Looking to cook a turkey that’s tender on the inside and crispy on the outside? The Taste of Home Test Kitchen has discovered the secret to a perfectly cooked bird: spatchcocking. To spatchcock a bird is a method in which you remove the backbone of a whole bird and lay it flat to cook—butterfly it. You can spatchcock practically any bird; think turkeys, chickens, Cornish game hens and even pigeons!
Though the presentation isn’t traditional, there are a few reasons we prefer to spatchcock our turkey:
- It’s quick. Because the bird is flattened, the cooking time is cut almost in half.
- The bird cooks evenly. With a whole bird, the breast meat often dries out before the dark meat is done. By flattening the turkey, the legs and thighs (dark meat) are more exposed to the heat, and so they cook in the same time as the breast.
- The skin gets nice and crispy. Since the whole bird is equally exposed to heat, every inch of its skin will evenly brown and develop that crave-worthy crispiness.
Convinced? Me too. Follow along as the Test Kitchen walks us through the easy steps for how to spatchcock turkey. Apply it to your Thanksgiving dinner—or any dinner this year.
How to Spatchcock Turkey
1 turkey (12 to 14 lbs.)
3 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
Large baking pan
Test Kitchen tip: Before you begin, lay a damp cloth beneath your cutting board. This will keep it from sliding while you work.
Step 1: Pat the Bird Dry with Paper Towels
Give your turkey a towel drying to remove any extra moisture from its skin. The less moisture, the more crispy the skin will get as it cooks. (We can hardly wait!)
Step 2: Cut along the Side of the Backbone
Place the whole turkey on a cutting board with the breast-side down. Then, locate the backbone along the center of the bird. Starting at the tail, use a sharp pair of kitchen shears to cut alongside the spine. Try to cut as close as you can to the backbone so you don’t risk cutting any other joints. You may feel a little resistance as you cut through certain rib bones of the bird—in this case, press down on the shears with both hands.
Test Kitchen tip: Finding it difficult to cut? Stand on a stool for extra leverage.
Step 3: Remove the Backbone
Rotate turkey 180° so that the uncut side is closer to your dominant hand. Cut along the bone again and remove the backbone from the turkey.
Test Kitchen tip: Don’t throw away that backbone! Place it in a resealable plastic bag and save it in the freezer for your next batch of homemade stock or gravy.
Step 4: Flatten the Bird
Back to the bird: Flip it over so that the breast side is facing upward. With two hands (and a little bit of hulk-strength), press down firmly on the center of the bird until you hear a crack. This is the wishbone breaking! Voila. Your turkey is successfully spatchcocked.
One last thing. See how those wings are splayed out? Give them a quick twist and tuck them underneath the body of the bird.
Test Kitchen tip: This helps keep the wingtips from burning and allows your bird to lie nice and flat.
Step 5: Add Herbs and Seasonings
Mix the salt, pepper and minced herbs and rub (with gusto!) all over the turkey.
Test Kitchen tip: Adding salt to the skin now will help remove extra moisture so the skin can get extra crispy.
Step 6: Refrigerate Overnight
Here’s where a little patience makes a big difference. Transfer the turkey to a rack on a foil-lined rimmed baking pan, then pop it in the fridge, uncovered, overnight.
Test Kitchen tip: Don’t be tempted to cover the turkey with plastic wrap or foil before chilling. You want it to air out. The more the skin is exposed to air drying in the fridge, the crisper it will be after roasting.
Step 7: Get Cooking
Ready to roast? Dial up the oven to 450° and remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Let your turkey come to room temperature while the oven gets toasty. (It’ll cook more quickly and evenly this way!)
At last! It’s time to cook. Send the bird into the oven and roast for about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. You’ll know that it’s cooked to perfection when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 170°-175°.
Step 8: Let Rest, Then Enjoy!
Don’t grab that carving knife just yet! Once out of the oven, let the turkey stand for 15 minutes before carving. This will help the meat retain its juices.
Last, follow our step-by-step guide for how to carve a turkey. The end result is a gorgeous spread everyone will be grateful for.