How to Get the Most from Your Whole Fresh Turkey
During the holiday season, when organic free-range, healthy whole fresh turkey is available, we buy one or two and make them last many meals. If you like, one can be your showbird centerpiece for family and friends. (Keep the bones and scraps from this turkey for broth.) The other can be broken down to get lots of roasted turkey slices and pieces to freeze for easy dinners and lunches… pot pies, quesadillas, sandwiches, all those wonderful leftover turkey meals. And tons of broth! From a 20 pound turkey, I get a good 10-12 cups of broth, PLUS all the pan drippings. Nothing is wasted.
Because meals in my home are plant-centered, even for my meat-eating son, we make use of our freezer and one or two turkeys will last forever.
How you can get the MOST out of your turkey.
Step One: Breaking down the turkey
The best thing about breaking down a turkey like this is that it does not have to be pretty. You can do it fast without worry. Nobody will ever know if your butchery is not not neat and even. Nobody will care. Every bit will be used in some way.
Starting with a whole fresh turkey, the spatchcock method works great. Do this by using good kitchen sheers or a sharp chef’s knife to remove the spine. I like to go ahead and start my first stock batch simmering with the spine and neck, while I work on the rest of the bird.
Next, press down heavily on the breast to flatten it. This will take some strength, but it will allow for even cooking. You can go ahead and roast the whole flattened turkey, see how here. OR… separate the dark meat from the white for easier cooking. This way you need not worry about varying cooking times needed for white and dark meat. Everything comes out tender.
Cut away the leg questers. Separate the legs and thighs. Place them all on a large roasting pan, season as you like.
Step Two: Roasting the turkey
Prepare your turkey however you like. My family likes a simple salt and herb rub on a dry turkey (letting it sit uncovered on the bottom shelf in the fridge away from other foods will allow it to dry). For added flavor and browning, you can brush the turkey with melted butter or even duck fat, if you have it. Keeping flavors neutral allow for many uses later.
Roast your flattened turkey uncovered, in a preheated 375º oven, until it is golden brown. Then tent with tin foil to stop the browning and allow the turkey to cook through. You will need to keep an eye on your turkey. Depending on your oven, and how flat is your turkey, it may brown in a short time, or it may take over an hour.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes, or so, you will want to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh – NOT touching the bone. When the internal temp reaches 160º, remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest. Carry over cooking will bring the turkey up to a safe 165º.
Alternatively, and if you have a REALLY big turkey, you could even roast dark meat legs and thighs, and then roast the white meat, breast and thighs. Then it is even easier to get even cooking and browning.
Btw… duck fat or butter gives you color like this. ‘Would be even better if this were spatchcocked!
Harvesting the Meat
Here are 3 of the 4 pans of turkey meat that came from one 20 pound bird! Most of this will get portioned and frozen.
No way are we wasting giblets!
Giblets can go right into your stock pot with the bones an veggies, or they can be simmered on their own with some of the same veggies, depending on how much you like offal flavors. They could even be roasted with your turkey. Be sure to pull them out when they reach 160°, tent and allow residual heat to bring them up to a safe 165°. Chop them up and add to gravy.
btw… those bits and pieces in the container on the left came from the stock bones.
Which is pretty much like an amazing nutritious FREE ingredient when you fabricate your own turkey. How much do boxes of stock cost now, anyway? And prepared stocks and broths cannot hold a candle to broth you make yourself at home.
Plus, it is so easy! Put it in a stock pot and it makes itself. Click HERE for a method that gives you even MORE broth by using your roasted bones too.
From a 20 pound bird, using neck bone, spine, and bones from you roasted turkey, along with veggies, you can get a good 10-12 cups of really good gelatinous broth. So much better than the watery box stocks and broths.
Freeze portions flat for easy future meal prep.
Save every drop of those dripping to add flavor to… well, anything!
See how gelatinous homemade stock is… and this one is a beautiful golden brown because it has intensely flavored roasted turkey and garlic pan drippings in it. Seriously, my son will consume multiple kale smoothies for just a little of this stuff.
This gravy uses up all the veggie scarps and bits of turkey from the broth. Yep… no need to waste those either.
With a freezer full of turkey, broth, and if I am feeling really industrious, turkey pot pies and a few other make ahead meals, the only thing that gets discarded are bones which have given all their nutritious marrow and flavor.
And, by doing this all at once, I have saved myself a whole lot of cooking time later.
Time for a coffee break. 😀