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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to Cook the Perfect Turkey. And by perfect I mean PERFECT.

I’m just gonna say it. I make the perfect turkey. After years of researching various methods and trying many of those methods, I finally have the definitive answer for how to cook the perfect turkey.

how to perfectly roast a turkey by @janemaynard | spatchcock + dry brine + roast with mayoPhoto credit: Anne Wallin

My mom and I have had so many Thanksgiving conversations over the years that go something like this. “Our white meat this year was delicious. I have no idea why!” Or,”Our white meat this year was just so-so. I have no idea why.”

Those conversations are a thing of the past. From now on this is what I’ll be saying to my mom the day after Thanksgiving. “Our white meat and our dark meat and everything about our turkey was perfect this year and I know exactly why.”

And I’m going to share the magic formula with all of you, of course. There are several steps to the process, each of which on their own would make for a good turkey. But combine them all together and you end up with a great turkey. Here’s the formula:


I will never use another method. This is it. I’m done. Turkey perfected. And I’m going to explain the process in great detail so that, A) I know how to do it again, and B) you can do it, too.

how to perfectly roast a turkey by @janemaynard | spatchcock + dry brine + roast with mayo


Buy a fresh, unfrozen turkey so that you can spatchcock it easily. Buy the turkey 3 days before you’re going to cook it. So, if you’re cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving, buy the turkey Sunday night or Monday morning and prep that baby Monday morning. (You can dry brine for just 1 or 2 days, but 3 is optimal, and this post is all about making the perfect turkey. So, go with 3 days.)


What is spatchcocking, you say? When you spatchcock a turkey, you cut out the backbone and then roast the turkey flat. It looks crazy, but the bird cooks faster and more evenly. The dark meat portions are more exposed to heat, so they finish cooking not long after the breast meat finishes cooking. “But I want to stuff my bird!” you may be thinking. Never fear, you can still “stuff” the turkey. I mean, it’s totally different, but you can do it and I’ll explain that in the roasting section below. But first, how to spatchcock.

  • Remove the neck and giblets from inside the turkey if they came with the bird. Place them in a large pot.
  • Place your raw, fresh turkey on a large cutting board, breast down. With large kitchen shears or scissors, cut out the back bone. This requires some serious hand strength. I was spatchcocking two turkeys, so I had to take a little break, my hand was starting to hurt. But, if I can do it, anyone can. (This post on Serious Eats has good pictures that show how to cut out the backbone. If you Google “how to spatchcock a turkey” there are tons of videos out there, too.) ALSO: I have had great success just asking the butcher at the grocery store to cut the backbone out for me. I highly recommend this method. 😉
  • Once the backbone is removed, hack it in two and throw it in the pot with the neck and giblets. Fill the pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Voila! AWESOME turkey stock for your gravy! You’re welcome. Note: You can add other aromatics to the broth while it cooks, such as onions, carrots, parsnips, celery, and herbs. Not necessary but certainly delicious!
  • Back to the turkey. Now, flip the turkey over and place it on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Press the turkey firmly on the breastbone to flatten it out. Use your muscles!

Now it’s time to move on to the dry brine. Oh, how I love the dry brine.


Now that your turkey is all flattened out and ready to go, it’s time to dry brine. This is exactly what it sounds like. You are brining the turkey and there is no water involved. It’s way easier than a water-based brine (trust me) and the results are fantastic.

  • You need 1 tablespoon KOSHER salt for every 5 pounds of turkey. You can add 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of dried herbs (like sage and/or thyme) per each tablespoon of salt, but it’s not necessary.
  • Evenly rub the salt all over the turkey. You do not need to go under the skin, right on top works just fine. And you do not need to put salt in the cavity of the turkey (which, at this point, is the underside). Once you’ve used up all the salt, lightly cover the turkey with plastic wrap, place in the fridge and walk away. You can leave the turkey uncovered while it dry brines, but since there is other stuff in my fridge, I like to have a little protection so nothing touches the turkey directly. Let the turkey brine in the fridge for 1-3 days (3 days is optimal).
  • That’s it! You have successfully brined your turkey!


Now it’s time to roast the turkey. You ready? Let’s go!

  • Preheat the oven to 450º F.
  • Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil (optional but makes for easier clean up).
  • IF YOU WANT TO “STUFF” THE TURKEY: Place a layer of stuffing on the baking sheet, concentrating the stuffing at the center where it will be directly under the turkey. Place an oven-safe cooling rack on top of the stuffing, then lay the turkey on the rack.
  • Slather about 1 to 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise all over the turkey. You can add pepper and herbs to the mayonnaise if you like (I added about a teaspoon of dry sage and thyme, along with some black pepper, to the mayo).
  • Roast for about 45-60 minutes, take the turkey out of the oven, have one person lift the turkey straight up while the other person scoops the stuffing off of the pan. Replace with vegetables as described in the next step (the “non-stuffing” step). Mix the “stuffed” stuffing with the rest of your stuffing and bake as usual for your stuffing recipe.
  • IF YOU DON’T WANT TO “STUFF” THE TURKEY: Place roughly chopped celery, onion, carrots and parsnips on the foil of the baking sheet. Place an oven-safe cooling rack over the veggies then place the turkey on the rack. (If you “stuffed,” you’ll simply put the turkey back down.)
  • Slather about 1 to 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise all over the turkey. You can add pepper and herbs to the mayonnaise if you like (I added about a teaspoon of dry sage and thyme, along with some black pepper, to the mayo).
  • FOR BOTH “STUFFED” and “UNSTUFFED”: Roast the turkey with an oven-safe thermometer placed deep in the breast. When the breast reaches 150º F, move the thermometer to the deepest part of the thigh and cook the turkey until the thigh temperature reaches 165º F, which will take about another 20 minutes. Total cooking time will be around 2 hours for a 15 pound turkey. Note: if you are not using an oven safe thermometer that just beeps when the temperature is reached, check the temperature earlier than you think you have to. Our 2016 15-pound turkey was fully done at 1 1/2 hours.
  • Take turkey out of the oven and let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
  • The veggies in the pan are great for snacking while you make the rest of dinner, and be sure to add the pan drippings to your turkey broth for making gravy!


When it was time to carve the turkey, I did something I’ve never done before: I cut the entire breast off at once, then cut slices on a bias (see photos on Serious Eats). I carved all the meat off the wings, things and drumsticks. The turkey serving platter with all the carved meat was gorgeous. Sadly I didn’t get a photo, but my sister Instagrammed the carving process, which is the photo at the top of this post, so you can at least get an idea of how awesome the turkey platter was!

how to perfectly roast a turkey by @janemaynard | spatchcock + dry brine + roast with mayo

When my sister Anne and I started carving the turkey and taking bites, we could not believe how good the meat was. The breast meat was moist and flavorful all the way to the center. It was heavenly. It was miraculous. Oh, and the skin was awesome. This was the best turkey I’ve ever cooked (actually, turkeyS…I made 2!), and it might even be the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. Period.

PHEW. That’s it! I know it seems complicated and involved, but I promise it is not hard. You just have to follow the formula. And the formula is magical.

Happy Turkeying!

Please note: In the photos the turkey is not on sitting on a rack and there are no veggies below it. This is because I moved the turkey to a new tray to rest. I really did cook it on a tray over veggies!


  1. 1
    Marcy Harris

    This sounds delicious! I have a question. Once you are ready to cook the turkey, do you remove the salt that you put on the skin to brine?

    • hi marcy! good question!

      there actually won’t be any salt to remove…during the brining process, it soaks into the bird…you actually might even see some changes over the 3 days, where this more moisture and then less moisture. just let it do its thing. It’s kind of a magical process!

      hope that is helpful! let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. 2
    Lynnette Altomari

    Not a big mayo fan – what does that do and is it necessary?

    • I know, I know – the mayo thing sounds WEIRD. but I swear that your turkey will 100% absolutely NOT taste like mayonnaise. you’re basically basting the turkey in a sauce made from oil, egg yolk and an acid (like vinegar)…it yields tasty, moist turkey with a really beautiful crust.

      I really believe the true success of the method above is mostly a result of the spatchcocking and the dry brine, but the mayo roasting really is delicious (and not at all mayo flavored). so, don’t be scared! 😉

      good luck with the turkey cooking!

  3. 3
    Brenda Johnson

    I saw this turkey post a year ago and it was in the back of my mind until November rolled around again. I thought it was a crazy way to prepare a turkey but I was intrigued. We followed your suggestions and even smeared the whole thing in mayo. It was the best turkey we have ever made and we have made many turkeys through the years. A huge thank you for sharing this keeper of a recipe!

  4. 4
    Lynnette Altomari

    Jame – my husband made this turkey and it was the best! thank you for sharing this recipe.

  5. 5

    I came across your site while I was looking for different kitchen/baking tips. As I scanned through the pages, and with turkey day (AKA Thanksgiving) just around the corner, this post inevitably caught my eye. The more I read, the more I thought, “How odd, strange, wacky”¦I’m intrigued!” I have one question, though. What if you only have a frozen bird available? Can I thaw it out and continue on from there? Could it still work, or do I need another bird altogether?
    Thanks much!

    • I love every last one of your reactions! 🙂

      Here are my thoughts – you should be able to follow the process once you have the turkey thawed for sure. One thing to look out for – if the turkey is pre-brined or not. If it IS pre-brined (many frozen turkeys are), then I would skip the dry brining step and head straight to the spatchcocking and mayonnaise 🙂 If it is NOT brined, then you should be good to go with dry brining the bird once it is thawed. If that is the case, be sure you start thawing the turkey early enough you have enough days for thawing AND brining.

      Hope this helps! Enjoy!!

  6. Wow! That looks amazing. I am not hosting Thanksgiving, but it makes me want to cook a turkey.

  7. 7
    Vicki Tunell


    This made the best turkey ever this year, love this recipe! Thanks!!!

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