Learn how to make Alton Brown's Spatchcock (or Butterfiled) Dry Brine Turkey. Read our review and see why we think it's the best turkey you will ever make.
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It's been over a decade now since I eagerly watch with much anticipation Alton Brown's Countdown to T-Day.
The Good Eats episode Romancing the Bird is a classic that influenced me so much in the kitchen. I really wanted to see what Alton came up with. His original turkey recipe is beloved by so many. It's the most commented recipe on all of Food Network's website. How could you top that? Alton presented a new method.
Is it better than the original Good Eats turkey? Read on to see why over a decade later this is the turkey I make every Thanksgiving.
🚩 Problems with Wet Brine Turkey
Alton identified some problems with the wet brined turkey.
- The skin doesn't crisp up well.
- The drippings are too salty for gravy making.
- If you brine it too long you end up with mushy meat.
So how does one fix this problem. Get rid of the water. And then spatchcock!
✂️ Why Spatchcock a Turkey?
But without the water won't the turkey become too dry? That is where the butterflying or Spatchcock method comes in. By removing the back bone with shears or an electric knife and flattening the bird out you can cook it faster. Cook the turkey faster than it's less likely to dry out.
🗒️ Notes on spatchcocking a turkey - Removing the back bone is never as easy as Alton makes it look (see the video I posted below). It took me a bit of struggle to get all the way through. I normally use kitchen shears. Make sure they are sharp before attempting this. You also could use an electric knife. I saved the back bone along with the neck and giblets. Then I made a stock on the day I cooked the turkey
RELATED - How to Make Overnight Giblet Gravy
For the turkey itself look for something in the 12-14 pound range. Larger turkeys are going to be harder to manage. If you need more meat, you can do two turkeys, or a turkey and a turkey breast.
Use either a fresh turkey or a thawed frozen turkey.
RELATED - How to Quickly Thaw a Turkey
Here are the ingredients Alton recommends for the dry brine. If you go with a turkey bigger than 14 pounds, you will need to increase what you use.
- 3 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons rubbed sage
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 ¼ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon whole allspice berries
You can custom this to your liking and what you have on hand. Stick with the amount of kosher salt. You can add ½ teaspoon to 1 ½ teaspoons of any of these : dried rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, dried orange peel, brown sugar, etc. Be creative! You can even add some cayenne pepper if you like things spicy!
I made up the dry brine in my electric coffee grinder.
You want to try and find rubbed sage instead of the more powder stuff. It is more potent. It was made by rubbing the sage leaves through a mesh screen. If you have a bigger bird you may need to make more, just try and keep everything in proportion.
RELATED - How Far in Advance to Buy a Fresh Turkey
Here is the timeline on when to buy, thaw, and cook this turkey in time for Thanksgiving Day, starting with the weekend before .
- Saturday - Buy a frozen turkey. The turkey goes into cold water which you should change every 3 hours or so. Use a brick if the turkey floats, it needs to be fully submerged. The rate of defrosting is about 2 lbs every hour. If you are using a fresh turkey you can proceed to the next step.
- Sunday - Spatchcock the turkey as we discussed above. Place the turkey on a sheet pan that will fit in your fridge. Add the dry brine. Try to distribute the dry brine as evenly as you can get it, on both sides. Use all of it, even if you think you don't need to.
I am fortunate to have a good sized fridge so I managed to get it on in without touching anything. That's the key thing you don't want other food touching it. You are suppose to leave the turkey uncovered for 4 days. This is a kind of dry age method like top notch steakhouses do with their steaks.
If you are worried about the turkey being uncovered 4 days keep in mind that you are adding salt to it which helps preserve the turkey. I have done this many times and no one has ever gotten sick.
If you don't have enough time left to brine it, read my post I Don't Have Time to Brine My Alton Brown Turkey
Compare the two photos of the raw turkey. You can see the skin has dried out and appears more translucent. This is your first step towards crispy skin!
- Thursday - On Thanksgiving Day, you just have to put the turkey in the oven. There is no other prep for the turkey. That is the beauty of this recipe is that the bulk of the work to prepare the turkey is done early.
👨🍳 Cooking Instructions
Here are some notes from my experience cooking the turkey itself.
- To roast the turkey you place it directly on the oven rack. That may seem weird but there is a very good reason - panzanella. You place the roasting pan would have used for the turkey in the rack underneath it. It is filled with cubed root veggies. The drippings fall down onto the veggies adding flavor.
Alton's panzella has parsnips, red onion. Brussels sprouts, cubed bread, garlic, vinegar. and fresh thyme. You can use whatever you want. I often do parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots. Sometimes I have included celery root. Try to cut your veggies so they are even in size. And if using Brussels, I shred them, and add them after the turkey is done and you are just finishing cooking the veggies through.
If you are not going to do the veggies you can either place a sheet pan to check the drippings under the turkey or cook the turkey itself on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan.
- Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees until a thermometer reads 155 degrees when stuck into the deepest part of the breast. This is suppose to take about 40-50 minutes.
My turkey was done at right around 90 minutes, that is when the internal temperature reached 155 degrees (a probe thermometer is your best friend). Carry over heat brought it the perfect temperature of 165. I was excited to have nailed that temperature perfectly.
How to remove the turkey - Since the turkey cooks directly on the rack, removing it can be a challenge. I found that sturdy metal spatulas, like you would use for the grill is the best way to remove it.
Let's start with one word - Unbelievable. I love the original Good Eats Turkey, but we have a new champion
The meat was so juicy and flavorful, particularly the dark meat. Even the inner most part of the breast takes like the dried herbs. I also liked the ease of this recipe. The hardest part, the spatchcocking was done days before I had to cook.
The root vegetable panzella has become one of our favorite Thanksgiving sides.
Major kudos to Alton for not resting on his laurels and coming up with a new Thanksgiving hit!
🦃 Another New Turkey Recipe
Alton Brown published a cookbook called Everyday Cook. In it he has yet one final turkey recipe. This one he cooks in a giant cast iron Dutch oven. I don't have one large enough to fit a turkey so I haven't given it a try yet.
He also published a new turkey recipe in this Good Eats 4 - The Final Years book, that is a wet brine with some different ingredients.
Have you used one of Alton Brown's turkey recipes before? Tell me about your experience. Leave a comment below.