Spatchcock turkey is will be the easiest way to get a juicy Thanksgiving turkey on the table in less time. The spatchcock technique will yield enough crispy skin for everyone to share and the moistest, flavorful meat.
Before you begin preparing your Thanksgiving bird I want you to read up on how to thaw a frozen turkey. It takes time and spatchcocking a frozen turkey will not work!
If you want to take your turkey game to the next level, be sure to use a turkey brine recipe ahead of starting to butterfly the turkey. But if you are only having Thanksgiving dinner for a few people I would suggest making sous vide turkey breast or a turkey roulade. Just enough meat for a smaller crowd. And be sure to follow my step by step instructions on how to carve a turkey breast.
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Why do they call it ‘Spatchcock’?
Spatchcock evolved from the phrase ‘dispatch the cock’ an 18th-century Irish cooking phrase meaning they needed to quickly make a chicken or other poultry dinner. To make quick work of the cooking the bird is split down the back and the bird was butterflied open, spreading out the surface area of the bird. This helped accelerate the cooking process while maintaining a juicy bird.
Save the backbone and add it to the giblet broth ahead of making giblet gravy.
Why is it best to spatchcock a turkey?
You will find everyone will swear up and down that they have the best way of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. Spatchcocking a turkey has many advantages and minimal disadvantages.
Advantages of spatchcocking a turkey
- Faster cooking time. Because the bird is laid out flat, the dark meat of the thighs and legs are exposed to more of the heat of the oven and are able to cook at the same rate as the white meat.
- More Crispy Skin – If there is a fight over the crispy skin of the turkey at your dinner table you are going to want to spatchcock your Thanksgiving bird. Because the bird is elevated on a rack, the fat is able to render down and away from the bird, giving the skin a better chance of crisping up.
- Saves on oven space. – We all know that oven space is at a premium on Thanksgiving and Christmas and a juicy roasted turkey can take up the majority of the oven real estate. By having the bird butterflied it takes up less space in the oven. Combined with faster cooking time and you have the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal on the table in less time.
- Better Turkey Stock. – By removing the turkey back from the turkey, you are able to get a jump start on making your turkey gravy. There is lots of flavor and collagen in the backbone of a turkey so save it to make amazing homemade turkey gravy.
- Smoked Spatchcock Turkey – take your spatchcock turkey, skip the herb butter and make spatchcock smoked turkey.
Disadvantages of spatchcocking a turkey.
- Muscles are required – I am not going to lie. Cutting through the backbone of a turkey can be a bit challenging if you don’t have the right tools. Be sure to have a pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears before you set in on removing the backbone. And pressing on the breast bone can be a bit daunting on the first try. Don’t worry, you aren’t going to hurt the bird, it is already dead.
- Drying time – To get that amazing crisp skin the bird is going to need to hang out in the refrigerator overnight. It is going to marinade in all the herbs and oil you put on it and it will be delicious!
- Finding a pan big enough – Depending on how big your turkey is will depend on how big the pan you roast it on will be. You may need to invest in a larger, higher rimmed baking pan if you only have a small cookie sheet on hand.
- Not having the Norman Rockwell Photo – We all have seen the Norman Rockwell painting of dad carving the golden Thanksgiving turkey. There will be a different presentation with a spatchcocked turkey. But how many of us actually try and get that photo? Not me.
Side dishes to serve with Thanksgiving Turkey:
- Mashed Potato Recipes (not your basic mashed potato recipes!)
- Cranberry-Apple Chutney
- Pumpkin Ravioli (the wonton wrappers make it super simple!)
- 3 Ingredient Cranberry Sauce
- Autumn Squash Soup
- Compound butter recipes
What tools are needed to spatchcock a Turkey?
- Heavy Duty Kitchen shears
- Cutting board
- Large baking sheet pan with sides
- Baking Rack
What size turkey is good for spatchcocking?
I find that a 12-17 pound whole turkey works best for spatchcocking. But larger birds can be broken down, the only limitation is having a rack and sheet pan large enough to accommodate the bird.
Recipes that use leftover turkey:
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How to Spatchcock and cook a Whole Turkey
Spatchcock Turkey Recipe
- Turkey 12-17 pounds
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup sage chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley fresh, chopped
- 1/4 cup rosemary chopped
- Pat the bird dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.
- Lay a damp cloth or wet paper towels under the cutting board. This will keep the cutting board from sliding while you work.
- Place the whole turkey , breast side down, on the cutting board. Then, run your hand along the center of the bird feeling for the backbone.
- Starting at the tail, (the skin covered bump at one end) and using a pair of heavy duty kitchen shears to cut alongside the spine.
- Cut as close as you can to the backbone. Use your muscles as you may find resistance as you cut through certain rib bones of the bird—in this case, press down on the shears with both hands.
- Repeat on the other side of the back bone and remove the backbone, saving the backbone to make turkey stock.
- Flip the turkey over so that the breast side is up and the cut side is down on the cutting board. Open the bird as much as possible, and here is the hard part, using both hands press on the breast bone to further flatten the bird. You will know you have success when you hear several cracks of the ribs. Think of it like CPR. But not quite….
- Flip the wings under the bird to keep them tight to the bird. This will keep the wing tips from burning and give the bird more of a uniformed flattened shape.
- Salt and pepper the bird like you were on the Food Network and drizzle liberally with the oil of your choice. Rub the bird down with a combination of herbs of your choosing.
- Alternatively, you can life the skin from the bird and rub oil or butter and herbs under the skin. Or do both. It is YOUR bird.
- Place the spatchcocked bird on a rack placed, rimmed baking sheet pan and chill in the fridge until ready to roast the bird.
- Place the bird in a preheated 450 oven for 20 minutes and then drop the temperature back to 425 for the remainder of the roasting. Roast for a total of 1 1/4 hours -2 hours or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170.
- Remove from the oven and cover with foil for a minimum of 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the bird.
- Save the drippings to make turkey gravy.
- Carve and enjoy!
Sarah Mock is a classically trained Chef and graduate of Johnson & Wales University. A culinary blogger for 12 years Sarah helps the home cook prepare her recipes with professional results.