Learn how to spatchcock a turkey with this step-by-step guide. Butterflying the bird evenly cooks the meat while cutting roasting time significantly. Try this method if you like golden brown, crispy skin, and juicy slices!
Table of Contents
- What is spatchcocking?
- Why should you spatchcock a turkey?
- Turkey size
- How to spatchcock a turkey
- Step #1: Dry the turkey
- Step #2: Remove the backbone
- Step #3: Flatten the turkey
- Step #5: Prepare the roasting pan
- Step #6: Season the turkey
- Step #7: Roast the turkey
- Save those drippings!
- Serve this with
- Frequently asked questions
- Spatchcock Turkey Recipe
It’s a Thanksgiving tradition to present hungry guests with a stunning, whole-roasted turkey. However, there are other ways to cook a turkey for flavorful, tender, and juicy pieces. Spatchcocking, or butterflying the bird, offers the home cook many benefits.
Removing the backbone, so the turkey lays flat in the pan allows for even exposure to the oven’s heat. This eliminates the stress of ending up with dry pieces and constantly monitoring the doneness of the light and dark meat. The roasted turkey will be ready from start to finish in less than 2-hours. This frees up oven space for various side dishes and gives you more time to relax with family and friends. A win-win!
What is spatchcocking?
It’s simply cutting the long backbone out of the turkey, then pressing down on the breastbone, breaking it to help the bird lay flat. It takes a little effort upfront, but the right tools make the job easy.
The backbone can be cut out using a sharp chef’s knife. However, I recommend investing in poultry shears. The elongated serrated steel blades make it a lot easier to cut through the bone.
Why should you spatchcock a turkey?
With the turkey opened up and laid out flat, several benefits exist. The breast, thighs, legs, and wings are on the same plane. This means even exposure of the skin and meat to the heat in the oven. No more pale, flabby skin or overcooked meat! It’s all golden brown and crispy. I usually flip over my turkey partway through roasting to achieve this same result. No need for that!
Using high heat of 450ºF (232ºC) quickly cooks the turkey, and a shorter cooking time ensures that the turkey stays moist and juicy, especially the breast meat. I do this technique often to spatchcock a chicken for weeknight dinners; it’s speedy and delicious!
Spatchcocking works best with different types of turkey between 12 to 14 pounds in weight. This range is due to being able to fit the entire bird in the roasting pan or sheet pan once it’s flattened and splayed out.
If you plan on going with an enormous bird, use a traditional turkey recipe for roasting it whole. Alternatively, the method is quick enough to roast two smaller turkeys. In case you buy a frozen bird, here’s how to thaw a turkey.
How to spatchcock a turkey
When making this spatchcock turkey recipe, you’ll need a few ingredients and tools to keep the process efficient and safe.
- 12 to 14-pound turkey: Any larger and won’t fit in the pan.
- Cutting Board: Secure the board, so it’s sturdy and doesn’t move around.
- Paper towels: To dry the surface.
- Poultry Shears: It makes cutting through the bone quick and easy. A sharp chef’s knife is a good alternative, but take your time!
- Pan: Large-rimmed sheet pan with a wire rack or roasting pan. It’s okay if the legs go over slightly.
Step #1: Dry the turkey
Use paper towels to dry the surface and cavity of the turkey. This prevents the bird from moving around as you cut. Drying the inside prevents as much mess once it’s opened up. Remove the neck and giblets. This can be used to make a stock or added to flavor turkey gravy.
Step #2: Remove the backbone
Place the turkey on the cutting board, breast side down. Starting at the tail end, firmly hold the turkey with the opposite end to secure it. Use poultry shears to cut along one side of the backbone through the rib bones, avoiding the thigh bone until you reach the neck.
Carefully repeat the cutting process along the other side of the backbone until it’s completely removed. Use your hands to open up the turkey. Trim off any excess skin.
Step #3: Flatten the turkey
Turn the butterflied turkey over with the breast side facing up. Grab the turkey legs and turn them so they are spread out. Place both hands on top of the ridge of the breastbone. Forcefully push down, and you’ll hear a crack or two. This breaks the bone so that the turkey lays flatter. Now, tuck the wing tips back.
Congrats! You just spatchcocked a turkey. Easy right? Now you can brine the turkey for extra flavor if it’s not already basted. I like to dry brine the turkey on a sheet pan in the refrigerator for one day to make the surface more crispy before roasting. If not, move on to the next step.
Step #5: Prepare the roasting pan
I prefer to use a large-rimmed sheet pan to roast the turkey so it lays out the flattest. However, a large roasting pan works well too. Line it with foil, then scatter a mirepoix of onions, carrots, celery, smashed garlic, and thyme.
The moisture from the vegetables will prevent the drippings from scorching. The caramelized vegetables can also be served as a side dish or added to a soup! Place a wire rack on top of the vegetables.
Step #6: Season the turkey
Dry the surface of the turkey with paper towels to wick up any moisture from the turkey juices. Place it on the sheet pan with the underside facing up. Brush melted butter or olive oil over the interior, then season with kosher salt and pepper.
Flip the bird over, brush with butter, and season the skin. Ensure the turkey legs are splayed out, and the bird fits as tightly within the pan as possible. It’s okay for the legs to go over slightly.
Step #7: Roast the turkey
Roast the turkey in the center of the oven at 450ºF (232ºC). After 30 minutes, rotate the turkey for even cooking. Continue to cook until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 155 to 160 degrees, and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees to 170 degrees. This will take about 70 to 80 minutes, depending on the size of the turkey.
Rest uncovered for 20 minutes to allow any carryover cooking in the meat. Carve the turkey similarly as you would for a whole bird. It’s easier to cut because the bones are lying flat!
Save those drippings!
Aside from the delicious roasted vegetables from this recipe, you can use the turkey drippings to make an amazing homemade gravy in just 15 minutes.
Serve this with
- Orange cranberry sauce
- Classic stuffing
- Cornbread dressing
- Mashed potatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Sweet potato casserole
- Buttermilk biscuits
Frequently asked questions
In the long run, removing the backbone and butterflying the turkey will save you time. Laying the bird flat with the breast and thighs exposed evenly browns the skin, cooks the meat quickly, and makes for juicy pieces.
If doing a wet brine, brine the whole turkey first. For a dry brine, spatchcock first, then dry-brine in the refrigerator. This will also give a crispier skin.
At 450ºF (232ºC), it takes between 70 to 80 minutes to cook a 12 to 14-pound spatchcocked turkey.
Should I spatchcock my turkey the night before?
You can spatchcock the turkey the night before. This can provide several taste advantages. Storing flat on a sheet pan on a wire rack, uncovered, in the refrigerator dries the surface, making the skin crispier. You could also dry-brine the butterflied turkey in the fridge for an even more flavorful taste and crunchier skin.
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- 12 pound turkey, up to 14 pounds
- 2 cups diced yellow onion, cut into 1" dice
- 2 cups carrots, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
- 2 cups celery, cut into 1" pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- ¼ cup melted unsalted butter, or olive oil
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Dry the Turkey – Use paper towels to dry the surface and cavity of the turkey. Remove the neck and giblets, and reserve if using for gravy.
- Remove the Backbone – Place the turkey on a cutting board, breast-side down. Starting at the tail end, firmly hold the turkey to secure it. Use poultry shears to cut along one side of the backbone through the rib bones, avoiding the thigh bone, until you reach the neck.Carefully repeat the cutting process along the other side of the backbone until completely removed. Use your hands to open up the turkey. Trim off any excess skin.
- Flatten the Turkey – Turn the butterflied turkey over with the breast-side facing up. Grab the legs and turn them so they are splaying out. Place both hands on top of the ridge of the breastbone. Forcefully push down until you hear a crack or two. This breaks the bone so that the turkey lays flatter. Tuck the wing tips back.
- Prepare the Pan – Line a large-rimmed sheet pan with foil. Alternatively, use a large roasting pan. Scatter the onions, carrots, celery, smashed garlic, and thyme on the pan. Place a wire rack on top of the vegetables. No rack is needed for a roasting pan, or a V-rack can be used.
- Season the Meat – In a small bowl, combine the salt and pepper, and set aside. Dry the surface of the turkey with paper towels to wick up any moisture. Place the turkey on top of the wire rack with the underside facing up. Brush melted butter or olive oil over the surface, then season with kosher salt and pepper.Flip the turkey over. Make sure the legs are splayed out and the bird fits tightly within the pan. It's okay for the legs to go over slightly. Brush with butter, and season the skin with salt and pepper. You do not need to use all of the seasoning mixture.
- Roast the Turkey – Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat to 450ºF (232ºC). Roast the turkey for 30 minutes, then rotate the pan for even cooking. Roast until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 155 to 160ºF (68 to 71ºC), and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC). This will take about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on the size.Rest uncovered for 20 minutes to allow carryover cooking in the meat. Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl. The turkey drippings can be discarded or used to make gravy. Carve the turkey and serve.
- Using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt: This recipe was developed with Morton Coarse Kosher salt. Increase the amount by 50% for Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- For Crispier Skin: Lay the spatchcocked turkey on a sheet pan on top of a wire rack overnight, uncovered in the refrigerator.
- For More Seasoned Meat: Dry-brine the spatchcocked turkey overnight on top of a sheet pan on a wire rack uncovered in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours before roasting.
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7 Comments Leave a comment or review
Stacey Devine says
Hi Jessica, I have already purchased my Turkey 21 pounds. Using the spatchcocked, Could I place the Turkey on two cookie sheets straddling the center, connected with a single piece of foil? I would also place a cookie sheet underneath the center as a drip catcher. Your thoughts would be appreciated!
Jessica Gavin says
You could add two sheet trays, but do a test first to see if they fit in the oven. If the skin starts getting too brown after the first hour, cover with foil so that the skin doesn’t burn. You’ll need to cook the turkey longer. I would recommend cooking for 1 hour at 450-degrees then reduce the heat to 350-degrees to complete cooking for that big of a bird. Cover the surface if needed!
I did this last year, dry brined the bird…was great. I always use the “veggie base” in my gravy…put it in the blender with the drippings ….puree and voila!!! rich and tasty and with the veggies is “almost healthy” LOL
Jessica Gavin says
That sounds delicious!
Jill thomas says
Hi Jess. Can I use your dry brine and spatchcock on a free butterball I received? It may be too large to spatchcock but if it is I may just deconstruct it and cook on sheet that way. Concerned about the solution already in the butterball along with the dry brine. Suggestions. I don’t want to leave it as one whole turkey ad it is too heavy and unwieldy for me. Thanks so much.. Jess mom Jill.
450 in a conventional oven, what would the temp be in a convection?
Jessica Gavin says
Hi Frank- Great question! Reduce the temperature to 425ºF for a convection oven. I would also check the turkey for doneness about 20 to 25 minutes sooner. Let me know how it goes!