Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is stressful, even if you’re a professional. So this year I set out to chart an easier path to a traditional dinner, something with fewer variables but the same reward.
Over the last couple weeks, I experimented with the idea of doing a sheet pan Thanksgiving. The approach, where everything is cooked on sheet pans in the oven, has caught on because it’s easy to do and easy to understand, and from a culinary point of view, because high-heat roasting is in general something that makes food we like.
After a couple of trial runs, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions: It works for Thanksgiving. And although I had misgivings that it might be too basic an approach for a holiday meal, I can unreservedly say: I love it.
Using three sheet pans and one saucepan (can’t forget the gravy), I can put out a meal serving eight to 12 guests in just under four hours, start to finish. It’s a simple meal, but it covers the traditional bases: Instagram-worthy herb-roasted turkey, roasted Brussels sprouts with pears and ham, garlic and rosemary Hasselback potatoes, and enough gravy to baptize everything with extra love.
I use baking sheets made for commercial kitchens, the rimmed ones measuring 18 by 13 inches, which are technically called half-sheet pans because there is a size twice as large too. You can find half-sheet pans in most restaurant and cooking supply stores, as well as online. The size is versatile: big enough for the bird, wide enough to give your vegetables a chance to roast and not just steam, and the rimmed edges are great for catching any rolling potatoes or sprouts and collecting turkey drippings.
The trick to making the turkey work on a sheet pan is to spatchcock it — to use heavy-duty kitchen shears to remove its backbone. Although it won’t look like a bird from a Norman Rockwell painting, it has many advantages over that classic, if desiccated, version: It will cook in half the time as a whole turkey; the legs and breast meat — because they are all now about the same thickness, cooking on the same level — will cook at the same time, so you don’t have to dry out the white meat to fully cook the dark; brining is not necessary, as it would be for a whole bird, because of the improved cooking time; and in this configuration, you have a much better chance of getting skin that is not just browned but also crisp and delicious.
Sheet pan dinners are built for charring root vegetables; here they shine: The Brussels sprouts and potatoes roast at the same temperature, so you can cook them together. And as everything roasts away, you can make the gravy.
You’ll even have time to work on more important diplomatic matters, like where you’re going to seat crazy Uncle Phil and how to keep Grandma away from the bar.
Herb-Roasted Spatchcocked Turkey
About 2 hours, plus 1 hour tempering time. Serves 8 to 12.
1 (10- to 12-pound) turkey
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced thyme
1 tablespoon minced marjoram or oregano
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1. About 1 hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the refrigerator to temper. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line an 18- by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with heavy foil, and place a wire rack over the foil in the pan.
2. Prepare the turkey (you can also ask your butcher to do this): Using sturdy kitchen shears, remove the backbone from the turkey, carefully cutting all the way from tail end to neck on either side. Place the turkey skin-side up on a cutting board, opened like a book. Press down on the center of the breast to crack the sternum and flatten the bird (this will take muscle). Save the back, tail piece and neck to make gravy.
3. Separate the skin from the breast meat: Lift the skin flap at the bottom of the breasts, slowly working your way up the bird, gently pulling the skin (be careful not to tear) away from the meat.
4. In a bowl, combine the butter, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, garlic and lemon, mixing until evenly combined to form an herb spread. Rub the herb spread evenly under the skin and over the skin of the bird.
5. Place the turkey, skin-side up, on the rack, tucking the wing tips under the breasts. Position the bird so the legs and wings are contained in the pan so they don’t drip onto the oven while the turkey cooks.
6. Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue roasting until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast and thigh reaches 160 degrees, an additional 50 to 80 minutes (timing will vary depending on the size of the bird). Rotate the turkey every half hour or so for even roasting. If any part of the turkey browns too quickly, tent that part with foil.
7. Remove the turkey from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before carving.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pears and Black Forest Ham
50 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.
3 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
4 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Forelle or similar sweet firm pears, cored and sliced
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, ham, 6 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper, or to taste. Spread the sprouts in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Tuck in the sliced pears right before roasting.
3. Roast, uncovered, until the sprouts are caramelized and tender, 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes or so for even coloring.
4. While the sprouts are roasting, in a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons oil along with the vinegar, syrup and mustard.
5. Remove the sprouts from the oven and drizzle over the sauce, tossing to combine. Spoon the vegetables into a serving dish to serve.
Hasselback Potatoes with Garlic And Rosemary
About 1 hour, 15 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.
4 pounds new potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Prepare the potatoes: Place the potatoes, one at a time, on a spoon or on a cutting board between a pair of chopsticks. Slice the potatoes crosswise every 1/8-inch, cutting until you reach the spoon or chopsticks (these will prevent you from slicing through the potatoes completely). Gently fan the potatoes out on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
3. In a small bowl, toss the olive oil with the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle the mixture over the potatoes, making sure to coat the slices.
4. Roast the potatoes until golden-brown and tender, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and serve warm.
1 hour, 45 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Reserved turkey neck, back and tail, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 large stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
4 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup flour
Salt and pepper
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Stir in the turkey pieces, turning until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stirring until softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cooking until it darkens, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, scraping any flavoring from the bottom and sides of the pan. Add the broth, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and very gently simmer for 45 minutes to make your stock.
3. Remove from heat and strain the stock into a large measuring cup, preferably fitted with a fat separator, discarding the solids. Skim and discard the fat from the stock.
4. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring to form a roux. Slowly add the stock, whisking to incorporate it with the roux and prevent any lumps. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and the gravy is reduced to about 6 cups, 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.