Spatchcocked Smoked Turkey

If it is your turn to prepare the turkey this holiday season, put the roasting pan away and try something new. You don't need a fancy smoker to smoke this turkey, you can use a standard charcoal grill. Everyone anticipates the family-favorite casseroles and side dishes served at big meals, but guests can't wait to cut into a slice of the tender, juicy turkey. Spatchcocking is often used on chicken, but it is also a smart and time-saving technique to apply to your turkey, as well. By splitting the bird, you increase the surface area, allowing the turkey to cook more evenly and in less time. Turkey sometimes gets a bad rap for either being too dry or undercooked. To practically guarantee a turkey with moist meat and lots of seasoned, crispy skin, spatchcock it. Also referred to as butterflying, spatchcocking is a technique that involves removing the backbone of the bird, then cracking the breastbone so that it lays flat, like an open book. This method makes it easier to cook the white and dark meat evenly, meaning everything stays juicy.

Spatchcock Smoked Turkey
Photo: Photographer: Antonis Achilleos, Prop Stylist: Kay Clarke Food Stylist: Rishon Hanners
Active Time:
3 hrs 30 mins
Total Time:
4 hrs 40 mins


  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 (12-14 lb.) whole fresh turkey or thawed frozen turkey

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt

  • 15 large mesquite wood chunks


  1. Stir together smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl; set aside.

  2. Place turkey, breast side down, on a cutting board. Using poultry shears, cut along both sides of backbone, and remove backbone. (Discard backbone, or reserve for stock.) Turn turkey over, and open underside of turkey like a book. Using the heel of your hand, press firmly against breastbone until it cracks and turkey breast flattens. Starting at neck end, loosen and lift skin from breast and legs by inserting fingers and gently pushing between skin and meat (do not detach skin completely).

  3. Pat turkey with paper towels until completely dry on all sides. Using your hands, rub olive oil all over turkey until completely coated. Sprinkle turkey on all sides with salt; sprinkle turkey on all sides with seasoning mixture. Place turkey, breast side up, on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack. Let turkey stand at room temperature 1 hour.

  4. Open bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light charcoal chimney starter filled halfway with lump charcoal. When charcoal is covered with gray ash, pour onto bottom grate of grill, and push to 1 side of grill. Scatter wood chunks on hot coals. Coat top grate with oil; place on grill. Insert an instant-read thermometer into a vent in lid. Place turkey directly on oiled grate over side without coals, and cover with grill lid. Smoke turkey, using vents to maintain a temperature of 225ºF, until a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of turkey registers 165°F, about 3 hours. (If the temperature drops below 225ºF, adjust vents or replenish wood chunks as needed.) Transfer turkey to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve immediately, or cool completely, wrap in aluminum foil, and store in refrigerator up to 3 days.

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