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How to whack up a bunch of raw turkeys for roasting

Restaurants serve hundreds of holiday turkey meals by preparing the dark meat up to two days in advance, then roasting the breasts the morning of the event. If you do not need to carve the turkeys at the table, you can get much better meat by cooking the white meat and the dark meat separately. Halved or quartered turkeys also roast easier and faster. You can get more in the same amount of oven space at one time, or have room for additional dishes in the oven.

When a turkey is roasted whole and breast side up, the white meat, which should be roasted ten to fifteen degrees lower than the legs, ends up ten degrees higher! When the legs are at the USDA recommended temperature of 170 degrees, the breast is 180, or dry as sawdust. By roasting the white meat to no more than 145 degrees and the dark meat no more than 160, completely safe for getting rid of salmonella and e coli bacteria, you will have tender, juicy meat full of flavor, especially if you brine before roasting.

If you are wondering why I recommend a lower finishing temp, remember two things. The temperature continues to rise ten to 15 degrees after the meat comes out of the oven if it is allowed to stand as recommended. The 170-180 degree finishing temperature is to allow the stuffing in the middle of the turkey to get to a safe 165 degrees-it has to get hotter than 160, the safe temperature for the meat. Since you are roasting unstuffed meat and letting it rest for the recommended time to finish cooking, you do not need to overcook it.

Try to have all the turkeys you are working with as close as possible to the same size, or at least keep all the pieces cooked at once very close to the same. The 12-16 pound birds are MUCH easier to store and handle than the largest ones. The white meat on these smaller birds is also better quality- less mealy, less likely to dry out. We will whack them into front and back halves or quarters while raw and cook all dark meat loads and all white meat loads, using the two different finishing temps of 145 for the white meat and 160 for the dark. You lose a little juice this way, compared to roasting whole, but avoid overcooking.

Also, if you expect a lot of kids, you can get turkey legs only, they weigh about 1 pound each and come in cases of 40 pounds. Always a good backup if you are worried about quantity.

Alford recommends butterflying or "spatchcocking" a smaller turkey taking out the bird's backbone and grilling it on the grill, which will cut the time by about one-fourth, while giving the bird some great grilled flavor.

You need a large sharp chef's knife or cleaver and a pair of quality poultry shears to do this job. The turkey(s) should be thawed.

Anytime you are going to be working with raw poultry, prepare a spray bottle of disinfectant made of 2 tablespoons of bleach in 1 quart of water. 13%-19% of all US turkeys carry salmonella! Spray down and clean your cutting surfaces between turkeys after washing the area with soap and water, drying with clean paper towels, and then rinsing again to reduce cross contamination. Wear white clothes to avoid bleach speckling and so you can clean out any spattered turkey juices easily.

  1. Wash/rinse the turkey before whacking. You have to do this anyway if you brined it before whacking.
    Note: If you are buying frozen turkeys no more than two weeks ahead, you can get a head start on this chore. Ask the butcher to saw them all in half lengthwise (from nose to tail) while they are still frozen. These will drip potentially contaminated raw turkey juice EVERYWHERE as they thaw in the refrigerator; double bag each half in large food safe plastic bags before putting in the freezer and put the bagged halves into dishpans or other food safe bins when you transfer them to the cooler or refrigerator to thaw. If they will be stored longer, don't have the butcher do this, the turkeys get freezer burned on the cut surface.
  2. Place the carcass on its back. Remove any giblets, neck pieces, etc. from both the front (neck) pouch and the back (vent, tail) cavity. Throw them, except for the livers, into the stock pot or the freezer bag for the gravy stock if you aren't making stock right now.
  3. First let's separate the white and dark meat. Use the poultry shears to cut along the "bikini line", that thin boneless area starting at the vent, on either side right along the thigh. Cut all the way down to the backbone.
  4. Turn the bird on one side. Do a "backbend" with the carcass, bringing the tail toward the neck. You will hear or feel a snap.
  5. Use either the shears or the knife to cut through the backbone. You now have a front half, all white meat, and a back half, all dark.
  6. The back half may be flattened and roasted skin side down as is after prep or brining, or you can use the knife to remove the spine: stand the back half upright with the tail in the air and the skin toward you. Feel for the wide portion of the backbone/hip next to the tail. Holding firmly by the tail, cut down and in to take the hip bone off the spine. The right side will fall away. Now holding the left leg firmly at the joint between the leg and the thigh, make a similar cut on the left side. The Y shaped backbone piece, topped by the tail, will fall away.
  7. Rinse the hind quarters to remove any bone bits. Trim off any excess fat. Throw the backbone and the fat into the stock pot or the freezer bag for the gravy stock if you aren't making stock right now.
  8. Bag the hindquarters in fresh plastic bags for brining or storage. Refrigerate.
  9. To cut up the front half, you just need to remove the spine so you can open it flat. The only bone that is a little difficult is the shoulder bone, a rather flat bone about the length of your thumb that rests parallel to the spine below the wing beween the ribs and the skin. If you can, you want to remove the spine and most of the small rib bones but leave the scapula.
  10. First use your scissors or the knife to split the skin right down the backbone. Peel the skin up the ribs to where the meat just starts to get a little thicker (about 1/3 of the way up at the back end) or to the wing joint at the front. Use the shears to cut down either side of the neck as far as you can, leaving the wing in place.
  11. Turn the neck away from you. You are looking into the cavity. Notice that there is a fan of ribs with a very thin covering of meat. Use your shears to cut away the ribs along this break, heading down toward the front cuts.
  12. Use your fingers and the tip of the knife to work the shoulder bone loose, and cut the rest of the spine away from the wing joints.
  13. Place the breast on the cutting surface skin side up. Open up the breast piece flat by simply leaning on the breast bone while spreading the sides. You may hear the wishbone snap on the larger birds.
  14. Rinse the front half to remove any bone bits and tuck the peeled back skin back around the wing joint and cut edges. Trim off any excess fat at the neck cavity. Throw the backbone and the fat into the stock pot or the freezer bag for the gravy stock if you aren't making stock right now.
  15. Bag the flattened front half in fresh plastic bags for brining or storage. Refrigerate.
  16. Clean the cutting areas with soap and water, spray with the disinfecting bleach solution, dry with clean paper towels and rinse.
  17. Start again.