Want to maximize your crispy turkey skin, have the most evenly cooked white and dark meat possible, or roast your turkey in a fraction of the time? Spatchcock Turkey is the way!
Spatchcocking is a method of preparing a turkey by removing its backbone and spreading it flat for cooking.
Also called “butterflying,” spatchcocking is a common preparation method for chicken, and it works fantastically for turkey too.
Benefits of Spatchcocking
While Classic Roast Turkey looks the most Norman Rockwell-esque on a platter, spatchcocking turkey has serious advantages over whole roast turkey.
- More Surface Area for Crispy Skin. Since the bird is laid flat, all of the skin is on the top, where it’s more directly exposed to heat, giving you more golden, crispy skin.
- Even Cooking for White and Dark Meat. When a whole turkey is roasted, the lean breast meat is fully exposed, while the dark meat in the legs is comparatively protected. This means it’s very easy for the breast to dry out. With spatchcock turkey, white and dark meat cook more evenly.
- Faster. A 12-to 14-pound spatchcock turkey roasts in about 1 hour. That’s 75% faster than classic roast turkey!
Not only would many meat perfectionists argue that spatchcocking turkey is worth it for the juicy, even cooking and crispy skin, but they’d also tell you it’s the absolute BEST way to cook turkey, period.
Tools You’ll Need
Before getting started, you’ll need a few tools to successfully spatchcock a turkey.
- Poultry Shears. These are ESSENTIAL. Even the sharpest chef’s knife would be a struggle to cut out the backbone (and dangerous too). Note that poultry shears are different than kitchen shears.
- Big Rimmed Baking Sheet. When picking your turkey size, consider what pan you will cook it on. A 12-pound turkey is the largest that can fit on a standard half sheet pan. A 16-pounder will barely fit on an oversized sheet pan (I have two of these and love them for Oven Roasted Vegetables).
- Instant Read Thermometer. THE most important tool to make sure you don’t overcook your turkey. For more tips on how to use a meat thermometer to check your turkey, see How Long to Cook a Turkey.
How to Spatchcock Turkey
Cooking a juicy spatchcock turkey is easier than you think, even if this is your first time!
Follow these steps (which also include step-by-step photos), and check out our spatchcock turkey video at the end.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Brine the Turkey
Brining turkey is one of the most important steps to ensuring that you have juicy meat that is flavored all the way through, not just on the outside.
- You can use either a Wet Brine or Dry Brine for spatchcock turkey (if you are short on time, the wet brine works more quickly, in as few as 12 hours; for dry brine, allow 24 hours).
- I prefer to brine the turkey before spatchcocking it, though you can spatchcock it first if you prefer.
- Once your turkey is brined, pat it dry with paper towels to help the skin crisp.
Spatchcocking Turkey, Step-by-Step
Step 1: Cut Up One Side of the Backbone
- Use poultry shears and work in small snips (the shears will not glide).
- Start at the tail end and work your way up around the thigh joint towards the neck.
- Hold the bird firmly with your non-cutting hand and be careful to keep it out of the way.
- You’ll be cutting through the rib bones, so use firm pressure and expect to hear cracks.
- Be careful!
Step 2: Cut Up the Other Side of the Backbone and Remove
- Repeat on the other side of the backbone.
- Pull the backbone away; discard or save for Turkey Gravy.
Step 3: Flatten the Turkey
- Flip the turkey over and pull the legs away from the breastbone.
- Place your palms FIRMLY in the center of the turkey breast and press down hard. Really put your weight into it!
- Repeat, pressing firmly again and again (think turkey CPR). The turkey will flatten and you’ll hear the breast bone crack. The sound of success!
- Pull the legs and thighs away from the center even more, so it lays as flat as possible.
- YOU JUST SPATCHCOCKED A TURKEY! Great job!
Cook the Turkey
You can cook spatchcock turkey on the grill, in a smoker, or roast it in the oven.
Below covers cooking spatchcock turkey in the oven, since this is the most common method (and most of us don’t have a Traeger!).
Flavoring the Turkey
An excellent way to flavor turkey is with herb butter.
- Mixed softened butter with garlic, fresh rosemary or thyme, salt, and butter.
- Rub the butter under the turkey skin and on top for max flavor penetration and juiciness.
From there, adding aromatics like apples, carrots, celery, and fresh herbs to the roasting pan will perfume the turkey as it cooks, as well as add flavor to the drippings.
Oven Cooking Times and Temperatures
Spatchcock turkey is ideal for high-temperature cooking.
- Start the turkey at 450 degrees F for 30 minutes to get the skin nice and crispy.
- Reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F. Continue cooking until the turkey registers at least 150 degrees F in the breast and 160 degrees F in the thigh, about 30 to 45 minutes more.
- The thigh will likely be done before the breasts. Don’t worry! The thigh can stand up to longer cooking times and be at a higher internal temperature while staying moist and juicy.
How long it takes to roast a spatchcock turkey will vary based on your turkey size, as well as if your oven runs hot.
- A 12-pound or smaller bird will cook in 1 hour or less.
- A 14-pound bird will cook in 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
- A 16-pound bird will cook in 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.
Check the turkey’s temperature 1 hour into the roasting time to gauge its progress, earlier if your bird weighs less than 12 pounds.
Serving the Turkey
The one (maybe only) downside of spatchcock turkey is you don’t have the dramatic moment of setting the whole turkey on the table.
GREAT OPTION: Carve the turkey, arrange it beautifully on a serving platter, then present the platter instead.
- Your guests will still ooohh and ahhhh at its beauty.
- When they taste the succulent meat and crispy skin, they’ll never want you to cook a turkey any other way!
Spatchcock turkey is very similar to carving a whole turkey. See How to Carve a Turkey for a step-by-step guide, including a video tutorial.
Spatchcock Turkey Side Dishes
- Potatoes. From Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole to Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes, you can’t go wrong with this side dish option.
- Vegetables. Your guests will love Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Carrots, or Roasted Fingerling Potatoes.
- Stuffing. A classic! Chestnut Stuffing and Cornbread Stuffing are both delicious.
- Cranberry Sauce. Cranberry Orange Sauce is our favorite!
- Salad. Winter Slaw and Apple Walnut Salad are beautiful and tasty options.
- Bread. Rosemary Olive Oil Bread or Drop Biscuits would be a hit.
- Casserole. Crockpot Green Bean Casserole is always a crowd-pleaser, and Butternut Squash Casserole is a fun, unexpected side dish.
Not seeing what you want? Check out my plethora of Thanksgiving Side Dishes for more ideas.
- To Store. Refrigerate turkey meat in an airtight storage container or ziptop bag for up to 4 days. To keep the meat from drying out, drizzle a little of the turkey pan drippings or broth over the top before you place it in the refrigerator.
- To Reheat. Wrap turkey meat in an aluminum foil pouch, sealing the edges. Add a drizzle of turkey drippings or broth to keep the meat moist. Warm the pouch in a baking dish in the oven at 300 degrees F.
- To Freeze. Freeze turkey in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, chop the aromatics (minus the apples). Refrigerate them in an airtight storage container until you’re ready to cook the turkey.
Spatchcocking turkey is a fun project that will make you feel accomplished.
The juicy meat, crispy skin, and fast cook time make it worth it every time!
Frequently Asked Questions
In my opinion, using a knife to spatchcock a turkey leaves too much room for error. No one wants to start off their Thanksgiving meal with a cut finger. You can technically spatchcock a turkey with a knife if you don’t have shears, but I’d recommend avoiding this by asking the butcher to remove the backbone for you instead.
While you can slow roast a spatchcock turkey, I wouldn’t recommend it. The higher oven temperatures used in this spatchcock turkey recipe help seal in the moisture and create a crispy skin.
If you’re one of the lucky ones with the ability to smoke your Thanksgiving turkey, I think using this spatchcock method is ideal. Just like its benefits in the oven, a spatchcocked turkey will cook faster and generally more evenly than one that isn’t. However, both methods will result in a delicious, flavorful turkey, so you can’t go wrong!
In general, plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person, more if you want leftovers. See How Much Turkey Per Person for more.
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- 1 12- to 14-pound turkey* see wet Turkey Brine and Dry Brine Turkey for recipes
- 2 to 3 medium carrots scrubbed and coarsely chopped
- 2 stalks celery coarsely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 red apple cut into 1-inch wedges (no need to core or peel)
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme or a mix of sage, thyme, and rosemary
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 3 cloves garlic minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or sage
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
SPATCHCOCK THE TURKEY:
- Pat the Turkey Dry (if needed): If your turkey hasn't already been drying uncovered in the refrigerator, use paper towels to pat it dry.
- Cut up one side of the backbone – Place the turkey on a cutting board, turning it breast-side down. Place one hand firmly on top of the turkey to hold it in place. With very sharp poultry shears in your other hand, snip along one side of the turkey's backbone, starting where the bone meets the tail (or you can start at the neck and work your way down—both directions work). This will take some persistence and practice (I find small snips work better than long cuts; if it’s helpful, use your hands to pull the backbone away from the turkey too). Continue snipping, working your way along the turkey's back. Cut through every rib bone, until you reach the other end.
- Cut up the other side of the backbone and remove – Now that you have a cut in the turkey, pull it open slightly so you can get more leverage. Snip up and along the other side of the backbone, repeating the cut you did on the other side. Watch your fingers. If the turkey is slippery, use a dry towel to hold it in place. Pull the backbone away; save it for Turkey Gravy if you like, or discard it. Cut away the large flap of fat by the neck and discard; cut away the loose tail portion between the legs and discard or save for gravy.
- Crack the breast plate and flatten – Turn the turkey over and splay its legs open like a book. Place both hands firmly in the center of the turkey's breast and press down HARD on the center bone—really put some oomph into it (you are strong and can do it!). You may need to repeat this several times (think aggressive turkey CPR). You will hear cracks and the turkey will flatten out. Pull the legs and thighs outward to flatten it even more. CONGRATS! You spatchcocked a turkey!
COOK THE SPATCHCOCK TURKEY:
- Preheat the oven and prep the pan – Place a rack in the center of your oven (make sure other racks are positioned so you have room for the turkey) and preheat to 450 degrees F (for conventional baking) or 425 degrees F (for convection). Line a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the turkey flat with aluminum foil. Scatter the carrots, celery, onion, apple, and thyme springs over it evenly. Set an oven-safe rack on top.
- Rub the turkey with herb butter – In a medium bowl, mash the butter together with the garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to gently loosen the skin of the turkey from the flesh, starting at the top of the breast and working your way down around both breast halves and the thighs (it feels weird, but really get in there; be persistent and gentle and the skin will come loose). Grab the butter by fingerfuls and rub it under the skin all over the meat. Then, rub the outsides of the turkey skin to even out the butter.
- Roast the turkey at a high temperature for 30 minutes – Lay the turkey out flat on top of the rack set on the prepared baking sheet. If your turkey hasn’t brined at least 12 hours (for a wet brine) or 24 hours (for a dry brine), sprinkle it all over with a few pinches of kosher salt and grinds of black pepper (if it has brined completely, no need to salt it more). Roast for 30 minutes. The skin should be getting nice and crisp.
- Reduce the oven temperature – After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F (for conventional) or 375 degrees F (for convection). Continue roasting until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers at least 160 degrees F and up to 180 degrees F (thigh meat is harder to overcook and usually finishes 20 to 30 minutes earlier than the breast) and the breast is at least 150 degrees F (and no more than 160 degrees F) – per the FDA, turkey is considered cooked at 165 degrees F, but its temperature will rise as it rests. DO NOT OVERCOOK THE TURKEY. Once or twice during cooking, rotate the turkey 180 degrees so it roasts more evenly. Check the turkey temperature 1 hour into roasting to monitor its progress; if your bird is on the smaller side or your oven is running hot, it may be close to done. Note that each time you open the oven, you lose a good amount of heat, so depending on how frequently you are checking, this can extend your cook time.
- Let the turkey rest – Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest at least 15 minutes. Use the pan drippings to make Turkey Gravy, or simply serve the turkey with the pan juices and schmaltzy veggies (this is what we do; the turkey is so moist, you don't need gravy).
- Carve and bask in the glory! If you'd like to arrange the turkey for presentation purposes, you can carve it, arrange the slices on a serving platter and bring it to the table in a dramatic fashion. Or simply leave the carved meat on the board and let guests help themselves. WAY TO GO!
TURKEY SIZE: While you can technically spatchcock a turkey of any size, 12 pounds is the maximum that will fit on a standard half sheet pan; 16 pounds will fit very tightly on an oversized sheet pan (a pan this size is also great for big batches of roasted vegetables). For a larger crowd, consider cooking 2 smaller turkeys. Or you can look for an industrial-sized roasting pan at a restaurant supply store or online (be sure it will fit in your oven).
- TO STORE: Refrigerate turkey meat in an airtight storage container or ziptop bag for up to 4 days. To keep the meat from drying out, drizzle a little of the turkey pan drippings or broth over the top before you place it in the refrigerator.
- TO REHEAT: Wrap turkey meat in an aluminum foil pouch, sealing the edges. Add a drizzle of turkey drippings or broth to keep the meat moist. Warm the pouch in a baking dish in the oven at 300 degrees F.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze turkey in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- Nutrition information was calculated for 1 14-pound turkey with herb butter.
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