Spatchcock Turkey

Faster cook time, crispy skin, and juicy meat—there's a lot to love about this style of roasted turkey.

Spatchcock Turkey
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Active Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
1 day 1 hrs 25 mins
10 to 12 servings

Every year around Thanksgiving, people get very nervous about cooking turkeys. They bemoan the dryness of the bird and the fact that it is flavorless, as well as the fact that it takes a very long time to cook.

Most of all though, people complain about the ultimate turkey problem: In order to fully cook the legs, you must overcook the breast.

But there's a fix to all of these problems: spatchcocking. This simple technique solves many of the age-old turkey problems. Here's how it works.

What Is Spatchcocking and Why Should I Consider It?

Spatchcocking is a method of cooking a turkey (or chicken, or most any poultry, really) that calls to remove the spine and flatten the bird. The result is a turkey that cooks in as little as half the time of a classic, un-spatchcocked bird. The turkey also cooks more evenly because the heat of the oven is more evenly distributed, meaning that you can have perfectly cooked legs and breasts—a true Thanksgiving miracle.

What Tools Do I Need to Spatchcock My Turkey?

Don't be intimidated by the idea of removing a turkey's backbone. You can always ask your butcher to do it for you—even grocery store meat counters like Whole Foods or Publix will often do this for you if you call ahead.

But if you need to do it yourself, you can. It's truly as simple as following our directions and using a pair of sharp kitchen shears.

If you're doing this yourself, buy yourself a pair of sharp kitchen scissors. You'll use them all the time, and you'll avoid the possibility of hurting yourself with a knife. Sharp kitchen shears are essential for spatchcocking.

You'll also need an instant-read thermometer in order to remove the guesswork from cooking the turkey to 160°F. A thermometer will tell you the exact temperature of the turkey's breast, which allows you to pull it from the oven when the turkey is a few degrees shy of perfectly cooked 165°F.

Resting, another important part of cooking your turkey, will make up the last few degrees.

Do I Have To Rest My Turkey?

Yes, resting is arguably the single most important step when it comes to making sure your turkey is juicy and succulent. When you cook any large piece of meat, the outside heats up faster than the inside, and when you remove it from the heat source, that residual heat spreads out, continuing to cook the piece of meat, in this case the turkey.

To avoid overcooking, remove the bird a few minutes early. The other advantage of resting is that it allows the meat to reabsorb some of the juices that have been released while cooking, making for a juicier bird.

Should I Brine My Spatchcocked Turkey?

Yes, a very simple salt dry-brine allows a spatchcocked turkey to be delicious and flavorful without any extra ingredients or headache. We added other spices and herbs to the salt brine for this recipe, but you could use just salt if you're planning a marinade or basting later. For an 11- to 13-pound turkey, you'll need about 11 to 13 teaspoons of salt. That comes out to about 2 1/2 tablespoons.

Thanksgiving is complicated enough, and there's so much flavor on the menu, that a simple turkey (that will impress everyone with it's juiciness) is all you need.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Follow this step-by-step guide to spatchcock your Thanksgiving turkey:

Step 1. Spatchcock the turkey

Set your largest cutting board on a damp paper towel to prevent it from sliding around. If your turkey is packaged, remove it from the packaging, draining any excess liquid into the sink. You do not need to wash your turkey. In fact, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against it. Washing or rinsing a turkey can spread bacteria that can cause foodborne illness far beyond your sink.

Check to see if there are giblets in the cavity of the bird. If there are, dispose of them, or save them for another purpose, like gravy. If there's a plastic holder attached to the top of the bird, cut that off with scissors. Also, check to remove the pop-up temperature indicator. We'll use a meat thermometer instead.

raw turkey on cutting board
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Place the turkey on the prepared cutting board, and use paper towels to pat the bird as dry as possible all over. This will make it easier to handle. It will also help get the skin crispy while it cooks.

Once it's patted dry, place the bird on the cutting board, breast side up with the legs poking up and facing you – the cavity will also face you.

drying a whole turkey with a paper towel
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Some turkey have a lot of excess skin and fat. If there are flaps of excess skin or fat near either of the cavity openings, trim them so there's only about an inch of excess remaining.

Now, turn the bird over so it is resting on the breast, the cavity still facing you. Use your hands to feel the top of the bird, and locate the spine. Starting from the bottom of the spine, use kitchen shears to cut straight upward, cutting through bone all the way to the top of the bird. Repeat on the other side of the spine, fully detaching the spine from the bird. Dispose of the spine or save it for another use, like turkey broth.

spatchcock turkey with back removed
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Once the spine is removed, turn the bird over so the breasts are facing up. Pull the legs apart, place your hands on the breasts, and press firmly, cracking the breastbone so the bird lays flat.

Tuck the wing tips under the breast, and turn the thighs in toward the body of the turkey.

spatchcock turkey
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 2. Season the turkey

In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients. This spice rub is a smoky-sweet combination, but you can use any spice mixture you like.

sweet and smoking spice mix
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Liberally season the turkey with the spice mix, and rub it in with your hands. Make sure to flip over they turkey, and season heavily and evenly inside the cavity, too.

spatchcock turkey with seasoning
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Lay the turkey breast side up on the baking sheet, lightly cover, and transfer to your refrigerator. Let stand, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours.

Step 3. Roast the turkey

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about an hour before you'll need to start cooking it.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a clean baking sheet or roasting tray with foil, and pour about a cup of water into the pan. Place a roasting rack in the pan, then place the turkey on top. The water catches fat as it drips from the turkey and helps prevent any flame-ups or burning grease spots.

spatchcock turkey ready for oven
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Transfer the turkey to the oven and bake for 70 minutes. During that time, if the turkey starts to smoke, turn the temperature down by 25-degree increments until it stops.

After 70 minutes, check the turkey's temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. Continue checking at 15- to 20-minute increments until temperature is correct. The spatchcock turkey is done with the thermometer reads 160°F. The temperature will continue to increase while the bird rests.

roasted spatchcock turkey
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

When the bird is done, remove it from the oven, and set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This resting time is essential—it allows the juices to reabsorb into the meat, making for an incredibly succulent and moist turkey. After the turkey is rested, carve and serve.


  • 2 ½ Tbsp. kosher salt

  • ¼ cup packed lighted brown sugar

  • 1 Tbsp. poultry seasoning

  • 1 Tbsp. ancho chile powder

  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika

  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

  • 1 (11- to 13-lb.) fresh or thawed, frozen whole turkey

  • 1 cup water


  1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Remove giblets and neck from turkey; discard or reserve for another use. Dry the turkey's skin with paper towels. Do not rinse.

  2. Place turkey, breast side down, on a large, stable cutting board. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone; discard backbone or reserve for another use. Turn turkey breast side up. Press firmly against the breastbone with the heel of your hand. The bird will be splayed open, butterfly style.

  3. Trim any excess fat or skin. Tuck wing tips under the breast. Arrange the thighs toward the center of the turkey. Place turkey in a large roasting pan. Rub spice mixture under skin on. For best results and crispy skin, loosely cover, and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.

  4. Heat oven to 450°F. Line a clean baking pan with foil, and pour about 1 cup of water into the pan. Place a roasting rack in the pan, then move the turkey to the roasting rack. Bake for 70 minutes at 450°F. After 70 minutes, check the turkey's internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. Cook in 15-minute increments until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160°F. Remove baking pan, and place turkey on a cutting board. Let stand, loosely covered with foil, 30 minutes.

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