How to Spatchcock a Turkey and Why It's Worth Doing on Thanksgiving

It's more than just a fun word to say - you definitely want to spatchcock your turkey this year for Thanksgiving. Spatchcocking has become an incredibly popular way to cook chicken, resulting in reduced cooking time and crispy skin around the entire bird. So what exactly is it, and why do you want to do it for Thanksgiving?

Spatchcocked birds are similar to butterflied beef roasts - they're flattened out. Because it's flat, spatchcocked chicken cooks more quickly than the traditional roasted bird, and you can cook them at higher temperatures. It also means that all the skin is exposed, leading to the most perfect, super crispy skin.

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In order to flatten out the turkey, you have to remove the backbone. Talk about bonus - you can make the best gravy ever while you're cooking the turkey! The backbone is also good for making stock.

How Do You Spatchcock A Turkey?

Pressing the breast bone
Martha Stewart

It may seem like an overwhelming butchering technique to split open a bird, but it's really very easy. Start by cutting out the backbone with poultry shears or kitchen shears. After the backbone is removed, flip over the chicken so it is breast side up. Using the whole weight of your body, press your palms down on the breastbone, breaking the delicate bones in between the ribcage so the bird will sit flat.

Any poultry or game bird can be spatchcocked. It is most popular with chicken, however, it is growing in popularity with Thanksgiving turkeys. The larger the bird, the harder it is to break the breastbone, so you'll want to give it your all when spatchcocking that large Thanksgiving bird!

What Are the Benefits of a Spatchcocking?

Serious Eats

Back in 2012, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats toted the spatchcocked turkey as the "quickest easiest route to juicy meat, and ultra-crisp skin. Basically, it's a method for lazy folks with great taste." Yup, that sounds like me! But he's right on.

When you spatchcock turkey, it evens out the cooking times. With a normal roasted turkey, the breast is exposed during the entire cooking process. Unfortunately, since drumsticks and thigh meat take longer to cook and they're tucked underneath, that means your chances of dry, overcooked breast meat are pretty great. It doesn't matter if you flip the turkey breast-side down, the same problem presents itself.

With the spatchcocked bird, all of your problems are solved - the legs are spread out to the side, no longer protected underneath the large girth of the bird. The flattened shape allows for more even cooking, and everything will cook more quickly since it takes up less vertical space, too.

What About Presentation?

Bon Appetit

Yes, there are no two ways around it - a spatchcocked bird looks, well, funny. There's something odd about the way the legs are splayed out, and there is zero chance that no one will notice as you bring it out and carve it at the table. But we have a solution for this - carve it in the kitchen.

It may not be traditional, but it will be much less messy and it makes it easy for family members to share in the white and dark meat. Carving a spatchcocked turkey may seem overwhelming, but it's actually just as easy as carving a roasted bird. Check out this video to learn how to carve like a pro.

Can You Stuff It?


No, sadly there's nothing to stuff once you butterfly it open! But, you can roast it over a bunch of vegetables (I like hearty vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, fennel or parsnips). This will prevent the drippings from scorching and smoking out your kitchen, and the vegetables will be completely infused with the flavor of turkey, too.

You could also start the turkey directly on top of your pan of stuffing, although you would need to transfer it to a sheet pan halfway through to prevent your stuffing from overcooking.

I'm Sold, What's The Recipe?

Serious Eats

If you're sold on this amazing technique for cooking your Thanksgiving turkey, it's time to get started. Get the recipe here for crispy-skinned turkey and savory gravy, too.

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