The benefits of butterflying a turkey are the same as for a chicken—more even cooking of the white and dark meat and a very attractive presentation. You'll need a pair of sturdy poultry shears or kitchen shears for this task. Don't try it with wimpy shears or with a chef's knife...or a visit to the emergency room will be in your future.
I salted this turkey overnight, then rinsed it thoroughly and butterflied it. Salting is a great technique because it adds flavor to poultry and helps it retain moisture without the hassles associated with brining. No big plastic containers taking up room in the refrigerator, and no significant changes to the texture of meat after brining that some people find objectionable.
Here's how I cooked this butterflied turkey on October 8, 2011. The technique is based on an article from Cook's Illustrated magazine.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select, Prepare And Salt The Turkey
Choose a 12-14 pound turkey and thaw according to the package directions. Remove and discard any leg restraint, then remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity. Trim away large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity, rinse thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, loosen the skin over the breasts, legs, and thighs as far as you can in all directions (Photos 1-3). Work slowly from the cavity opening, making sure not to puncture the skin.
Salt the turkey using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt* as follows:
After salting, cover the turkey and refrigerate for 24-48 hours (Photo 7).
* If using Morton's Kosher Salt, apply 4-1/2 teaspoons to the cavity, 2-1/4 teaspoons to each breast, and 1 teaspoon to each leg/thigh.
Rinse, Dry, and Butterfly The Turkey
Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels, making sure to push out any water trapped beneath the skin.
Use sturdy poultry shears or kitchen shears to cut through the bones on each side of the backbone, staying as close to the backbone as possible (Photos 8-9). It's similar to removing the backbone from a chicken, but some of the turkey bones are harder to cut through. Take your time and work carefully.
With the backbone removed, flip the turkey over and press down hard with both hands to crack and flatten the breastbone (Photo 10).
Fold the wings under the turkey so they won't burn during cooking. Tie the legs together using kitchen twine (Photo 11).
As a final step, brush the turkey all over with 4 Tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper.
Let the turkey sit at room temperature while you fire-up your cooker.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney of hot Kingsford charcoal briquettes in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.
If you have two chimneys, you can fire all of the charcoal at once as shown in Photo 12.
Foil The Water Pan
Cover the inside and outside of the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the pan inside the cooker, but leave it empty.
No Rub Required
There is no barbecue seasoning or rub applied to the turkey as part of this recipe. If you choose to use one, try a low-salt or no-salt rub.
Smoke The Turkey
When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2 medium-sized chunks of dry, mild smoke wood on the coals. I used 1 chunk of apple and 1 chunk of cherry (Photo 14).
Assemble the cooker and
place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate (Photo 15). Set the three bottom
vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
If the cooker drops below 325°F with all three bottom vents fully open, try turning the access door upside down and propping it open (Photo 16). This allows more air into the cooker, causing the fire to burn hotter.
Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F in the breast,
170-175°F in the thigh, approximately 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
Rest Then Carve The Turkey
Remove the turkey from the cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Do not cover with foil, as this will cause the skin to go soft.
Alternatively, wrap the
turkey tightly in several layers of wide, heavy duty aluminum foil,
place breast-side down in a dry cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes
Photo 19 shows the smoke ring in the breast meat. I like to remove the breast as a single piece and then cut into slices across the grain using an electric knife, as shown in Photo 20.
Notice the amount of juice on the cutting board in Photo 20—salting makes for a very moist, juicy and flavorful turkey.
Collecting Pan Drippings For Gravy
There are three common ways to collect pan drippings when smoking a turkey:
Assuming you don't over smoke the turkey, the drippings will be perfect for making gravy—in fact, they're already seasoned by the salt applied to the turkey.
As you remove the turkey from the cooker, pour any accumulated juices inside the body cavity into the pan. You can also use the juices left in the bottom of a rimmed baking pan after letting the turkey rest before carving.
It's not uncommon to end up with about 1-1/2 cups of drippings (Photo 22).
If you don't have any drippings, make the delicious turkey giblet gravy described on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board using the giblets, aromatic vegetables, chicken stock, white wine, and seasonings.
Butterball Turkey Tips
If you have questions about anything having to do with turkey, visit the Butterball website. The site features turkey preparation info, grilling tips, carving techniques, recipes, and a frequently asked questions page.
Another great resource is the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (800-BUTTERBALL) which is staffed by Butterball specialists during the months of November and December.
More Turkey Links On TVWB