Spatchcocked! A Better Way to Cook your Thanksgiving Turkey

If you’re looking to prepare a juicy turkey that has perfectly brown skin and cooks in less than TWO hours for Thanksgiving table, consider using the spatchcock method.

What is Spatchcocking ?

In it’s simplest since, think of it as butterflying the turkey. In the Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson wrote, “The theory is that the word is an abbreviation of ‘dispatch the cock,’ a phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat.” Davidson speculates that spatchcocked birds originated in Ireland. He noticed them in Irish cookbooks that date to the 18th century.

Besides making an intriguing presentation and being simple to carve, a spatchcocked bird requires less time in the oven. That means that the breast meat won’t be dry, which makes Thanksgiving Day preparations much easier.

Why is a Spatchcocked Turkey better than the “traditional” method of turkey preparation?

When cooking turkey the traditional way, the dark meat in turkey legs need to be cooked at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit,  but the leaner breast meat will dry out when cooked much above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The breast meat is fully exposed to the oven’s heat while the legs remain hidden underneath, causing discrepancies in the time it takes each part to cook. By laying the turkey out flat and spreading the legs out to the sides, what was once the most protected part of the bird (the thighs and drumsticks) are now the most exposed. This means that they cook faster which is precisely what you want when your goal is cooking the dark meat to a higher temperature than light meat.

Below is a recipe for a wonderfully delicious spatchcocked turkey!


1 Turkey (obviously, but this technique can be adapted for chicken or any game bird)

The Magic Rub

  • Salt (1 tablespoon for every five pounds of turkey
  • Fresh Herbs and Pepper (to taste)- Use what you like here. I prefer rosemary and thyme
  • Zest of ½ Lemon
  • White wine


  • If you want a head start on your spatchcocked turkey, you buy your bird from a butcher who will “butterfly” it for you. This can be done at any reputable grocery store. Make sure you have them give you the backbone and other parts that are removed, as they are perfect for roasting and making a rich stock for gravy.
  • If you are feeling bold, you can do this yourself! Get the sharpest kitchen shears you can find and patiently snip down each side of the backbone. A knife will likely be necessary to cut into the pelvis if you’re roasting a larger turkey. Then cut deeply into aptly-named keel bone between the two breast halves – it does look just like the keel of a ship – which will allow you to flatten the breast. This is important in roasting the bird evenly. Don’t worry about removing the keel bone altogether; snipping the cartilage along one side should allow you to spread the two breast halves apart and flat down.
  • Place the salt, herbs, and zest in a food processor and pulse for 15 seconds.
  • Thoroughly pat the bird dry inside and out (this is REALLY important for a good crisp skin), and then massage the rub gently into the skin, using a bit more on the thickest part of the breast. Sprinkle this rub evenly over the inside areas of the turkey as well.
  • Put the turkey into a large plastic bag and place in your refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  • An hour before you plan to start roasting the turkey, take it out of the fridge and put it on a rack set inside a large roasting pan, spread out of course. Pull the legs forward, as shown in the photo. Massage the turkey one final time to ensure your rub is fully incorporated into the turkey.
  • Heat your oven to 450 degrees. When it’s been 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes, place the turkey in. I usually add about a cup of water and a 1/2 of lemon to keep the juices from browning too much before the turkey releases its juices into the pan. Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees; then, roast for about 10 minutes per pound, total.
  • Cover the breast after an hour with heavy foil (or after an hour and a half for a larger bird). Pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Since you’ve been working this for this incredible feast, have a glass or two for yourself as well. You owe it to yourself!
  • The turkey is done when the thigh’s internal temperature is 165 degrees. Please use a metal meat thermometer and not the plastic one that comes with your turkey   Start checking about half way through the expected total time to ensure your don’t overcook the meat.
  • When the internal temperature of the thigh has reached 165 ish degrees, take your beautiful turkey out of the oven, remove the foil and let the roast rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  • While your turkey is resting, use the drippings to make a flavorful gravy with a little flour!


Did you know?

Ben Franklin was a big fan of the turkey. According to the Franklin Institute, he wrote in a letter to his daughter:

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly…like those among men who live by sharping and robbing…he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district…For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours…”


About Andre Moore (109 Articles)
Atlanta based Food Writer, Essayist, Hunter/Angler, and World Traveler. I create meaningful experiences for my family and write about it.

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