Half-cocked Turkey

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  10 servings
Prep Time:  45 minutes Brining Time:  24 hours Cook Time:  1 hour 30 minutes

Half-cocked Turkey

Making turkey juicy is no mean feat when you roast it whole. So why not just skip the outdated Norman Rockwell image and cut that baby up to cook it, so that each part will be just right? Good-looking food that tastes like sawdust is not a Thanksgiving celebration. Spatchcocking (the funniest word in the culinary world) is a great option (you cut the bird in half and spread it out, butterfly-style, for faster cooking). But if you don’t have a huge-a-mundo roasting pan or a very little bird, my solution is cook it, well, half-cocked. I cut it into parts, with the thigh and leg portions separated from the breast, which I cook whole. I know this sounds crazy, but frankly, you bring the turkey to the table carved, and trust me, this really works. (FYI: I brine turkey for 24 to 48 hours before I roasting, which not only helps it stay moist, but imparts flavor when you add a herbs and spices to the brine.)


8 cups water

1½ cups salt

3 cups maple sugar

15  to 20 large bay leaves, fresh preferred

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

1 (12- to 14-pound) fresh turkey, cut into parts (see Kitchen Tips)

2 large bunches fresh rosemary stems

12 Meyer lemons, cut into ¾-inch thick rounds

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup best-quality, low-sodium turkey or chicken stock


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the water, 1½ cups of the salt (see Kitchen Tips), the maple sugar, bay leaves, whole peppercorns, and coriander and cook over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat to cool until the mixture is somewhere between warm to room temperature, but not hot.
  2. Place the turkey parts into the pot of brine. Cover with plastic wrap  and refrigerate overnight (see Kitchen Tips).
  3. Preheat the oven to 300°F.  Spray 2 very clean wire racks with nonstick vegetable oil spray (you can use a paper towel to coat the rack thoroughly) and fit them into 2 roasting pans. Arrange the rosemary and then the lemon slices evenly on the racks.
  4. Remove the turkey parts from the brine and pat dry, discarding the brine. Place the turkey parts, skin side up, on top of the lemon slices, one pan for the breast and one pan for the legs and thighs.
  5. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 285°F, add ½ cup stock to the bottom of each pan and continue to roast the turkey parts for 1½ hours, brushing the tops with oil every 20 minutes, until the skin is a deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into breast reads 160°F and thickest part of thigh registers 185°F (making sure to avoid touching the bones). The time will depend upon the size of the turkey and the accuracy of your oven’s temperature. Tent with foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Kitchen Tips

  1. Ask the butcher to cut up the turkey for you; cut each leg and thigh off the turkey in a single piece. Then cut out the backbone, leaving the breast and wings in one piece. Make sure the butcher gives you all parts: a whole turkey breast on the bone and two thigh-and-leg pieces, plus what’s left. Reserve the backbone, giblets, and neck for another use.
  2. If you use a kosher turkey, delete ¾ cup of the salt for the brine mixture.
  3. Make sure that your pot will fit into your refrigerator AND that the turkey parts will fit into your pot. If not, place the parts in individual containers, divide the brine between them, and make sure the brine covers the pieces.  
  4. The juices at the bottom of the pan make a wonderful, simple jus. Simply strain, let stand until the fat rises to the top, skim the fat, and serve. Once sliced, the turkey is best stored in the yummy jus and will remain incredibly juicy.  

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