How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Spatchcocked Turkey

Sure, a whole roasted turkey at the Thanksgiving table is iconic. But that bulky bird takes up space in the fridge for days, monopolizes the oven and carved tableside, makes hungry guests wait for what feels like an eternity.

The solution? Spatchcock it! Spatchcocking is a way of butterflying a whole turkey where you remove the backbone so you can fold the bird out flat. It might look a little goofy at first, but the big win with this method is how fast the turkey roasts — in some cases, as quickly as 1 hour. More skin is exposed, so it roasts up crispier. Overcooking the turkey breast is less likely because it’s not elevated, and the flattened bird leaves space for other things in the oven as it roasts.

Once it’s flattened, you can cook your bird all the regular ways: roast it in an oven, grill it on a gas or charcoal grill or smoke it. Of course, you can also brine it or cure it with a dry salt rub before cooking.

Spatchcocking lends itself best to lighter birds, 10 to 14 pounds, so it’s perfect for smaller gatherings. But if you need more turkey, consider spatchcocking two small birds rather than a large one.

The best way to spatchcock a turkey
Provided you have a sturdy pair of poultry shears and a little muscle, spatchcocking a turkey is a straightforward technique you may find pretty easy to pull off. Make sure your bird is completely thawed (this can take about 3 days in the fridge for a 12-pound turkey).

1. Prep your work space. Set out all your equipment so you don’t need to fish tools out of drawers with raw turkey juice on your hands.

2. Prep your turkey. Working in the sink, remove the turkey from its packaging. Pull out the neck and giblets and save for gravy or stock if you like. Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels.

3. Cut out the backbone. Set the turkey breast-side down on the cutting board with the tail pointing toward you. Use poultry shears to cut along the sides of the backbone until it’s free. You’ll have to use your muscles. Save the backbone for stock if you like. Trim the excess skin hanging from the upper part of the breasts and save for stock if you so choose.

4. Optional: split the keel bone. This helps the turkey lie flatter. Working from the inside of the turkey and starting at the neck end, use a sharp knife to cut through the membrane and split the triangular keel bone that joins the two sides of the breast. (If you can’t cut through it, skip this part — the turkey will still be reasonably flat.)

5. Crack the breastbones. Flip the turkey so it’s breast-side up. Place both hands on the breastbones and press down very firmly to flatten out the bird — you may hear the bones crack.

6. Fold the wing tips under the breast. This protects the wingtips from burning and exposes the breast so it roasts up golden brown. You can skip this step if you’re grilling over indirect heat.

7. Optional: Brine the bird. If your recipe calls for wet or dry brining, do it now. (Many conventional turkeys come seasoned with a brine solution — check the package before you buy). You can also refrigerate the spatchcocked turkey up to 24 hours — I keep it uncovered on a flat pan to dry out the skin, which helps make it crispier.

8. Roast, grill or smoke as desired. About 1 hour before cooking, let the bird stand at room temperature to promote even cooking. Line a sheet pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Set a flat baking rack on the sheet pan — or if you don’t have one, make a bed of chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Arrange the bird on top with the legs splayed out away from the body. The drumsticks should not extend over the baking sheet, but if they do, tuck doubled pieces of foil under them to direct any drippings onto the pan.

9. Serve. How to carve a spatchcock turkey? You can present the cooked bird at the table any way you want, but let’s be honest — a spatchcocked turkey is a little awkward-looking. For easy serving, consider carving it in the kitchen and arranging the meat beautifully on a platter.

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