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BARBEQUED (DE)BONED TURKEY

One of the peculiarities of the English language is that “deboned” and “boned” mean exactly the same thing, much like “inflammable” and “flammable”. When it comes to fowl, removing the bones can turn an ordinary chicken into a gourmand's feast. A master of the kitchen, whom we'll call “Alan”, convinced me years ago that boning is a procedure that’s well worth the effort in preparation. He's even done quail! Once you've mastered the procedure, it's really a pretty easy process. If you’re going to make a stock from the bones, you can be a bit less careful in most cases in trying to remove every ounce of flesh. The recent popularity of Turducken has renewed the interest in deboning fowl.

You may think that boning a turkey is an impossible feat if you have never thought of attempting it. Although the procedure may take an hour or so the first time because of fright, it can be accomplished in not much more than 20 minutes on further tries. The object is to remove the flesh with the skin from the carcass bones without piercing the skin except at the back The turkey - breast side up. Don't cut this way!where the bird is slit open, and at the natural openings at the vent and neck. The skin will serve as a container for the final assembly. When roasted the sutures are on the bottom, and the turkey appears to be enclosed in an unbroken, browned casino which is the skin. It is always an impressive sight. The important thing to remember is that the cutting edge of your knife must always face the bone, never the flesh, thus you cannot pierce the skin.

With turkey, the results are particularly spectacular. Not only is carving a breeze at the table, the flavors from the stuffing permeate the meat into a lovely piece of charcuterie. On top of it all, the bones are on hand for making the turkey stock ahead of the meal and available for a lovely gravy. Cooking on the barbeque (using the Weber Grill indirect technique) or in a convection oven makes for a perfectly browned exterior and a wonderfully moist interior. The “Oysters Rockefeller” stuffing complements the boned turkey particularly well.

Even on the first try, the deboning procedure should take less than 1 hour and requires only a sharp boning knife. This should be done on Wednesday evening, the day prior to cooking. If using a frozen turkey, thaw following directions before starting.

Note added 2011: Since this page first appeared in 2001, quite a few other instructional pages and videos have appeared on the web. Several of these actually have you separate the legs from the breast (see Chef Eric)! You call that deboning? Paul Prudhomme, on the other hand, has it just right. A few additional remarks: purveyors of turkeys, in order to make their product more "convenient", often add a pop-up timer and a plastic (or metal) leg binder to interfere with boning. The former can easily be removed with only a small puncture in the skin in an area with quite a bit of meat so no worries there. My experience has been that often such pop-up devices trigger well above the desired cooking temperature anyway so use an 'instant' thermometer. The hock-lock (yes, there's a name for everything) is another matter as it may be inserted in a way that can be difficult to remove without disturbing the skin. A pair of pliers can be helpful. With the hock-lock, turkey suppliers seem to be less careful in keeping the skin together at that end, so be prepared to do some additional sewing to mend any slices in the skin.

PART I (DAY PRIOR TO COOKING)

The ingredient: one turkey (ca 18 pounds)
The utensils: one sharp boning knife; one authentic Willow Pond apron - optional, but highly desirable, (de)boning is a bit messy.

1. Rinse the turkey and remove the neck and any giblets. Place the turkey, breast side down, on a clean flat surface. To start, cut a deep slit down the back of the bird from the neck to the tail, to expose the backbone (Fig 1). Cut off the fatty tail and add it to the stock pot.

2. With the boning knife, its edge always cutting against the bone, scrape and cut the flesh from the carcass bones down one side of the bird, pulling the flesh away from the carcass with your fingers as you cut (Fig 2).

3. When you come to the ball joint connecting the wing to the carcass, sever it. On the stern end, when you come to the hip joint, cut through it to disconnect it from the main body. Leave the thigh bone and wings for now and continue to separate the meat from the rib cage (Figs 3, 4). Continue down the carcass until you reach just the ridge of the breast where skin and bone meet. Then stop! You must be careful here, as the skin is thin and easily slit.

4. Repeat the same operation on the other side of the bird. By the time you have completed half of this, the carcass frame, dangling legs, wings, and skin will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and you will wonder how in the world any sense can be made of it all. But just continue cutting against the bone, and not slitting any skin, and all will come out as it should.

5. When you finally arrive at the ridge of the breast bone on this opposite side, stop again. Then lift the carcass frame and cut very closely against the ridge of the breastbone to free the carcass, but not to slit the thin skin covering the breastbone (Figs 5, 6). If you're not certain, the turkey breast bone here is very soft and you can cut through the bone and leave a small ridge of the bone behind.

initial cut
Figure 1
start down one side
Figure 2
getting close
Figure 3
now the other side
Figure 4

Figure 5
lifting the rib cage
Figure 6

6. Then arrange this mass of skin and flesh on a board, flesh side up. You will now see, protruding from the flesh, the pair of ball joints of the wings and of the two hip joints. Scrape the meat from the bones of the wings and pull out the innermost wing bone .

7. At this stage you can leave the wings intact, or chop off the wings at the elbows. The small opening at the severed wing usually causes no problems. Leaving the outer wing bone(s) leaves a more recognizable object for the table presentation.

Starting to remove the thigh
Figure 7
almost done
Figure 8

8. Repeat the scraping for the second joints, severing them from the ball joints of the drumstick (Figs 7, 8). Primarily scrape and only sparingly cut at the meat from the thigh bone from the hip joint to the next joint. The turkey has some odd ancillary bones and cartilage that is absent in other fowl. Cut through the joint with the drumstick and remove the thigh bone. Leave the drumstick bones in place so the final assembly will look more turkeyesque.

9. You should end up with a flat boneless turkey (except for the wings [if you left them] and the legs) with the entire skin intact in one large piece. Put the boned turkey in a large dish or bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Place it in the refrigerator.

Congratulations, you have successfully deboned a turkey! Have a glass of wine, and with all those bones, go make a nice turkey stock that can simmer slowly all night long.

PART II (DAY OF COOKING)

The ingredients:

  • one boned turkey (see above)
  • 12 cups, or so, of stuffing (you will need about double the amount used for a bone-in turkey - need a recipe?)

Utensils:

  • trussing needle
  • white cotton string
  • one authentic Willow Pond apron - optional, but highly desirable, stuffing and sewing are somewhat messy.

Sample - sewing up a duck, from Julia Child, V1. Click for larger imageThis morning's task is to reassemble the turkey so that it looks like it was never disassembled in the first place.

Spread out the turkey with the skin-side down. Use the trussing needle and string to sew the bird back together. Start at the rear end and work toward the center (Fig 9). Leave about 6 inches or so at the breast end open - and not stitched closed.

Stuff the bird with dressing through this opening. NOTE: A boned turkey will take at least twice the amount of dressing as whole bone-in turkey. This stage is about the only one where another pair of hands would be useful - one person holds the turkey in place, and open, while the other does the filling. Overfill the bottom end; the stuffing will redistribute before cooking and will plump up the breast side (Fig 10). Remember, it's pretty much only the stuffing that will give the finished turkey its shape.

sew up from the leg end
Figure 9
almost done
Figure 10

Finish sewing up the front of the turkey. Remember that the sutures will be at the bottom and not visible. Turn the bird belly up. Plump it so that it looks like the turkey that you originally started with. Make 3 or 4 ties around the circumference to give it a rounder shape.Tie the drumsticks together to obtain a more compact shape

PART III (THE ACTUAL COOKING)

It is recommended to use an instant meat thermometer to gauge the bird's internal temperature. The thermometer should be used to measure both the the meat, and the dressing temperatures.

I find that cooking the turkey outside on the charcoal barbeque (Weber kettle, indirect method), or inside using a convection oven, produces the best results - a golden brown exterior with a moist, tender interior. Follow the directions of your appliance, or your instincts, whichever you trust. Outdoor cooking will be highly dependent on the ambient temperature and will vary considerably. In general, a boned turkey will cook faster than a bone-in bird, so reduce your usual cooking by a few minutes per pound. In the convection oven, 15 minutes/pound at 350°F is a rule of thumb. More advice on cooking times and temperatures is on-line.

Mold the turkey into a pleasing shape. Rub sesame oil over the entire bird. If you have a meat injector, inject liberal amounts of sesame oil into the meat on several locations - strongly recommended! The flavor of sesame oil is perfect with turkey.

Tent with aluminum foil (rub some sesame oil on the dull side of the foil first); remember, foil should always be used with shiny side pointing out. Note: recent studies question the effectiveness of aluminum helmets.

Cook as recommended, or until roasting requirements are met as shown by your meat thermometer. Remove/replace tent as needed to obtain a nicely browned exterior (4-6 hours depending on the size of the turkey and conditions).

Allow the turkey to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Add any juices to the stock and/or gravy.

Bring to the table and serve. Remove the wings (if present) and start from the breast side. Each slice contains a portion of dressing surrounded by a frame of tender, succulent turkey meat.



References:

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