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Updated Southern Cooking:
Barbecued Butterflied Turkey

John Tullock

When my friend Terry called in a panic for help with his weekend cookout, this recipe came to the rescue. It seems the person who bought the turkeys thought they were fresh, not frozen. A nd Terry discovered this only a few hours before the guests were to arrive.

Thaw turkey by immersing it in a sinkfull of cold water, changing the water every few minutes. Use warm water only if absolutely necessary. When quick-thawing in this manner, it is important that the bird be cooked immediately after preparation, to avoid possible bacterial growth, which will be enhanced by warm water thawing. Adding several tablespoons of salt to the water helps, and improves the flavor of the bird, as well. The boning technique described here is the same as the one presented in The Way to Cook, by Julia Child, which also provides color photographs of the finished product.

Once the turkey is completely thawed, start the charcoal in a large grill. You need a cooking surface at least two feet in width for each bird, more if possible. While someone tends the fire, butterfly the bird as follows, using your sharpest boning knife or butcher’s knife.

1. Cut off the tail piece. Cut out and remove the wishbone. Slit the skin down the middle of the backbone from neck to tail.

2. Starting on one side, taking care to direct the blade always toward the bone and away from the skin, cut the meat away from the carcass using short slicing strokes. This takes practice, but you’ll get the hang of it in before you finish one bird.

3. When you come to the ball joint where the thigh bone meets the carcass, put down the knife and disjoint the thigh by twisting it toward the breastbone until it pops out. Cut around the joint to free it and continue to scrape the flesh from the carcass.

4. Similarly disjoint the wing at the shoulder joint.

5. Taking care to keep the edge of the knife toward the ribs, cut away the breast meat all the way to, but not through, the breast bone.

6. Using the knife, or better, heavy kitchen shears, cut the rib cage away from the breastbone to free the carcass. Use the carcass and any other scraps, such as the neck and tail piece (but not the giblets) to make stock.

The bird can now be laid out flat, with each half of the breast and each pair of limbs splayed on either side, all held together by the skin. Transfer it to a large sheet pan. Thoroughly baste both sides of the turkey with a mixture of 1/2 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin) and 2 tablespoons or more of your favorite Cajun seasoning mix. (Most contain salt, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne and garlic powder, with assorted additions, depending upon the brand. Try concocting your own.)

Transfer the bird immediately to the hot grill, skin side down. Grill, regulating the fire as necessary, until the skin is richly browned, basting from time to time with the lemon juice squeezed directly from the fruit over the bird. If necessary, baste with additional oil and seasoning mixture.

When the skin is a lovely golden color, perhaps starting to char in a spot or two, turn the bird over, using tongs, and baste the skin with lemon juice as before. Continue cooking until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching bone, reads 165°F. (This will only take about an hour or so.) Remove the bird to a platter, using care to prevent the wings or thigh and leg portions from coming loose, as they will be very tender. Garnish with lemon halves and a bunch of fresh parsley.

Carving a turkey prepared in this way is simple, and can even be left up to the guests, since this dish lends itself to a buffet presentation outdoors.

To really wow them, serve the turkey with this barbecue sauce, adapted from the El Paso Chili Company Cookbook by W. Park Kerr. The recipe makes two quarts, and I have modified Kerr’s proportions to better suit the standard packaging of the ingredients, which are easy to find.

John’s Version of “Peach of the Old South” Barbecue Sauce Kerr

In a large, heavy, nonreactive kettle, such as enameled cast iron, combine the following over low heat:

Two 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes with tomato puree (home canned is ideal) One 8 ounce jar Grey Poupon ® Dijon mustard (no other) One 18 ounce jar peach preserves (something made with Southern peaches, please) One half pint Southern Comfort (minus about 1 ounce to fortify the cook) The freshly squeezed juice of two large lemons (about 2/3 cup) 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1/4 cup hot sauce (I really prefer one called “Texas Pete” over that famous brand, but suit yourself) 2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Stir well, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, partially covered, stirring now and then, until reduced to two quarts. It will keep at least a month if transferred to a clean hot jar and allowed to cool to room temperature before storing, covered, in the refrigerator. However, if you prepare several turkeys and have a crowd in, it will all be gone and the guests will be licking their fingers as they search for more. So will the turkey.

Serve this with traditional barbecue fixin’s, or ask everyone, as Terry does, to bring food to share. Cold beer is the only conceivable beverage, with sweetened iced tea for the kids and the Baptists.

John Tullock is an expert gardener and self-taught cook who likes to develop new recipes using his own fresh produce and the best from the local market. His interest in plants and horticulture begin in childhood, and he holds a masters degree in biology from The University of Tennessee. He also co-owns "Native Sons Nursery," a retail business that specializes in rare ornamental and gourmet vegetable plants.

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