How to spatchcock or butterfly turkey for the oven, smoker or grill.
Why this recipe works
Have you ever prepared and cooked a spatchcock or butterflied turkey?
Spatchcocking is a poultry preparation technique to help you cook your bird in a shorter amount of time.
The word “spatchcock” is a combination of “dispatch” which means to prepare game or poultry for cooking and “cock” meaning bird.
You can also use the term butterfly. It’s interchangeable and both methods are exactly the same.
Why you should butterfly your turkey
Even though I don’t have a lot of hand strength, it was extremely easy to cut through the bird. If you’re squeamish, you could get a butcher to do it for you.
The prime benefit to cooking poultry this way that it roasts more quickly in an oven or smoker grill. A 10-pound bird should be done in an hour in the oven.
Also, if you’re oven roasting your turkey, I recommend making two small spatchcocked turkeys (12 to 15 pounds) than roasting a large one. That way you can fit the spatchcocked turkey on a large baking sheet.
If you’re making a smoked turkey recipe, don’t worry about the size. As long as your spatchcocked turkey can fit in your smoker, it should be fine.
You’ll find that smoked turkey is so much more flavorful because the smoke is able to get to the inside and the outside of the meat.
You can also make chicken using this method.
Preparing your turkey for spatchcocking
First, you should brine your turkey.
Here are three brining recipes I recommend:
● Brined & Smoked Chicken Quarters Recipe (just triple the brine recipe for a large bird)
● Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe with Smoked Turkey Rub – this is both a brine and smoked turkey rub recipe. It’s amazing and worth doing both.
● How to make a smoked turkey breast brine – this is a brine for just a breast, so double or triple for a whole bird.
All three brines will work well for a roasted or smoked spatchcock turkey.
How to spatchcock turkey
1. Prepare the bird by removing the wrapping and taking out the giblets, liver, and neck, which you can save for making stock or gravy.
Pat it dry with paper towels. Don't wash your turkey before cooking.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, you shouldn't wash raw poultry before cooking.
Bacteria in raw poultry can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces.
Washing just splashes the bacteria around your sink and countertops. And you! YUCK.
2. Place the turkey breast-side down on a large cutting board.
3. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut along the sides of the backbone, beginning at the tail end through to the neck. Then repeat on the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone.
4. Trim away excess fat and skin including the the tail fat which is called the “pope’s nose.”
You can use the fat, skin, backbone, neck, giblets, heart, neck, etc. to make stock or gravy.
5. Now cut out the sternum. However, if you cut through it with the kitchen shears, you’ll have no wishbone to make wishes on. (But it’s no big deal if you do.)
6. Another method is to crack the bones. Flip the the bird over, turkey breast side up. Then place your hands just to the left of the center of the bird and press down hard to crack the bones.
Then repeat on the other side of the breast bone until the bird is flat.
Here’s an Alton Brown’s Butterflied Turkey How-To video that shows the whole spatchcocking process.
How to roast a spatchcock turkey
1. Place the butterflied turkey on a large baking sheet that has been coated with olive oil. Pull the legs out to the side and tuck the wings under.
2. Place large pats of butter under the breast skin. You can also use herbs sprigs that were used in your brine to place under the skin for more flavor.
3. Roast the spatchcocked turkey on the oven rack in the lower-middle position.
4. Roast it for 30 minutes at at 425 degrees F. Then rotate it in the pan and roast for another 30 minutes.
5. After an hour, reduce heat to 325 degrees F. Then roast spatchcock turkey until a digital meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees.
6. Remove the turkey from the oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand 15 minutes before carving. Save pan drippings for gravy.
How to make a smoked spatchcock turkey
1. Set your smoker to cook at 240 degrees F. Use wood chips or pellets that go well with poultry like apple or cherry.
2. Place the spatchcocked turkey on the rack skin side up with a digital meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast.
3. Smoke the turkey until the reaches about 158-160 degrees. Depending on the size and weight of the turkey, cook time should be about 3 to 4 hours.
4. Remove it from heat, tent with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing so the meat stays juicy and flavorful.
How long does it take to cook a spatchcocked turkey?
It takes approximately 11-13 minutes of cook time per pound. A 15-pound turkey takes about 3 hours.
However, sometimes we’ve found that it takes much less time, like 2 1/2 hours for a 15 pound butterflied turkey.
So keep an eye on your thermometer and don’t stray to far away from your oven or smoker!
What type of smoker?
For many years we used an electric smoker. (Read my Why you should buy a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker post for more information on that style of smoker.)
Even though the Kamado Joe requires more set up, the results are AMAZING. If there’s someone in your life who loves to BBQ, check out the Kamado Joe Grill.
Read my Best Smoker Grill Combo Guide article to learn what type of smoker grill combo works best for you.
More cooking resources
Keep the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line number handy just in case – 1-800 BUTTERBALL.
They can help with any of your turkey recipe questions whether you’re brining, roasting, spatchcocking, or smoking your bird this year.
Make a mess in the oven when roasting your turkey? See my How to Clean Your Oven with Baking Soda for some easy tips!
What to serve with a butterflied turkey
Don’t forget to make a batch of Sara Moulton’s Best Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy Recipe.
Then serve the smoked turkey with these easy to make side dishes:
- Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing
- Easy Gluten Free Skillet Cornbread Recipe
- Crockpot Mashed Potatoes
- Marinated Asparagus
- Sweetened Collard Greens
- Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce Recipe
- Brussel Sprouts Salad with Cranberries
- 1 15-pound turkey
Brine the turkey
- Brine the turkey using your favorite brining recipe.
How to spatchcock a turkey
- Prepare the bird by removing the wrapping and taking out the giblets, liver, and neck. Pat it dry with paper towels
- Place the bird breast-side down on a large cutting board.
- Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut through the turkey along one side of the backbone, beginning at the tail end through to the neck. Repeat on the other side of the backbone.
- Trim away excess fat and skin including the tail fat.
- You can cut out the sternum or just cut through it.
- Repeat on the other side of the breastbone until the bird is flat.
Roasting a spatchcocked turkey
- Place the brined and butterflied turkey on a large baking sheet that was coated with olive oil. Pull the legs out to the side and tuck the wings under.
- Place large pats of butter under the breast skin.
- Place spatchcocked turkey on the oven rack in the lower-middle position and roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Then rotate the turkey on the baking sheet and roast for another 30 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 325 degrees and roast turkey until a digital meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees.
- Remove turkey from the oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand 15 minutes before carving.
Smoking a spatchcocked turkey
- Set your smoker to cook at 240 degrees F.
- Place the brined spatchcocked turkey on the rack skin side up and let it smoke for 3 to 4 hours.
- Cook the spatchcocked turkey until the digital meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches about 158-160 degrees.
- Remove from heat, tent with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.
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Serving Size:1 pound
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 857Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 494mgSodium: 467mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 130g
Nutritional information is automatically calculated per the ingredients list. Serving size may not be accurate. Please double-check with your preferred nutritional app for the most accurate information.
Originally posted on November 22, 2009. Updated with new photos and information.
Top photo credit: Adobe Stock. All other spatchcock turkey photos are original.