save any juices from the bottom of the pan to add to the gravy.
For the Gravy:
  1. Roughly chop the giblets, neck and back bone. The neck and back bone can be hard to chop, so I just did the best I could - the pieces were probably 3-4 inches long. Heat your oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan or pot over medium-high heat and add in the giblets, neck and back bone. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add in the onion, carrot and celery until lightly browned, about another 5-6 minutes, then add in the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 more minute. Add in your stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat until the gravy is simmering. Simmer for 45 minutes, while the turkey cooks, skimming off any fat from the surface as necessary.
  2. Once the gravy is ready, strain into a large bowl and discard any solids. Again, skim off any fat that you see. Wipe out your original pot and add your butter, cooking over medium-high heat until melted. Add in the flour, and whisk constantly until the flour has browned, about 1-2 minutes. Again, whisking constantly, pour the strained broth into the flour mixture, a little at a time, only adding more once incorporated. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the gravy has reduced to about 1 quart, or 4 cups, which will take about 20 minutes.
  3. Once the turkey is done, strain any juices from the bottom of its roasting pan and whisk them into the gravy. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to use - you can also heat it up again later, if need be. Serve alongside the carved turkey and mashed potatoes, of course.
Adapted From


41 Responses

  1. Kendra says:

    SYDNEY. This is beautiful! You stopped my search for a turkey recipe before it even began. You rock!

  2. melakamoon says:

    Thank your for this new method of brining! Two years ago I brined my turkey, like all the popular chefs were doing, and you’re right, it came out water logged and the texture was just nasty. Had to throw the whole bird out. I typically grill my turkey, stuffed and it always turns out beautifully. I’m wondering though if 2 cups of salt will make the skin too salty. Also, prior to putting it in the oven, did you coat it with any butter, oil, additional spices, etc. What are your thoughts.

    • Sydney says:

      You are welcome to rinse the salt out, if you like, but I didn’t find it to be too salty at all – I found it to be crispy and amazing! Not all of the salt sticks, anyway. I did rub it with a little olive oil, now that you mention it – good reminder!

      • Connie says:

        Sydney, I cooked in a convection oven that adjust itself to 430 degrees/1 hour, 7 min. After 45 minutes the turkey was smoking like crazy and the veggies were burnt. We were devastated! We followed the recipe to the tee. Also, we rinsed off the salt brine and still the bird (the part we salvaged!) was sooo salty. Most of the turkey was uncooked inside and tough/salty on the outside. What did we do wrong? The recipe seemed fool-proof. BTW, the gravy was awesome!!!

        • Sydney says:

          Hi Connie – a convection oven uses fans to heat food, therefore the ovens are much hotter and cook things a lot faster. A traditional oven uses radiated heat from its walls. Even if the actual temperature in the convection is lower than the 450 I recommend, it is still going to cook things much faster because it is blowing heat directly at the thing in the oven. I have not tested this method in a convection oven, but I’m sorry that the turkey didn’t turn out! I’ve honestly never used a convection before.

  3. This turkey skin looks glorious. I’m gonna try to convince my mom to let me make Thanksgiving dinner…not sure what I’m getting myself into!

  4. joyosity says:

    I’m excited to try this technique this year! I was wondering if you serve the vegetables underneath the turkey or use it for something else? It seems like they would get in the way of collecting the turkey drippings….

    • Sydney says:

      They didn’t, really – I just scooped up the foil and collected the drippings and discarded the vegetables. I did eat a few pieces – they were good, but obviously covered in turkey fat/grease so I don’t know that I’d serve them.

  5. neil says:

    Actually I’ve gotta be the one to say it’s Predator where the spines get ripped out. But this looks like an awesome turkey technique!

  6. Jo fom Phoenix says:

    It was 90 today in Phx, don’t forget your sunscreen! Great post, on America’s Test Kitchen today they did something similar except they cooked the turkey on top of the stuffing, I am going to try that this year.
    Safe travels.

  7. Lynna says:

    My first time reading a step-by-step recipe on how to cook a turkey. I`m glad it was yours. Everything looks so pro.

  8. The color on the cooked turkey is just gorgeous! I’ve been wanting to spatchcock a turkey for a couple years now. I totally feel like I can do it now with your great step-by-step photos!

  9. dominique says:

    How big was your turkey? I have a 23 pound turkey, do you have any suggestions on cook time! Thanks!!

    • Sydney says:

      Wow! Mine was 15 pounds. I suppose a 23 pound turkey may take an additional 40 minutes or so, if you average it out at about 5.5 minutes per pound.

  10. Donna says:

    I’m curious as to the purpose of the cut up veggies under the cooking turkey. Do they add flavor?

    • Sydney says:

      Good question! They soak up some of the grease and fat as the turkey cooks so that it doesn’t burn. The onions do add a bit of aromatics, too.

      • Rick says:

        I’ve been putting the veggies under the bird for the past few years and yes it does add to it. I also add garlic cloves and some stock. What’s also nice is that you can add the cooking juices to the gravy.

  11. Rogerio Mendes says:

    Thanks Sydney. Very good recipe. Do you use aluminium foil, during 70-80 min oven time to cover the turkey?


  12. Breck Andy says:

    I would like to hear from some people who have attempted this: Cooking such a large bird, breast up at 450F!!! for 90 minutes in the upper third of the oven and have it come out 150F breast and 165 dark with the skin not burned.

  13. Izumi says:

    Do I take the backbone at first and then rub?? It looks easier to bring back to the frige.

  14. Aaron says:

    Is it important to put the salt under the skin for the brine? I just salted the inside cavity and on top of the skin, should I take it out of the fridge and put salt under the skin too?

  15. Marie says:

    Thanks so much for this recipe. I have been cooking turkey for many Thanksgiving dinners and tried all kinds of methods, but this was the BEST! Resulted in the most delicious, moist turkey.

  16. John says:

    Didn’t quite get the color but the flavor and juiciness was there. Shocked how fast it cooked. Thanks

  17. Courtney says:

    Thank you for this recipe, Sydney! Turkey was flavorful and juicy. The skin was perfectly crisp. And the presentation was beautiful! Next year, I just wouldn’t add any drippings to the gravy – it was a bit too salty.

    I also served your waffle and sausage stuffing and salted caramel pumpkin pie. Thanks for making it a delicious Thanksgiving!

  18. Jake says:

    Great recipe! The results were perfect, prep was easy, and cook time was super fast. Thanks for helping make the bird a winner this year!

  19. dee says:

    My guests and I loved the Turkey. I will never cook my turkey any other way. The skin was crispy and the meat moist. I wish I could post a picture because it look beautiful too! Thank you so much!!!

  20. Cherie S says:

    Awesome, gravy was the best I have ever made. Thank you, guest loved it.

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