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Dry-brined, spatchcocked turkey with herb butter delivers crispy skin under 90 minutes

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post; props by Limonata Creative for The Washington Post)
Tarragon-Butter Roasted Spatchcocked (Butterflied) Turkey
Active time:30 mins
Total time:2 hours plus 2 days’ seasoning
Servings:10 to 12
Active time:30 mins
Total time:2 hours plus 2 days’ seasoning
Servings:10 to 12

I’ve always wanted to brine a turkey. The tales of more flavorful meat that comes as a result have long appealed to me. But as someone who usually travels for Thanksgiving, it’s consistently been out of reach. My parents — known for loving a good deal — usually buy a way-too-large turkey that we simply lack the space to do anything with it before it comes time to roast. But given a smaller bird and the time to do things just how I want, this spatchcocked turkey with tarragon butter is the ideal bird I’ve long yearned for when it comes to flavor and ease of cooking.

Spatchcocking, a.k.a. removing the backbone and flattening the bird, and a hot oven allows the turkey to cook in a fraction of the time compared to when kept whole. Say goodbye to the days of tending to a turkey in the oven for hours, and hello to more time to focus on other parts of the meal. (A probe thermometer that stays in the turkey while it roasts is great for monitoring doneness without having to constantly open the oven.) Spatchcocking also promotes more even cooking, so the breast meat still stays nice and moist once the thighs have reached the proper temperature.

When it comes to brining, I prefer it dry over wet because it’s less cumbersome and has the added bonus of incredibly crispy skin. In this recipe, I rely just on salt and a couple of days in the fridge to accomplish this task. Even more flavor comes from a compound butter with fresh tarragon, garlic, lemon zest and black pepper that gets rubbed underneath, and on top of, the skin. (I love the woodsy, citrusy note tarragon has, but you can add or substitute other herbs, such as parsley, thyme or sage, for a different flavor profile.) Then a trip to the oven for about an hour — yes, an hour — and you’re one step closer to Thanksgiving success. Last, but certainly not least: Put those delicious pan drippings to good use and make gravy.

Choose your Thanksgiving menu: Simple or show-stopping recipes for your holiday meal

Make Ahead: The turkey needs to be seasoned and refrigerated for at least 1 day, but preferably 2 or 3 days, in advance.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

See the rest of the menu: Mushroom and Leek Cornbread Dressing | Vegan Braised Collard Greens With Miso and Smoked Paprika | Cranberry Tart With Gingersnap Cookie Crust

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  • One (10- to 12-pound) turkey
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Step 1

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and place a wire rack inside.

Set the turkey, breast side down, on a cutting board. Remove the giblets, if included. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone, removing a strip about 2 inches wide; reserve the backbone and giblets for making stock. Turn the bird breast side up and use the heels of your hands to press down on the breast bone, flattening it slightly. Pat it dry with towels and sprinkle the salt evenly over both sides of the turkey. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet, breast side up, tuck in the wing tips, if desired, and refrigerate (ideally on the bottom shelf, for food safety purposes), uncovered, for 1 or up to 3 days. (You’ll have better seasoned meat and crispier skin the longer it is refrigerated.)

Step 2

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, tarragon, lemon zest and pepper until thoroughly combined. Gently slide your fingers under the skin of the turkey to separate it from the flesh along the breasts and thighs, being careful not to tear the skin. Don’t worry about not being able to separate it fully — just do as much as you can. Using your fingers, rub half of the compound butter directly on the meat underneath the skin. Massage the skin from the outside until the butter is distributed in an even layer. Rub the remaining compound butter all over the skin of the turkey as evenly as possible. Maneuver the bird so it fits on the baking sheet, but if the drumsticks hang over the pan’s edges, that’s okay.

Step 3

Let the turkey sit at room temperature. Meanwhile, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Roast the turkey for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thighs registers 165 degrees and the skin is crisp and nicely browned. (Note that sometimes the herbs in the butter can burn, which mostly affects appearance and less so flavor. If this is of concern to you, tent it with foil while it finishes cooking once the desired color is achieved.) Let the cooked turkey rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (about 8 ounces), based on 12

Calories: 393; Total Fat: 26 g; Saturated Fat: 10 g; Cholesterol: 163 mg; Sodium: 958 mg; Carbohydrates: 1 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 39 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Recipe from staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

Tested by Aaron Hutcherson; email questions to

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