Spatchcock, an old term of Irish origin, is an abbreviation of “dispatch cock,” a phrase used to describe preparing a bird by splitting it down the back, removing the backbone, spreading it open like a book and pressing it flat for easier, faster roasting or grilling. While this funny-sounding technique is often used for chicken, it’s also a fantastic technique to apply to your Thanksgiving turkey. By splitting the bird, you increase its surface area, allowing it to cook more evenly and in less time.
Spatchcocking—also known as butterflying—is a particularly brilliant move for anyone who’s limited in time, since a 10- to 14-pound turkey will roast in just 90 minutes. While butterflying a turkey isn’t difficult (especially if you have poultry shears), you will need a bit of elbow grease, as it takes a bit of oomph to crack the bird open; the cooks at Haven’s Kitchen joke that the process “mimics a ‘resuscitating chest compression’ mixed with the ‘rib-cracking noise of an overzealous Heimlich maneuver.’”
Want to spatchcock the bird this year? Here’s a step-by-step description of how it’s done.
How to Spatchcock a Turkey
- Remove the heart and giblets from the turkey and reserve; discard the liver. Flip the turkey upside down so the breast is on your cutting board with the opening to the larger cavity facing toward you.
- Using poultry or kitchen shears, start at the larger cavity end and cut along either side of the backbone so the bone can be removed. Note that it’s best to do one side all the way, then open the bird up slightly and go back and remove the backbone entirely by cutting along the other side. The second side is sometimes a bit trickier; hold the backbone with one hand while cutting. Set the backbone and neck aside (you can reserve it for stock).
- At this point, you can trim off any excess fat around the neck and leg joints, if you’d like. Then remove the wishbone by running a paring knife along either side of the bone and pulling it out.
- Turn the bird over so that the open cavity is now on the cutting board, with the legs pointing away from each other. Place one hand on the other, with your elbows locked, and push down on the breastbone until you hear a cracking noise and the turkey lies flatter.
In case you need more convincing that you should spatchcock your turkey this year, here are a few other perks to using the technique: First, because this technique results in such a juicy, tender bird, wet- or dry-brining the bird isn’t usually necessary. Second, because this technique promotes even cooking, your bird will emerge with nicely crisped skin and juicy meat. And if the thought of cracking the turkey makes you squirm, fear not: You can simply ask your local butcher to take care of it for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.
There is one small caveat to this technique: Your turkey will not look like that Norman Rockwell image of a perfectly-roasted turkey presented on a platter. We don’t mind carving it in the kitchen, though. Once it’s presented on an elegant platter, trust us: No one will be able to tell the difference between a spatchcocked turkey and one you have roasted whole.
Spatchcocked Turkey Recipes
Interested in trying the technique on your turkey this year? Here are a few of our favorite spatchcocked turkey recipes to help you.
The cooks at Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school, cafe and event venue in New York City, swear by spatchcocking when it comes to turkey.
If you want to try a spatchcocked turkey but just aren’t into the idea of putting in kitchen hours, you can get another version of Tyler Florence’s spatchcocked turkey by ordering our Complete Thanksgiving Dinner. It includes a free-range turkey raised at The Willie Bird Ranch in Sonoma, California.