Knowing how to spatchcock a turkey is the latest method in poultry preparation; this question is arguably as popular as asking how to season a turkey. In doing this, your bird will cook more quickly and evenly, with delicious results to boot. The skin will be crispier than usual and the meat will be moist, so it’s well worth the effort.
If you’re new to spatchcocking a turkey, (or butterflied turkey as it’s also known), worry not — here we will take you through exactly what to do step-by-step to get your bird ready for the table. Better yet, this same technique can be used with chickens and other birds. So sharpen your knives, and get ready for the best turkey you’ve ever tasted. (And when the turkey's done, be sure to check out our guide on how to set a dinner table that will impress your guests.)
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How to spatchcock a turkey
Poultry shears or paring knife
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.
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.
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 ($23.75, Amazon).
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.
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.
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.
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.