If sharing the joy of cooking for family and friends is your love language, then Thanksgiving is a day you have marked on your calendar all year. The Thanksgiving feast is an opportunity to pull out all the stops and combine some flashy skills with beloved family food traditions to make the day one to remember. While every family has time-honored recipes that are always expected on the Thanksgiving table, the festive turkey is one dish that should feature all the flavors of autumn.
This mouthwatering wood-oven turkey recipe is highlighted by seasonal Fall apples and the traditional punch of fresh sage. We spatchcock the bird to speed up the cooking time and ensure every bit of skin gets perfectly crispy. Rather than flavor the meat with herbs that are likely to burn on the exterior, this turkey gets its flavor from a pungent overnight apple cider brine. A buttery silk gravy made from the turkey drippings complements this wood-fired turkey that will have the whole family running to the outdoor oven for the big reveal.
For Apple Cider Brine:
1 gallon apple cider
1 gallon cold water
1 1/4 cups kosher salt
1 cup fresh sage leaves
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
4 tablespoons peppercorns
For the Turkey:
1 whole turkey (18-22 pounds) – farm fresh turkey or a “kosher” turkey that has not been pre-brined
3 tablespoons high heat oil (such as grapeseed or canola oil)
*Most store-bought turkeys are sold frozen or have been frozen for transport and are pre-brined. Make sure to hunt down a fresh turkey from a local farm, or a turkey labeled “kosher,” to ensure it has not been pre-brined.
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
1 quarter onion, finely diced
1 stick butter, divided
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken or turkey broth
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt, to taste
Spatchcock the Turkey:
Lay the turkey on a cutting board breast-side down. Using poultry shears or a butcher knife, cut along both sides of the spine to remove it. Cutting through bone and cartilage may take some force. The spine can be added to your stock pot to make turkey broth for the gravy. Next, flip the turkey over and firmly press down on the breasts to crack the wishbone so the turkey lays flat on the board.
Brine the Turkey:
Combine the cider, spices, herbs and salt with cold water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Once the salt has dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add cold apple cider.
Place the spatchcocked turkey into the brine. If your largest stock pot will not hold the entire bird submerged in the brine, use a clean cooler or other food safe plastic tub with a cover. Weight down the turkey with a heavy bowl or plate to keep it entirely submerged. The turkey will need to be refrigerated in the brine overnight, so plan your brining vessel and a place to keep it cool ahead of time.
Prepare the Turkey:
The next day, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Allow the turkey to air dry for another 30-60 minutes on a cooling rack laid over a sheet tray large enough to fit the entire spatchcocked turkey. If cooking in the Ñuke Oven 60, use its purpose-built roasting tray for a perfect fit in the oven’s cooking chamber. Making sure the skin is as dry as possible will ensure crispy skin when removed from the oven.
Prepare the Wood-Fired Oven:
Prepare a fire in your outdoor wood oven’s fire box for a medium heat roasting temperature, about 375-425 degrees. With the Ñuke Oven 60, start the fire with two large logs, along with a few smaller splits and allow the fire to heat the oven and refractory bricks for an hour. As the temperature of the oven reduces to the 400 range, adjust the dampers to hold as close to 400 as possible. Continue to add small splits to maintain sufficient fuel throughout the cook.
For some advice on building the perfect fire for your wood oven, as well as some fire management insights, check out our tips on how to Become a Master of Fire Management in Your Wood-Fired Oven.
Roast the Turkey:
With the oven’s cooking temperature stabilized around 400 degrees, roast the turkey until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, about 2 hours. Remove the cooling rack with the turkey on it to a paper towel lined surface to rest. Pour the turkey drippings from the sheet pan into a tall-sided cup or container, and allow the fat to separate from the remaining juices. Allow the turkey to rest to redistribute its remaining juices, and for the internal temperature to rise to at least the safe serving temperature of 165 degrees.
Make the Gravy:
With a small ladle, skim about a tablespoon of the turkey fat from the drippings and add to a medium saucepan. Skim remaining fat from the drippings and discard, or freeze in ice cube trays for use as turkey schmaltz in the future.
Place the pan over medium high heat and add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms release their liquid, continue to cook until it has evaporated. Add a tablespoon of butter and sauté the mushrooms until caramelized, then add the finely diced onion and sauté until golden brown.
Add another 4 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt completely. Add the flour and stir to combine, removing any lumps. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the roux until it has reached a blonde color being careful not to burn the roux. Stirring vigorously, slowly add the broth, and the sprig of thyme. Simmer, stirring often until the gravy starts to thicken.
Once the gravy has reached your desired thickness, remove it from the heat. Cut 3 tablespoons of cold butter into small cubes, and swirl them in one at a time making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Taste the gravy and add salt to taste. Remove the thyme stem. Finally, pass the gravy through a fine mesh sieve for a smoother refined presentation.