How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Here, a step-by-step guide that breaks down the easy technique.

September 08, 2021
Thanksgiving Cookbook and Cover

Thanksgiving Cookbook and Cover

Photo by: RYAN DAUSCH

RYAN DAUSCH

There are about a million ways to dress and cook a holiday turkey. In the end, they all have the same goal: juicy, flavorful turkey meat with golden, crispy skin. Spatchcocking (or butterflying) your turkey is a non-gimmicky way to get you to turkey perfection, fast. The technique involves removing the backbone and flattening the bird for cooking. This method is especially common for cooking chicken, but we think it’s worth it for turkey, too. Although the name may sound complicated, the technique is not. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Is Spatchcocking a Turkey Better?

Spatchcocking requires a bit of extra work before you get into cooking, but that extra effort results in a seriously succulent turkey.

One of the more enticing benefits is the reduced cooking time. We’ve all been there: a full table of hungry Thanksgiving guests, waiting hours and hours for the turkey to finally finish cooking. Spatchcocking removes all of that pressure, cooking a turkey in almost half the time as the conventional turkey-cooking methods.

Next are the flavor and texture benefits. The most difficult part of cooking a turkey is ensuring even cooking. It is an all-too-familiar mistake to cut into your turkey, only to realize that the breast meat (which cooks under the direct heat of the oven) dried out before the leg and thigh meat on the underside of the bird had a chance to finish cooking. Spatchcocking ensures even cooking and browning since the entirety of the skin and meat are exposed to even heat. Plus, with that shorter cooking time, you are especially guaranteed to have juicy, perfectly cooked turkey meat.

Another perk of this method is easier carving. A whole turkey makes for a show-stopping presentation at the table, but carving is another story. It can get messy and confusing quickly, and many people end up with more meat left on the bones than on the serving platter. Starting with a flat turkey is so much simpler: your knife will be able to easily move around the bird to get as much meat off the bones as possible.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Now that you know how beneficial this method is, let’s get into the steps.

What You’ll Need

  • One 12 to 14 pound turkey
  • Paper towels
  • Kitchen shears or a very sharp boning knife (or both!)
  • Large cutting board
  • Baking sheet with a wire rack
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Butter or olive oil
  • Meat thermometer

Step One: Dry Off the Turkey

Discard the turkey’s plastic packaging and remove the giblets from the cavity (they will likely be in a bag). Pat the turkey dry all over with paper towels, letting the juices from the bird briefly absorb into the paper towel. As is true with all meat, the drier you can get the surface of the skin, the crispier the skin will get as it cooks.

Step Two: Cut Along One Side of the Backbone

Lay the turkey on your cutting board with the breast facedown and the backbone facing up. Locate the backbone, then cut along one side of it using kitchen shears or a very sharp boning knife, starting at the tail end. If you have a sharp boning knife, it is helpful to run the knife along the spine, puncturing the skin down to the bone before cutting through with the kitchen shears. You will be cutting through cartilage and bones: don’t be afraid to put a little muscle into it.

Step Three: Cut Along the Other Side of the Backbone and Remove It

Cut along the other side of the spine and remove the backbone. Save the backbone to help flavor your gravy.

Step Four: Flatten the Bird

Turn the turkey over on the cutting board so the cut side is on the board and the breast side is facing up. Using both of your hands, press down on the bird forcefully until you hear the crack of the wishbone and the turkey rests flat on the cutting board. Transfer the turkey, breast side up, to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack.

Step Five: Season the Turkey

Season the turkey all over with salt (about 1/4 cup should do the trick) and pepper and refrigerate the turkey for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Resist the urge to cover the turkey with foil or plastic wrap; the cool air in the fridge will dry the skin even further, resulting in the crispiest skin possible.

How to Cook and Carve a Spatchcocked Turkey

Now that you’ve spatchcocked and dry-brined your turkey overnight, it’s time to start cooking! Here’s what to do.

Step One: Bring the Turkey to Room Temperature

Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and let it rest on the counter for about 30 minutes, allowing the chill to come off and the turkey to come to room temperature. Cooking meat at room temperature ensures quicker and more even cooking, and that is especially what we want with turkey. When you take it out of the fridge, you’ll notice that the salt has essentially melted into the surface of the turkey – that is exactly what you are looking for. It's a sign that the salt has seeped into the turkey, flavoring all the meat, not just the surface.

Step Two: Dry off the Bird Again

You might also notice that moisture has beaded on the skin. As the salt is absorbed into the meat, it also pulls out moisture. Dry off the bird one more time before it goes into the oven. If you’d like, you can brush the bird with some olive oil or butter.

Step Three: Roast the Turkey

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Pour a couple cups of water into the baking sheet, or a can of beer. The moisture will steam as the turkey cooks, making for ultra-juicy meat. Roast until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 160 degrees F, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes.

Step Four: Let the Turkey Rest

We know you’ll want to get into your gorgeous turkey right away, but let it rest for about 30 minutes before you carve. After the turkey cooks, it needs some time to let the juices settle. If you cut it right away, all the juices will escape from the meat, taking away the moisture you want.

Step Five: Meanwhile, Make Some Gravy

Pour the pan drippings into a fat separator; discard the fat. Then add the drippings to a large skillet and boil until reduced by half. Whisk in a couple tablespoons of butter; season with salt to taste.

Step Six: Carve the Turkey

After it has rested, transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board. Start by carving out the thighs and drumsticks and then separate the two. Carve the meat off both and transfer to a serving platter. Then, cut the breast meat off the bone, and cut into slices for easy serving. After that, remove the wings and add to the serving platter (or take a taste from these small pieces- we won’t tell anyone!). Save the carcass for stocks and soups, perfect for repurposing all those leftovers. Finally, enjoy your crispy, juicy, tender turkey!

Spatchcocked Turkey Recipes

The most exciting part of this unexpected method is that it opens the door for all kinds of adaptations, like grilling the turkey or giving it a surprise barbecue spice. Check out some of our favorite spatchcock turkey recipes below.

Who says the grill is only for summertime? Fire it up for this simple, yet oh-so-delicious grilled turkey recipe. Added bonus: by utilizing the grill, you’re freeing up precious oven space that is always needed for Thanksgiving sides.

Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition, but the same seasonings and recipes year after year can get a little boring. Do something unexpected this year and give your turkey a burst of barbecue flavor. That smokey-sweet taste will instantly jazz up the entire Thanksgiving table.

Turkey that has been spatchcocked and prepared with herbs, sage, and butter, as seen on Food Network's Worst Cooks in America, Holiday House Call Special.

Photo by: Chris Amaral ©©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Chris Amaral, ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Warm fall flavors like sage, cinnamon and apples give this traditional recipe that taste-of-home we all associate with the holidays. The classic flavor profile goes even further with a crisp, juicy bird that can only be achieved by butterflying the turkey.

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