How to spatchcock a turkey for quick, even and crisp results

A roasted turkey cooked spatchcocked
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The festive holidays are here, and if you want a quicker and better way to cook your turkey, you’re no doubt looking up how to spatchcock a turkey. If you’re new to this cooking method, it might look less attractive than you’re accustomed to — the turkey is essentially flattened out during the cooking process. But, if you’ve not tried it before, we can tell you that spatchcocking a turkey is worth it; the meat essentially cooks more quickly and evenly, with a crispy skin while retaining its moisture. It’s a method all home chefs should try. 

If you’re keen to give spatchcocked turkey a go (or butterflied turkey as it’s also known), we’ve pulled together this comprehensive guide to take you through what you need to do step-by-step. Although, don’t forget to check out how to season a turkey as well and avoid these 7 turkey mistakes. Spatchcocking a turkey is quicker and easier than you’d think, so why not give it a go this holidays to impress your guests?  

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How to spatchcock a turkey 

What you'll need

Poultry shears or paring knife

Paper towels

Note that for the purposes of this how-to, we used a chicken rather than a turkey, but the principles are the same.

1. First, pat your turkey dry in the sink using paper towels. Pick it up and hold it vertically to let any residual fluid drain out as well. 

patting chicken dry on countertop

(Image credit: Future)

2. Next, place it breast-side down on a cutting board. 

3. It’s going to rock because of its shape, so you need to hold it firmly in place for the next step. 

cutting a chicken using a pair of kitchen shears

(Image credit: Future)

4. Using a pair of poultry shears, cut along one side of the backbone, working your way from the opening near the thighs to the neck. You’re essentially cutting the turkey in half, so don’t be shy. If you find it difficult to cut through, stick to the tip of the shears and make small cuts. 

If you don’t own a pair of poultry shears, you can also use a knife, but it's a lot easier with the shears. We recommend the OXO Good Grips Spring-Loaded Poultry Shears ($27.29, Amazon). 

Cutting the backbone out of a chicken using poultry shears

(Image credit: Future)

5. Using your hands, pry open up the turkey slightly where you’ve just cut.

6. Now, cut along the the other side of the backbone. Take your time, watch your fingers don’t get in the way, and make sure you have a good grip. 

7. Once you’ve done this, remove the backbone completely and keep it, and the giblets, for stock. 

8. You can also remove anything else annoying at this stage too, such as the wishbone or any large bits of fat. You can use a paring knife to trim around it before removing. 

two hands flattening chicken on cutting board

(Image credit: Future)

9. Flip your turkey and press it flat on the breast bone so that the legs splay outwards, or if you prefer, like a butterfly. It’s not pleasant, but if you press it hard enough, you should hear a bone or two crack, then it will sit flat more easily. 

10. Season and baste your turkey. For chickens, we like to use a combination of salt, pepper, paprika, and Italian spices, but be sure to check out our guide on how to season a turkey for other options.

a chicken on a baking sheet with potatoes and onions

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

11. Place your turkey on a wire rack, and place it on a baking sheet. If you don't have a wire rack, you can use carrot and celery stalks, which can also impart some flavor. If there's extra room around the sides, you can also cut up some onions and potatoes and spread them around. 

12. Tuck the wings under the breast for a finishing touch — it will look much neater as it cooks like this. 

A carved turkey breast

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What are the benefits to spatchcocking a turkey?  

  • More even cooking — By spreading out the turkey, you're giving it a wider surface area, meaning it will cook much more evenly. This also makes the meat more moist on the whole. 
  • Faster to cook — As the bird is better spread out, it will cook faster too. This will save you hours in cooking time compared to the traditional method.  
  • More crispy — More skin is exposed with none tucked underneath, so there’s more crispy pickings. 
  • Tasty gravy — You can also use the backbone to better flavor your gravy; you’d be surprised how much of a difference this can make, so take advantage.  
  • More room in the oven — By flattening out your turkey, there will be more vertical space for extra shelves in the oven too. 

To ensure your bird is cooked properly, you'll need one of the best meat thermometers to make sure it's done. If it's taking too long to cook, it might be time to check out the best gas ranges or the best electric ranges for a replacement. 

Next: Here's how to carve a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.