Roasting Turkey Halves and Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
roasting turkey halves

Roasting turkey halves in the oven is a truly great way to cook a turkey, especially for Thanksgiving. The turkeys cook evenly, the skins get golden brown and crisp, the halves are easy to carve, and the turkeys cook in about 2 hours.

Three smaller turkeys (@ 30 pounds total) cut into halves easily fit into a regular home oven at the same time. Super efficient and temperature-wise safer because laid out flat and low down in the half sheet the more delicate white breast meat is now sharing the same heat intensity as the dark. This allows the delicious and stubborn dark meat and leg/thigh joint to fully cook through before the breast dries.

This roasting turkey halves method also frees the oven for side dish cooking and rewarming at mealtime. The turkeys are done faster and if you roast them a little early just gently rewarm the carved meat on a platter in a low oven before mealtime.   roasting turkey halves

Buy small birds, cut them in half, and roast them lying down on half sheets.

  • Cook small turkeys–around ten pounds. Meat counters will usually separate and wrap them in a few minutes. At home your electric knife is the choice. Start with a clean, straight line at the top of the breast, let the blades cut (don’t saw) and gently separate the halves as the knife works its way downward.
  • Place the turkey halves on half baking sheets or in a large roasting pan. Rub the halves liberally with oil or butter (or a combo), and season with Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper. Add other herbs if you like. Simple seems best.
  • Place the turkeys in 450°F oven and immediately turn down the heat to 350°F. Baste the skin periodically if you like, we don’t bother. We don’t see a noticeable difference from basting and periodically opening the oven door just lets the heat escape.
  •  Just keep the oven closed and the halves should be cooked through in about 2 hours. Look for 175 – 180°F in the thickest part of the thigh with an internal temp thermometer. The escaping juices should run clear, not pinkish. Let the birds rest 15 minutes or more before carving.

Some thoughts about cutting the birds, and a plug for the electric knife:

Once you reach the backbone spread the halves as though you were spatchcocking the bird and cut along one side of the backbone.

roasting turkey halves

Once separated, use the knife to cut out the backbone completely. Use the backbone for your crock pot stock. It will contribute to a spectacular brown gravy.

roasting turkey halves

Carving Tip: Separate each breast from the leg/thigh portion and cut the breast meat crosswise into thick medallion-like slices instead of the traditional thin lengthwise slices. Separate the thighs and legs at the joint with a sharp knife. Serve the legs whole and remove the dark thigh meat from the bones.

roasting turkey halves

Instead of roasting turkey halves, try grilling them. Cut in half makes grilling a cinch. We use our favorite shelf chicken method and grill the turkey on a second grate set on bricks to raise the bird away from the heat a bit and get the skin closer to the cover which radiates heat down and makes a nice golden crispy skin. Leave the cover cracked slightly and grill on medium for about an hour. This method really frees up the oven and give your parade-watching staff something to do.

roasting turkey halves

Note about stuffing: You’ll have to give up on stuffing the bird when roasting turkey halves. That’s just fine because the our Cheater Chef Southern Cornbread Dressing recipe bakes up nice and crisp in a casserole and you can make as much as you want. Let the bird be the bird. No need to be a 9×13, too.

cornbread dressing


turkey gravy


Instead of canned or cartoned broths, make your own turkey broth in a crock pot. It’s a cinch, especially when you cut your turkey in half before you roast it like we do (see above). In a large crock pot combine turkey backs, necks, hearts, and kidneys (no liver) with onion, garlic, parsley stems, celery, bay leaves, and plenty of water and let it simmer all day or overnight. Drain off the solids, cool, and it’s done. If you want to make the broth a couple days ahead just use turkey wings available at the supermarket.

For the gravy, think about the 2:2:1 ratio for medium white sauce (two tablespoons flour: two tablespoons butter: 1 cup milk). The white sauce ratio is too thick for gravy, so decrease the ratio to 1 1/2 tablespoons each of fat and flour to 1 cup of broth. You’re swapping the butter for turkey drippings and the milk for turkey broth.

When the turkey is roasted, pour all the drippings into a cup. Let the fat rise to the top and skim it off with a spoon. Place the fat drippings in a large sauce pan and heat it up. Add the same amount of flour and stir for a couple of minutes. Now add the broth and the turkey juices left in the cup. We add a little wine — Maderia, sherry, or vermouth. And the cut-up giblets from the broth. Stir until silky and slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper, thyme, marjoram, and maybe a little sage. That’s it. You’ve got a big (or small, just decrease the amounts according to the magic ratio) batch of gravy.

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