Break It Down—How to Prepare a Whole Thanksgiving Turkey in a Small Kitchen

For many New Yorkers (and all tiny apartment dwellers), Thanksgiving planning isn’t just about the menu. It’s also about how you’re supposed to manage the whole darn bird in a small kitchen. How to fit a giant bird in our compact ovens? Do you even need a whole bird? How do you make sure it’s completely cooked?

Space might be sparse in the city, but doesn’t have to stop you from celebrating Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving or whatever. To make our turkey dreams come true, we met up with Fleisher’s turkey hotline specialist, Sophie Grant, as well as Jason Yang, Fleisher’s Red Hook production butcher, to show you how to break a turkey into multiple, manageable parts. With a few intentional and swift cuts, you can make the most of probably the biggest ingredient you’ll prepare in your kitchen this year.

First and foremost though, you have to choose a bird. Fleisher’s carries broad breasted whites that, although they are the same breed as most turkeys, differ from supermarket birds in that they grow up on pasture while eating certified organic feed that’s grown on the same farm. They’re also never given hormones or antibiotics. Talk about a whole package that will make your Thanksgiving meal all the more satisfying. We give their birds an A+.

Break it down:

Make sure your bird is refrigerated since it’s easier to butcher when it’s chilled. Cut with confidence using just the tip of your sharp butchering knife to cut through shallow meat and skin, and long strokes when cutting along the breast bone (Whatever meat you end up leaving on the bone will only make your stock richer.)

  1. Remove the giblets and neck, which are usually found in a package in the body cavity. Save the neck for the stock.
  2. Then, remove the first leg by cutting through the skin between the thigh and the body to reveal the joint. Continue cutting while pushing on the leg to open the joint and then cut through the joint to release the leg. Repeat this procedure for the other leg. The leg can be left as is or it may be cut at the middle joint to form two pieces: the thigh and the drumstick.
  3. To remove the wings, pull them away from the body and cut into the hollow area between the wing and the breast. When the wing joint has been exposed, cut through it while continuing to pull on the wing in order to release it from the body.
  4. In order to remove the breast from the body cavity, cut along the rib cage from the the tail end to the neck on both sides of the bird. Save the ribs for the stock.

Now, you’ve prepped your turkey legs, breasts and wings. From what’s left, you have the neck, the backmeat and the rest of the bones for the stock.

Prep for roasting:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. For extra golden and crispy skin, combine 1/2 cup room temperature butter with 1/4 cup of your desired spice blend. (We recommend sea salt, sage, black pepper, onion, thyme, parsley, nutmeg, clove and bay leaves). Mix well and rub all over your turkey parts and under the skin, making sure not to tear or remove any skin.
  3. Add shallot halves, springs of thyme, garlic, cloves and stock (any stock you like — chicken, turkey, beef or pork are best). Top with lemon halves for a smoky lemon flavor.

Cook it:

A general rule of thumb for cooking time is to count approximately 13 minutes per pound. However, when you break a turkey into parts, it cooks faster, so keep a close eye on it.

The great part about cooking your turkey in parts though is that you get to cook the white and the dark meats separately. Thus, you’ll be able to get each type of the meats to its proper temperature so that it’s at its maximum deliciousness. Optimal cooking temperature for the white meat is 145 degrees. For dark meat, you want 165 degrees. You can either roast the meats in two separate pans and pull them just at the right time, or start cooking them together and pull the breast when it comes up to temperature. Always take the temperature in the thickest part of the meat of the breast, thigh and drumsticks.

  1. Turn down the oven temperature to 350 degrees and add both pans to the oven.
  2. Take out to baste periodically, keeping the oven door shut and taking the temperature each time. Once white meat reaches 145-150 degrees and dark meat has reached 160-165 degrees, take out the pans.
  3. Tent with foil. If you take out within 5 degrees and cover loosely with foil, the meat with come up those few extra degrees without drying out or overcooking.


  1. Reduce cooking juices by placing your roasting pan directly over the burners on your stove top.
  2. Add a generous pad of butter until it starts foaming, add 2 tablespoons of flour and whisk until blended.
  3. Add remaining stock and reduce until desired consistency, adding more flour for the thicker you want your gravy.

For more Thanksgiving recipe inspiration, check out The FeedFeed.

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