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Spatchcocked Turkey Recipe: The newest trend for Thanksgiving

Updated on October 30, 2014
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As with everything worth doing, there is an easy, somewhat workable way of doing a spatchcocked bird... and then there is the proper way. I'll give you the easy one first, followed by a more complex way.

I would recommend that before you try it on a turkey you experiment on chickens once or twice. The procedure is exactly the same, although the turkey is just a little different in anatomy along the shoulder joints. Once you see how great it makes the chicken you won't be able to wait to try it on the big bird.

I have successfully accomplished this with a 20 lb turkey at the biggest, but keep in mind that a turkey laying flat is going to take up almost twice the horizontal space that you're used to.

Spatchcocking at its easiest is nothing more than removing the backbone and, after flipping the bird over so that the inside is downward, pressing down to break the breastbone sufficiently enough so that the bird lays flat.

It takes a very strong kitchen shears to cut the backbone closely along each side to remove it. Some people have a pair of tinsnips dedicated for kitchen duty to handle this part. Four hands make this part easier, two to hold the bird still, and the other two to cut with the shears.

The idea is that roasting a flattened bird enables the heat to be consistent over the meat itself, unlike the rounded bird which is like trying to cook a football where some parts are closer or farther from the heat.

It truly, really works. Combined with a brined bird, it will come out the juiciest, tastiest, bird you can imagine.

However, a dedicated spatchcocker doesn't rest with that simple way.

First to also come off the bird is the wing tip joint. It's not needed for anything, and is usually just burnt by overcooking anyway. When I am spatchcocking a chicken I normally go ahead and cut off the top inch of the leg bone also, but a turkey really would not be a turkey without someone walking around chewing on a roasted leg.

Then comes the part that requires artistry and a mastery of the knife.

The breastbone is not "broken" but carefully and surgically removed from the bird. Again, practicing several times with a large chicken helps to gain the necessary skill to do this. One major slip and you don't have a spatchcocked bird, you have one cut in half. Which works... but you can't brag too much about just cutting a bird in half.

You MUST be careful to remove the breastkeel without slicing through and separating the two breast halves "completely." Gradually work a small knife between the keel and the breast on each side, keeping as close to the keel as you can. You may wind up using your fingers to work part of the breastbone loose from the meat. The two sides of the breast will be pretty floppy where they come together, but proper care will keep them together.

You can stop at that point but I have always found it much better to continue and remove the ribs up to and including the big bone which I think is the shoulder joint. A boning knife works best for this, but any very sharp, thin bladed knife will do it for you. Slide the knife under the ribs and gradually peel them away from the breast meat.

This gives you pounds of pure, uninterrupted meat on both sides of the bird. It also means that now you have a really, really floppy bird on the cutting board, There is basically nothing holding both sides together except for a thin layer of back meat and the skin.

I prefer to add a dry rub to the breast meat and skin side. If you are unsure what a good rub is then you can check out my hub, Be the "Master of the Grill" with these 56 dry rub recipes." I normally spactchcock and rub the turkey the night before, and then roll and wrap it in foil to keep cool in the refrigerator. However, you can rub it about 30 minutes before putting it over the grill.

Of course, all the removed ingredients go into the stock pot for gravy and after-Thanksgiving soup.

Rub a cup of melted butter or olive oil onto both sides just before putting it in the oven or the grill. The skin side goes up. I use a roasting pan filled with wine under it for a drip pan, If you are using a grill keep the bird on the grill side away from the flames, and with the legs closest to the flames.

You have to be careful about getting it from the chopping board to the grill or pan -- remember it is very floppy. Also, there really is no need to do anything to it once it's on the grill or in the oven unless you want to baste it now and then. Do NOT attempt to turn it over once it is down.

Please note that if you go for the full breast/ribs removal the bird will lay really, really flat, which means a very wide bird.

A note of warning though, it takes about a third LESS time to cook the bird when it is spatchcocked. Practice makes perfect.

When you pull it off it looks beautiful, but not quite traditional. But I've never heard any complaints so far. And carving...? -- there are no bones to carve around... it's all just pure meat for the breast and most of the thigh. Imagine no wasted meat trapped in the rib cage.

If you like this recipe I invite you to take a look at

Jack's World Famous Thanksgiving Stuffing/Dressing


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    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Curiously new to me...a good bit of work for an evenly cooked bird and it surely must be as delicious as you describe. Thanks for new info here!

    • profile image

      Rich in Redwood City 8 years ago

      We did this last year and everyone, and I mean everyone loved it. The Breast didn't get all dried and nasty the way they can.

    • profile image

      Benj3 8 years ago

      My husband did this last year when our oven stopped working right before Thanksgiving. We had no idea it had become so popular! He has been doing hens for a while and decided to give it a try on the turkey. We are doing it again this year! (He has also made a few birthday cakes on the grill!!!)

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      Carolyn 8 years ago

      Saw this in the latest Martha magazine...going to try it for Christmas. love the idea of so little cooking time.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 9 years ago from America

      Never heard of cooking turkey this way. Will have to tell my husband he loves his grill.