For years now, I make a spatchcocked turkey as the star of my Thanksgiving table. Funny name, yes. But I'm telling you, it's faster, cooks more evenly, and will totally change how you see turkey at your Thanksgiving table.
Since I switched from the traditional, stuffed bird, I continue to get compliments that it's the BEST turkey my guests have ever had.
Including, I might add, my dad — a man who dislikes poultry and generally skips over the turkey at Thanksgiving in favor of mashed potatoes. The first year I made a spatchcock turkey, he made a point of telling me, "I don't know what you did, but that turkey was very good."
That sealed the deal for me. Spatchcocked turkeys are the way to go for Thanksgiving! I'll walk you through how to prep the bird and blow your mind this holiday season.
What makes a spatchcocked turkey better?
With me talking up all the accolades of a spatchcock turkey, I'm sure you're wondering why the heck you would bother getting even more handsy with your Thanksgiving turkey.
Here's what makes prepping your turkey this way better:
Cook time is WAY faster.
I'll never forget the first time I made my Thanksgiving turkey this way. My parents called to tell me they had just hit the road and would be in Fargo in about 2.5 hours. When I told my mom I hadn't started the turkey yet and probably wouldn't for over an hour, she was seriously considering ordering takeout.
Of course, that ended up not being necessary. But the point is: spatchcocked turkeys cook SO much faster than a traditional stuffed turkey!
When I made the huge 20 pound turkey to take these photos, I had it in the oven for about 50 minutes — and honestly, I think it was in there a little long.
So what? You shaved a bit of time off of the cook time. Big deal, right?
Here's your reminder that oven space is a precious commodity during the holidays and you probably have something else that needs to warm up or finish off in the oven before it hits the table!
The meat cooks evenly (no more dry breast meat!)
Raise your hand if you've had dry, stringy turkey breast at a Thanksgiving meal before. Or, worse, the cook decided that the turkey needs to literally "fall off the bone" and overcooks the bird, resulting in a rubbery mess.
Spatchcocked turkey avoids all of that. All too often with a traditional turkey, you're forced to overcook the white meat to get the dark meat to finish cooking. The problem's even worse if you stuff the bird.
With a spatchcoked turkey, you're essentially flattening out the playing field so the whole bird cooks at the same rate.
I used to prefer dark meat, hands down, but now I almsot always reach for white meat. When cooked right, it's hard to beat juicy turkey breast!
Bonus: the skin is amazingly crispy
I realize I'm speaking to a smaller audience here, because shockingly not everyone in the world likes eating the skin. Buuutt...one of the big reasons I'll never go back to a traditional turkey is the perfectly crisp skin on a spatchcocked turkey.
Seriously, it's unreal. Since only the inner cavity of the turkey is down, ALL of the skin has a chance to get bronzed and crisp.
Absolutely the best part!
Gear you'll need for a spatchcocked turkey
You'll need a few pieces of equipment to prep and roast your turkey that you wouldn't need for a traditional turkey.
- Quality, sharp kitchen shears or chef's knife
- A large sheet pan with a rim
- A wire rack that fits in the sheet pan
How to spatchcock a turkey for Thanksgiving
Okay, okay, we're here — let's spatchcock this turkey!
Don't worry. This is probably easier than you think. I'm going to go through the steps to spatchcock and brine the turkey to cover it all in one place.
Step One: Defrost the turkey if necessary. Remove the giblets and neck.
If your turkey is frozen, be sure to take it out of the freezer and give it a few days to defrost. It's best to brine your turkey for a couple days, so you need to plan a little bit to make this all happen!
Once the turkey is defrosted, remove the giblets and neck. But do NOT—I repeat—DO NOT toss out those giblets. Save them for stuffing, whether you're making bread stuffing or the rice stuffing my family always makes.
Also, it's tradition in my family for the matron of the house to get the neck. So don't toss that out either! We'll roast it alongside the turkey.
Step Two: Cut the back out of the turkey
You'll need a good pair of kitchen shears or a sturdy chef's knife for this!
Place the turkey breast-side down on the counter. Find the spine of the turkey. Starting at the tail-end, cut alongside the spine. If you've found the right spot, it should be relatively easy to cut through.
The section I always struggle with is there the thigh connects. That's the most difficult spot for me to find the joint, where it's easiest to separate. But usually once I get past that point, it's easy breezy!
After you've cut one side, you can go ahead and cut the other side to completely remove the spine. At that point, you can save the spine to make stock or soup.
However, I usually just skip the other side and leave it attached. Your turkey will be a little lopsided on the baking sheet, but at least to me, that's not a dealbreaker!
Once you've cut through at least one side, pull the sides apart a bit. Using your kitchen shears, snip cartelige on the inside of the collarbone — this will allow you to lay the turkey flat!
Step Three: Rub the turkey with salt for the dry brine and let it brine!
Grab a loose handful or two of kosher salt and rub it all over the turkey.
ALWAYS use kosher salt — NEVER table salt — for brining! If you do use fine salt or table salt, the turkey will likely be too salty. Kosher salt has a larger grain, so it's not as salty by volume.
Work your fingers under the edgest of the skin to rub a little salt into the meatiest parts of the turkey — the breasts and thighs.
Once you've got the salt rubbed on, cover the turkey and transfer it to the fridge to dry brine for up to 3 days before you're ready to roast it. I usually put the turkey in a covered roaster, but you could also lay the bird out on the sheet pan you'll use to roast it and cover with plastic wrap.
Step Four: Prep the turkey for cooking
It's turkey roasting day! Get hyped.
Take the turkey out of the fridge for a couple hours to let it come closer to room temperature before you roast it.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Prep a sheet pan — depending on the size of your turkey, you'll need a large sheet pan with a rim. If you aren't making the rice stuffing, set a wire rack on the sheet pan. Add the turkey skin side up.
In a medium bowl, add a couple tablespoons softened butter or ghee and fresh or dried herbs. My favorite herbs to use for turkey are thyme, sage, rosemary, and savory. Mash the herbs into the butter. Rub this herb mixure underneath the skin of the turkey, focusing on the breasts and thighs.
Rub a few additional tablespoons of softened butter or ghee on the outside of the turkey. I don't like to add herbs to the outside rub, since I find they just burn.
Tuck the tips of the wings under the skin of the turkey breasts, and we're almost ready!
If you're roasting the turkey without stuffing underneath, pour a cup or so of water into the sheet pan (not over the turkey). This will prevent the drippings from burning and smoking.
Put the whole sheet pan in the oven and roast for about 80 minutes, until the breast meat reaches 145 degrees F and the thigh meat is 165 degrees F.
The best way to brine a spatchcocked turkey
Dry brine is the way to go!
I know a few folks who wet brine their turkey using either a "brining bag" or by submersing their turkey in a huge pot with salted water.
But a dry brine is monumentally easier!
What is a dry brine? Basically just kosher salt, rubbed into the skin and meat of the turkey and left to slowly dissolve and soak into the meat.
If you've never brined a turkey or chicken before, you've GOT TO. Seriously, it makes such a big difference!
Does it make your meat taste salty? No. Not overly salted, anyway. Used correctly, salt is supposed to enhance flavor.
When I dry brine a turkey, I use a handful of kosher salt (do NOT use table salt) and rub it on the outside of the skin as well as under the skin. Then I put the turkey in a roaster and leave it in the fridge for up to 3 days until I'm ready to cook!
The longer you brine, the better — but if you forgot to start brining Thanksgiving, it's still worth brining as soon as you remember!
How long should I cook a spatchcocked turkey?
Because the turkey isn't stuffed and the turkey is flatter, a spatchcock turkey cooks much faster than a traditional turkey!
Typically, a spatchcocked turkey is done within 90 minutes, depending on the size of the turkey.
Most sources will tell you to cook a traditional turkey for 13-15 minutes per pound. That means a 14 pound turkey would take almost 3 hours!
In contrast, the spatchcock turkey I made for the pictures was 20 pounds and done in 90 minutes. (I believe my oven runs a little hot, though.)
Typically, if making a 14-16 pound turkey, I'd start checking in on it at 60 minutes and every 10 minutes after that.
So, the best rule of thumb: cook a spatchcock turkey at 450 degrees F for 6-8 minutes per pound. But, of course, ALWAYS check the temperature of the breast and thighs to ensure doneness.
What if I want to make stuffing, too?
When I started spatchcocking turkey for Thanksgiving, the biggest pushback I got was around stuffing. How can we make the best stuffing without actually stuffing the turkey? After all, stuffing kind of relies on soaking up the drippings of the turkey.
I've made spatchcocked chicken with vegetables underneath, so I took inspiration from that to see if it would work for my family's traditional rice stuffing.
And yes, it worked! I had to adjust the recipe a little (use more broth, as more moisture will evaporate this way), but ultimately I was still able to make use of those turkey drippings.
Now, my family only makes rice stuffing — it's phenomenal, so bread stuffing has never been part of our holiday table. So I'm not sure if you'd be able to make bread stuffing under a spatchcocked turkey. But if you're willing to give rice stuffing a try, check out the recipe!
More gluten free and paleo Thanksgiving recipes
- Bacon-Topped Dairy Free Green Bean Casserole
- Gluten Free Wild Rice Stuffing
- Gluten Free Dinner Rolls
- Warm Winter Kale and Delicata Squash Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
- Mushroom, Bacon, and Cauliflower Casserole
- Paleo Apple Walnut Bundt Cake
Spatchcock turkey will change your Thanksgiving table forever! Give yourself a couple days of dry-brine time at least, and prepping Thanksgiving dinner will be a breeze!
If you want to make the rice stuffing pictured in the photos, grab the recipe and necessary adjustments at the Thanksgiving Wild Rice Stuffing recipe page.
- 1 14-16 pound turkey
- ⅓ cup kosher salt (I use Redmond Real Salt)
- ½ cup softened butter or ghee
- ¼ cup tightly packed fresh herb blend of sage, thyme, rosemary, and/or savory, minced (if you only have dry herbs, use about 2 tablespoons total)
- A few days before roasting, remove the giblets and neck from the turkey. Save the giblets for stuffing or broth.
- Using a sharp pair of kitchen shears or a chef's knife, cut alongside the backbone of the turkey, starting at the tail-end open cavity. Remove the spine (or, if you're semi-lazy like me, just cut along one side and don't stress over your somewhat lopsided turkey). Reserve the spine for gravy or broth.
- Snip the cartilage on the underside of the breastbone in the cavity with the shears or knife. This should allow you to push the cavity open and lay the breasts flat. Flip the turkey over so the skin side is up.
- Now we'll salt the turkey with a dry brine. Use your fingers to gently loosen the skin away from the flesh — the easiest spots are near the top of the breasts where the neck would be and at the tail-end of the turkey. Rub kosher salt directly onto the meat under the skin, as well as the outside skin of the turkey. Cover the bird in a roaster or loosely with plastic wrap and dry-brine it in the fridge for 1-3 days.
- On roasting day, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Move a rack in the oven to the lower middle position. Take the brined turkey out of the fridge and let it rest for 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper (for easier clean-up) and, if not making rice stuffing, place a wire rack on top.
- Mix half of the softened butter with the herbs. Rub this mixture under the skin of the turkey, focusing on the breasts and thighs. Take the remaining butter on the outside skin of the turkey.
- Lay the turkey flat on the wire rack. Tuck the wing tips under the skin near the turkey breasts so they don't burn. If not making stuffing, pour ½ cup water into the bakin sheet to keep the drippings from burning and smoking.
- Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 70-90 minutes (I usually start checking around 60 minutes and every 10 minutes after, depending on the size of the turkey). The turkey is done when the breast meat reaches 145 degrees F and the thigh meat reaches 165 degrees F. Always check the temperature to ensure the turkey's done!
- If the skin of the turkey seems to be browning too quickly, loosely tent the turkey breasts with aluminum foil to prevent them from burning.
- Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving and serving.
Keywords: spatchcock turkey, Thanksgiving, turkey, gluten free, paleo, keto, low carb