If you want to learn the best and easiest way to cook a turkey, this tutorial takes you through how to spatchcock a turkey. With step-by-step instructions, detailed photos, and a step-by-step spatchcock turkey video, you'll learn how to make the juiciest Thanksgiving turkey with the crispiest skin!
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First of all, let's get this out of the way: spatchcock is a weird word. It feels wrong to say but get comfortable saying it because once you learn how to spatchcock a turkey or spatchcock a chicken, you won't want to go back to any other way of cooking them!
I used to be intimidated by spatchcocking poultry. It seemed like a complicated chef-y thing to do. But I'm here to tell you it's NOT. Anyone can spatchcock poultry successfully!
So roll your sleeves up, pour a glass of vino, and get your bird ready. This is a detailed, step-by-step post with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about cooking Thanksgiving turkey. Be sure to read through, and feel free to DM me on Instagram if you have any questions.
Let's learn how to spatchcock a turkey!
Table of contents
What is spatchcocking?
To spatchcock a turkey or chicken means to break it down so that it lays flat. Some people use the terms "spatchcock" and "butterfly" interchangeably, but they are different.
Spatchcock refers to breaking down a whole chicken or whole turkey. Whereas, butterflying refers to slicing a meat or seafood without bones in almost half, and then laying flat - like a butterfly.
What are the benefits of spatchcocking a turkey?
There are three main benefits to making a spatchcock turkey versus roasting your turkey upright:
- It's faster. Because the turkey lays flatter, the meat cooks much faster. In fact, it generally takes HALF the time to roast a spatchcock turkey than it does an upright turkey.
- All of the skin gets extra crispy. If you love crispy turkey skin like I do, you will LOVE how crispy all of the skin gets when you spatchcock a turkey! This is because the turkey is laying flat, so all of the skin is exposed. Whereas, when you roast an upright turkey, some of the skin is hiding underneath chunks of meat and bone.
- Dark and white meat sections cook evenly. Again, because the turkey is laying flat as opposed to upright, all of the meat gets equal attention from the heat. This allows the dark and white meat to cook evenly.
Kitchen tools and equipment
You really don't need any fancy kitchen gadgets to spatchcock a turkey. You can get the job done with just a few basic kitchen tools.
- Cutting board - You will need a large, non-slip cutting board. I use a 14 x 18 cutting board which fits up to a 20-pound turkey. Make sure your board is sturdy and flat, not warped; you don't want the board slipping around your countertop while you are breaking down the turkey.
- Kitchen Shears - Use a pair of sharp kitchen shears or poultry shears to cut out the breastbone. If you don't have kitchen shears or you find that yours are dull, you can use a serrated knife. Or, a very sharp butcher knife or boning knife. Whatever tool you use, be very careful with the tool as you cut out the backbone.
- Baking Sheet or Roasting Pan - If you are roasting the bird without anything else, use a large half sheet baking sheet. If you want to roast vegetables with the turkey, use a large roasting pan with roasting rack. I explain how to use both in the instructions below.
Key ingredients for Thanksgiving turkey
There are so many wonderful Thanksgiving turkey recipes out there. This post focuses on how to spatchcock a turkey. So we're going to be using basic ingredients to get you a flavorful turkey.
- Turkey - Obviously, you'll need a whole turkey. Spatchcocking works best on turkeys no more than 25 pounds. Last year, I spatchcocked a 25-pound turkey, and it was pretty much the maximum size to fit onto my extra large roasting pan and baking sheet. Any larger, and the turkey won't fit; remember: it needs more surface since it lays flat. Turkeys in the 12 to 15 pound range are perfect!
- Butter - I prefer to use unsalted butter to coat the chicken, but you can use olive oil instead.
- Herbs - use a combination of herbs commonly found in poultry seasoning for the best flavor. These are thyme, oregano, and sage.
- Aromatics - onions and garlic are essential to build flavor when it comes to roasting a turkey.
Optional: vegetables - If you want to roast vegetables at the same time, I've included instructions for how to do so below. The best vegetables are classic fall root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and butternut squash. Be sure to cut them into equal sizes so they cook evenly.
How to spatchcock a turkey
Okay! Now that you have your kitchen tools and ingredients, here are the super EASY instructions for spatchcocking a turkey. Be sure to print out the recipe card at the bottom of this post! It has the full ingredient measurements and instructions.
- Be sure to defrost your turkey completely if it is frozen. This could take a couple of days, depending on your turkey, so plan well ahead.
If your turkey comes with giblets in the cavity, be sure to remove all of the giblets completely. Don't discard those giblets! Save those to make homemade turkey stock later!
2. Dry the turkey with paper towels, then place onto an extra large cutting board.
Using sharp kitchen shears or a knife, carefully remove the backbone. Watch our spatchcock turkey video to see how it is done.
3. Once the backbone is completely removed, use your muscles to push down on the turkey, breast side up, and break the breastbone. This allows the turkey to lay flat.
4. If roasting the turkey on its own, place the flattened turkey, breast side up, onto a rimmed baking sheet. Baste with olive oil or butter (your choice), dress with herbs, aromatics like onions and garlic cloves, and season with salt and pepper.
If roasting with vegetables, follow the next set of instructions.
How to roast a spatchcock turkey with vegetables
If you want to roast vegetables at the same time as your turkey, follow the steps 1 - 3 above. Then, place chopped vegetables at the bottom of a deep roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top of the vegetables.
Then brush the turkey with the herb mixture and place it on top of the roasting rack.
Baking Instructions for With or Without Vegetables
Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F. Continue to cook for at least one hour more, checking on the turkey every 15 minutes.
It's important that you check the turkey with a meat thermometer - this is the only way you will know for sure when your turkey is done. The turkey is done when an internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Thanksgiving Turkey FAQs
The general rule is to plan for one and a half pounds of turkey per person. So, if you are feeding 8 people, plan for at least a 12-pound turkey; a 14 to 16 pound turkey will be safe. And don't forget to plan for yummy turkey leftovers too!
Yes and no. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but there is a difference in the type of meat used for either. Spatchcocking refers to the process of flattening a whole chicken or whole turkey. Butterflying refers to the process of slicing a chicken breast or turkey breast - or other meat/seafood - in half and laying flat, like a butterfly.
Because the turkey takes up considerably more space in the oven when spatchcocked, it's best to try to limit this process to turkeys under 20 pounds. It really depends on your particular oven space and your pans.
I've found that spatchcocking works beautifully for 12 to 15 pound turkeys, and they fit beautifully on half sheet baking sheets. However, I've also spatchcocked a 25-pound turkey and placed it on an extra large roasting pan.
Store leftover turkey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or, you can freeze leftover turkey in freezer-safe, airtight containers or ziplock bags for up to two months.
If using convection, lower the temperature by 25°F. So start at 425° for 20 minutes, then lower to 375°F for the remaining hour or longer, until your turkey has an internal temperature of 165°F.
Spatchcock Turkey Cooking Time Sheet
Spatchcock turkeys cook in about half the time regular upright turkeys take to roast. It's approximately 6 to 10 minutes per pound, and truly depends on so many factors, including the turkey's overall size, how flat you can spatchcock your turkey, how it's shaped, and your oven.
I've found a 12- to 14-pound turkey is done in about 80 minutes.
A 20- to 25-pound turkey is done in about 2.5 hours.
It's important to check on your turkey about every 15 minutes after you lower the heat from the initial high heat roasting.
Best wine pairings for turkey
I'm an Oregon gal, and am proud to say that the two most popular wines we produce are also the best wine pairings for Thanksgiving turkey!
An Oregon Pinot Noir or Oregon Chardonnay pair perfectly with roast turkey. I also love to pop open a bottle of sparkling wine on Thanksgiving.
More Thanksgiving dinner recipes
Complete your Thanksgiving meal with these delicious Thanksgiving side dishes and appetizers:
- Green Beans and Bacon
- Brussels Sprouts with Apples
- Garlic Parmesan Knots
- Filipino Pandesal
- Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese
- Mushroom Marsala
- Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs
- Filipino Lumpiang Shanghai
And of course, you can't forget Thanksgiving dessert! Try one of these delicious fall dessert recipes:
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Be sure to defrost your turkey completely if it is frozen. If your turkey comes with giblets in the cavity, be sure to remove all of the giblets completely.
- Dry the turkey with paper towels, then place onto an extra large cutting board. Using sharp kitchen shears or a knife, carefully remove the backbone. Watch our spatchcock turkey video to see how it is done.
- Once the backbone is completely removed, set it aside. Then push down on the turkey, breast side up, and break the breastbone. This allows the turkey to lay flat.
To roast the turkey on its own:
- Place the flattened turkey, breast side up, onto a rimmed baking sheet. Brush the entire turkey with olive oil or butter (your choice). Place the onions and garlic along with the herbs underneath the turkey in the open cavity; sprinkle some of the fresh or dried herbs on top of the turkey too. Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F. Continue to cook, checking on the turkey every 15 minutes. The turkey is done when an internal temperature reaches 165°F.
To roast vegetables at the same time:
- Follow the steps 1 - 3 above. Then, place chopped vegetables at the bottom of a deep roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top of the vegetables.Then brush the turkey with the herb mixture and place it on top of the roasting rack. Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F. Continue to cook, checking on the turkey every 15 minutes. The turkey is done when an internal temperature reaches 165°F.