Up With Turkey

This Thanksgiving, don’t let your turkey lay down on the job. Make it stand up and fly (er, cook) right. Yes, cook your turkey standing up.

Vertical turkeys cook much faster than those lie-down birds. They’re incredibly juicy. And carving is a cinch.

What’s the secret?  The Spanek vertical roaster. And if you use a Weber-style kettle grill instead of a conventional oven, you may end up with the best turkey you’ve ever had.

The Spanek vertical roaster is a metal frame that looks like a rough approximation of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, Anna Spanek was a cook in Paris when she created it. But it didn’t take off until her son Denis began to market it aggressively.

The turkey, sans stuffing (except for a small amount in the neck cavity), sits right on the roaster, legs forward and wings akimbo, as if it were about to do a strut in the Macy’s parade. That’s all there is to it. No trussing. No basting.

The metal frame conducts the heat so well, the turkey cooks inside and out simultaneously. This sears in juices. You’ll notice that when you cook a turkey this way, there will be virtually no juices in the drip pan below, only a small amount of fat. The juices are in the bird, where they’re supposed to be. This is especially important for that all-too-often dry breast meat.

Because the turkey cooks inside and out at the same time, cooking time is faster. With the Spanek Grill, a 15-pound turkey takes 2 to 2 ½ hours in the oven or on a kettle grill (vs. 3 1/2 hours cooked conventionally in an oven and three hours lying down on the grill).

Want more turkey? Instead of a 30-pound hulk, which takes so long to cook you should have started already, cook two 15-pound birds instead. It will take about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours in the oven or on a gas-fired grill. An added advantage of the two-bird system is that you have twice as many drumsticks, twice and many wings and, let’s hope, fewer fights.

When it comes to carving on Thanksgiving, most turkeys look as if they were victims of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But carving a stand-up bird is much easier. The breast, which comes off easily in two large pieces, doesn’t fall apart when you slice it because it has so much moisture in it.

One final benefit of cooking your turkey on a vertical roaster in a kettle grill: You can set it and forget it. Light the fire, put in the bird, then, weather permitting, go play nine holes of golf. (Sorry, it cooks too fast for a full round.) Or stay home and watch football on television. But NO PEEKING!  Lift that lid and the temperature in the grill plummets.

Here’s how to go vertical on the grill, step by step, with your Thanksgiving turkey.

STEP ONE: Place a 22-inch Weber type kettle grill in a non-drafty location. Remove the top grill grate and bottom grill grate. Line the inside bottom half of the kettle with foil, making sure bottom vents are not covered. Put back the bottom grill grate. You will not use the top grill grate. Line three bricks, no more than 2 1/2 inches thick, down the middle of the grate, perpendicular to the straight leg of the grill. For smaller grills, use thin quarry tiles instead of bricks to allow the grill lid to close securely without touching the turkey (a clearance of about 11 inches).

STEP TWO: Line a deep-dish pizza pan with foil or have a disposable foil pan large enough to accommodate your turkey.  Spray the vertical roaster with vegetable spray (makes for easier cleanup).

Get your seasonings ready. (When working with raw poultry, it’s always a good idea to have everything you need, not just seasoning, out ahead of time. This minimizes contamination from touching surfaces with hands that have worked with raw poultry. Always wash hands thoroughly with soapy water after working with raw poultry.)

You’ll need about 1/4 cup of whatever poultry seasoning you like. Something as simple as salt, pepper and minced fresh sage or crumbled dry sage leaves (not powder) is fine. Rosemary and thyme are also good. Or use an all-purpose seasoning mix such as herbes de Provence. Set out some paprika as well.

STEP THREE: Remove giblets and neck from a 15-pound turkey. Cut off the tail (which helps the turkey sit lower in the pan) the tips from the wings. Use all as directed below for turkey gravy.

Thoroughly combine the seasonings (except the paprika) with a stick of softened butter. Rub inside of turkey with 1/3 to 1/2 of the seasoned butter. Loosen the skin and spread the remaining seasoned butter under the skin all around the bird. Spray outside of the turkey with vegetable spray and sprinkle with paprika. Set turkey on the Spanek roaster. The top of the roaster should pop through the neck cavity. Push the bird down until it does. Legs should be in front. Secure the wings to the side of the breast with a thin skewer or trussing needle. wings can also be covered with foil to prevent excess browning.

If desired, put stuffing in the neck cavity until full but not too tight. Cover with the flap of skin and, if desired, secure with a trussing needle. (This amount of stuffing will serve only three or four people. Bake the remaining stuffing for about 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.)

STEP FOUR: Put the vertical turkey in its pan on the bricks in the grill. Put the lid on to make sure it closes securely. If not, push the turkey down farther or cut off a small portion of neck that protrudes from the top of the turkey. (This step is vitally important.)

Remove the turkey and heat 60 briquettes until hot (I like to use a chimney.) Put 30 briquettes on either side of the bricks on the bottom grill grate.

STEP FIVE: Put the turkey in its pan on the bricks. Close the lid securely and make sure all vents, top and bottom, are wide open. Don’t touch that lid for two hours and 15 minutes

STEP SIX: Remove turkey when an instant read thermometer placed in the deepest part of its thigh registers 165 degrees. (The temperature will rise as much as 15 degrees while the turkey rests before carving.). If the turkey is not fully cooked, put it in a 400-degree oven until it reaches the appropriate temperature, or put it back into the grill if the coals are still hot.

Lift the vertical roaster (with the turkey still on it) using the blunt side of a chef’s knife and place on a carving board. Wrap loosely with foil and let it rest 15-20 minutes. (Finish or reheat your side dishes during this time.) Carve the turkey, saving any juices to moisten the meat (especially the breast meat) on a serving platter.

OVEN METHOD: Follow steps two and three while preheating the oven to 450 degrees. Cook 30 minutes at 450. Lower heat to 350 and cook 1 3/4 hours longer. Then follow STEP SIX.

TWO TURKEY METHOD: Prepare two 15-pound turkeys as in steps Two and Three. Put in separate pans or in one large pan. Before you begin cooking, make sure the grill is large enough to accommodate both turkeys.

Whether cooking in a conventional oven or large gas grill, cook on high (450 degrees) for 30 minutes. Turn heat to medium (350 degrees). Cook for 1 3/4 to 2 hours more for a total cooking time of 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove turkeys, check to make sure they are fully cooked as above, and let rest 15 minutes (loosely covering with foil) before carving. (In some gas grills, it may be necessary to cover the very top of the turkeys with foil for the last hour to prevent excess browning.)


  • Turkey giblets, tail, neck and wing tips
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 quarts canned, low-fat, low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • Salt to taste

1)Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Briefly rinse and pat dry the giblets, tail, neck and wing tips.

2)Put all the turkey parts except the liver in a roasting pan with the vegetables. Roast in the oven until browned, about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.

3)Put the roasting pan on top of the stove and add the wine and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring the bottom with a wooden spoon to scrap up any bits on the bottom. Put the contents of the roasting pan into a small stockpot with the bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, skim any scum from the surface, reduce the heat and simmer 2 to 3 hours. Strain (you should have about a quart of stock), reserving meat. Keep stock hot.

4)Meanwhile, fry the liver in one tablespoon of butter until firm but slightly pink inside. Chop the liver and other giblets and set aside. Heat the remaining butter in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add flour and cook until nutty brown, stirring frequently with a whisk. Add hot stock and whisk thoroughly until gravy comes back to a boil.  Simmer until gravy thickens, about 10 minutes. Add giblets. Season with salt. (If you want a meatier gravy, you can add shreds of meat from the neck.)

5)If the gravy is too thin, add a mix of softened butter and flour, a teaspoonful at a time. If it’s too thick, add more stock. You can also flavor the gravy with 1/4 cup Madeira, Port or Sherry. Makes 2 cups.


1.  Where the drumstick meets the thigh, push the leg down and away from the body of the turkey.

2.  Cut through the joint where the thigh is attached to the body, and remove the leg and thigh.  Separate the thigh from the drumstick.

3.  To remove the neck cavity, cut just below the neck, following the line of the wishbone. Remove the cup that contains the stuffing.

4.  Remove the wings. Cut down one side of the breastbone and across the ribs, pulling down the breast half.  Repeat with the other side.

5.  Put breast half on cutting board, cut side down. Hold top of breast with your hand or a fork. Slice thinly, cutting away from you.

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