Who here has heard of a spatchcocked turkey? I hadn’t. Not until last year at least. I stumbled upon the term in a post about unusual ways to cook your Thanksgiving turkey (mostly including things like BBQing and deep frying but there were some other very unique suggestions as well) and had to start researching to figure out what the heck it meant! The video in the post is what piqued my interest because the picture was not the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. In fact, that adorable chef from this video convinced me this was something I wanted to try.
Or did I?
The epic debate commenced. Every other day, maybe multiple times a day, I changed my mind.
It was so different. Could a turkey really cook in a 450° oven, in 1/2 the time! without either burning or killing us all with raw poultry germs of death? I didn’t really care that it wouldn’t be a big beautiful bird displayed on the table. We grew up carving it onto the platter before taking it to the table anyway. But I did care if I poisoned us all or completely ruined the main even of the holiday dinner.
So what put me over the edge to trying a spatchcocked turkey? My little oven. Yup. It was tiny. And if I wanted to be able to fit the turkey in there, it had to be flat. Otherwise, it would be on the lowest rack and more than likely burn on the bottom.
Also, I had 2 young kids and a rancher husband that wouldn’t be around all morning. I didn’t have time to babysit a cooking turkey for 3+ hours. At least, not while watching kids and getting everything else put together.
Plus, this was my second time hosting Thanksgiving dinner and I didn’t particularly enjoy the turkey part of the previous experience. It was a little dry and the drumsticks, my father-in-law’s favorite part, seemed a little underdone…although he didn’t die from eating them. We even injected that bird with flavors and such and it was just not amazing. Not to mention, trying to time everything around the bird when I didn’t know whether it would need to cook for 3 hours or 4 hours or 2 hours made me crazy! All in all, not a great experience.
Try Something New
So that settled it. I was going to try a spatchcocked turkey! I was a bit wary but decided if it failed terribly, at least we would have a lot of other food to fill up on! After a research on ways to get the best flavor, the best skin, the best turkey one could have, I decided against a lot of ideas and for a lot of other. Here is how I made our spatchcocked turkey and how it turned out.
After researching a lot on brining, I settled on using a simple method – dry brining. For one, no gigantic bucket of liquid and poultry germs to deal with or worry about spilling. (Can you tell I’m a little paranoid about bird germs? Beef doesn’t scare me like this but poultry and pork – serious paranoia.) For two, less prep work. For three, great reviews.
All I did was sprinkle the entire bird with salt. The end. After thawing the bird for DAYS in the fridge, take it out, spatchcock it (explained in the next section), rub it down with salt, and stick it back in the fridge. I let mine sit overnight but some people let is sit longer. When I got it out the next day, it looked FUNK-Y but once it cooked it was perfectly normal looking. Don’t know why no one warned me it would look like a bird of leather got a sunburn but that’s exactly what happened. But if you can deal with the creep factor, it seriously increased the flavor and moisture level of this bird.
Obviously, if you are wanting to do this, you need to know how. This video is the best explanation ever but for anyone not wanting to watch a short video, here is the basic rundown.
- Start with a thawed bird and pat it dry.
- Place the breast side down.
- Using poultry shears, cut up one side of the backbone and then up the other side to remove it.
- Side note: I thought my hands might bleed it was so hard to do up the first side! Turns out, I veered a little off course and was actually trying to cut through a bone when I could have just scootched around until I found the joint…which is what I did on the second side. Much easier. Still a little work though.
- Cut the wishbone out from the top (neck side) of the bird.
- Flip the bird breast side up and spread the legs. Push down on the breastbone to flatten it. Tuck the wing tips under the breast.
- Place on a wire rack on a cookie sheet.
- Congratulate yourself because 1) that was kinda hard and 2) you’re an awesome risk taker!
At this point, I dry brined mine and sent him back to the fridge. If you aren’t brining, it can be spatchcocked Thanksgiving morning. I added some vegetables under the wire rack before cooking the bird the next morning. This prevents the drippings from burning and makes them tastier for the gravy.
The Butter Rub
Now not everyone believes that butter belongs in every dish that graces the Thanksgiving dinner table. And those people are wrong. Because it does. Sweet potatoes? YES! Stuffing? Oh heck yeah. Mashed potatoes? Give them a whole stick! Cranberries? Ok, maybe not that one but it probably wouldn’t hurt!
My point is, turkey slathered in butter is > turkey NOT slathered in butter. All I did was take some room temperature butter, mix it up with whatever herbs seemed festive (thyme, sage,…that sort of thing) and rub it INSIDE the skin of the turkey. Now, remember, I had a very creepy looking leather sunburn thing going on so you may need to mentally brace yourself to stick a hand up between this skin and the meat but it will be worth it. So worth it. Try to get it down on the legs and wings also. I don’t really know what kind of voodoo this is but DANG! it was great.
Final step of preparation, which may even be unnecessary at this point, sprinkle with salt and pepper and whatever seasonings you like.
How To Cook a Spatchcocked Turkey
Here we enter the weird part. (Ok so maybe cutting out the backbone of your bird was the weird part. Or if you brined, looking at that sucker for the first time the next day was DEFINITELY the weird part. But this part is weird too.) Cooking a spatchcocked turkey is not at all like cooking a regular turkey. Cause you can cook this sucker fast. And hot. Like, 450° hot. Since it’s flat, it cooks more evenly. Since it is on a cookie sheet instead of in a roaster, the legs get done as quickly as the breast.
My bird was done in just over an hour.
Read that last sentence again. Yes. I even proofread to make sure that it was accurate.
Now it might take a little longer for a bigger bird but my thermometer actually read that I had overcooked my dang bird! How is that possible? It was only an hour! I was going to be so peeved if I had dry meat again after all my work and experiments.
The resting period (about 20 minutes) was torture! I HAD to know!
Finally, we carved it up and sat down to eat.
And it was AMAZING.
The best turkey I have ever eaten. And I didn’t think anything could beat deep fried.
Oh this did. This stomped on deep fried’s face.
I refuse to cook a turkey a different way ever again. I’m tempted to refuse to EAT a turkey that has been cooked a different way ever again. The in-laws loved it! My husband, who is decidedly against any form of turkey except for one fluke taste of a perfectly smoked one, declared it the best turkey he’s ever had! My mom’s spatchcocked turkey turned out as amazing as mine and she didn’t brine or (that I recall) herb butter hers.
Even with it reaching about 5 – 10° over temperature, which would have destroyed any moisture in a typical turkey, this was still moist and flavorful and tender. I’m telling you, try it.
While this is pretty straightforward, here are some thoughts I have that can help you have a more successful spatchcocked turkey. Disclosure: The links that follow are affiliate meaning I receive a commission from purchases made after clicking on them.
- Get great poultry shears. I bought these Kershaw Taskmaster Shears after reading a lot of articles and reviews. Good things to look for if you choose a different brand:
- Get hand holds rather than a bar grip. This makes it easier when the fat makes them greasy to still get a good squeeze to cut.
- DEFINITELY make sure they come apart for cleaning. Again, the poultry paranoia. Many have this feature. Make it a must!
- Consider choosing a pair of shears that doesn’t have a larger and smaller handle opening. This way they can be grabbed easily and you can start cutting rather than trying to get your thumb in the correct hole or struggling if you’re left handed…like me.
- Use a rack like this! Checkered Chef Cooling Rack Baking Rack. Stainless Steel Oven and Dishwasher Safe. Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan I didn’t have one and used a plain cooling rack which was a little too small for my cookie sheet. It worked ok but the legs were hanging off and it slid around on my pan which is a bit panic inducing when the bird is raw and threatening it’s germs all over my house and also when it’s cooked and you need to not dump it on the floor in order to serve it to people! I have since bought one in anticipation of the next time I cook for Thanksgiving.
- Line your cookie sheet with foil. Trust me, it’s just easier. Not necessary. Not at all. But no one wants to scrub a cookie sheet after eating Thanksgiving dinner. And things will stick and burn a little when you are cooking at 450°.
- Check your bird early! I did and I’m really glad I did. Spatchcocked turkeys will usually be done in under 1 1/2 hours. That’s 90 minutes for larger turkeys. Mine was small and I checked it at about 70-75 minutes to find it “overdone.” If you check it and it isn’t done, hooray, put it back in but check it often. This isn’t the regular method. It won’t take it an hour to raise 5 degrees. I use a simple thermometer like this CDN IRM200-Glow ProAccurate Meat/Poultry Ovenproof Thermometer-NSF Certified but for those of you that are fancy, these types of thermometers ThermoPro TP04 Large LCD Digital Kitchen Cooking Food Meat Thermometer for Smoker Oven BBQ Grill are awesome!
- Most importantly, relax and enjoy! You just saved yourself HOURS of turkey cooking! Now you can sit and talk to your mother-in-law or play with your children. And if your spatchcocked turkey doesn’t turn out how you wanted, remember what the holiday is really about – gratitude. Be grateful for being able to spend time with loved ones. Show gratitude for the food that DID turn out. Remember thanksgiving for all the things you do have.
But I’m not concerned. I’m pretty sure you’ll be grateful you read this post when you eat the best turkey of your life.