How to Spatchcock a Turkey

4.95 from 18 votes
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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!

How to spatchcock a turkey for Thanksgiving.

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.

Turkey carved into slices and served on a festive holiday plate.

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!

Turkey size

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.

Defrosted turkey on a cutting board next to a pair of kitchen shears.

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

Pieces of carrots, celery, and onions on a foil-lined sheet 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

Frequently asked questions

Is it worth spatchcocking a turkey?

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.

Do you brine before or after spatchcocking?

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.

How long does it take to roast a spatchcocked turkey?

At 450ºF (232ºC), it takes between 70 to 80 minutes to cook a 12 to 14-pound spatchcocked turkey.

Perfectly cooked slices of thanksgiving turkey served on a white platter.

Recipe Science

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.

Spatchcock Turkey

Spatchcock turkey results in perfectly juicy, evenly cooked, super flavorful meat ready in less than 2 hours. Your oven will then be freed up to make Thanksgiving side dishes & pies.
4.95 from 18 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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.

Notes

  • 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.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 servings
Calories 455kcal (23%)Carbohydrates 0.3gProtein 70g (140%)Fat 18g (28%)Saturated Fat 5g (25%)Polyunsaturated Fat 5gMonounsaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0.2gCholesterol 232mg (77%)Sodium 748mg (31%)Potassium 726mg (21%)Fiber 0.1gSugar 0.2gVitamin A 181IU (4%)Vitamin C 0.2mgCalcium 37mg (4%)Iron 3mg (17%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Julie says

    Hi Jessica, I was wondering if you dry brine the turkey, would you reduce the amount of seasoning you add before roasting?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Julie- I still add some seasoning to the surface before roasting after dry brining. You can reduce slightly if you usually add a lot more salt.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Verna- Roast at 450 the entire time, tenting the surface with foil if it starts to brown too quickly. Butterflying the turkey cooks it very quickly. You can reduce the temperature to 350ºF after 1 hour of roasting if you have a larger bird or want to roast it more slowly.

  2. Norma says

    I have a 15.75 lb. turkey that I want to spatchcock in a huge baking pan. How long would it have to roast at 450* before reducing the heat to 350*? Thank you, Jessica.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Norma- Since it’s a larger bird, I would roast at 450 for 30 minutes, then reduce to 350 for the remaining cook time. If needed, loosely tent the surface with foil if the skin is getting too brown.

    • 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!

  3. 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 as it is too heavy and unwieldy for me. Thanks so much.. Jess mom Jill.

  4. Cathi says

    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

  5. 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!