How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Different times call for different measures.

This year we do not need this 18-pound centerpiece for the table.

In fact, being #saferathome means my husband and I will be on our own for the Thanksgiving meal. And I am okay with that. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is how to manage my expectations.

Meanwhile, we still need 8-quarts of poultry stock and 7 pounds of turkey meat to make our twenty-quart pot of Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage GumboMy adult children and their families look forward to getting their Thanksgiving gumbo in to-go containers every year and it is my pleasure and honor to do this for them. It is my family I am most thankful for in my life.

Since it is 2020 and we have been trying all sorts of new things in every aspect of our lives, I decided it was as good a time as ever for my husband and me to try our hand at spatchcocking a turkey. He was game!

What does spatchcock mean and why do we do it? Spatchcock is a butchering technique where you remove the backbone of poultry. This allows you to open and flatten the chest cavity for faster and more even roasting.

When the bird is turned over, it looks like this.

I cooked this turkey in a 400º oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The meat was super moist and the skin was crisp.

The bird weighed 16.5 pounds to start. Once I removed the innards, the wingtips, and the backbone, it weighed 13.5 pounds. After it was roasted and my sweet husband took all the meat off the bones, we had 7 pounds of meat. Each breast provided us with two pounds. The bones all went into the poultry stock that had been simmering all day. I started the stock with frozen rotisserie chicken carcasses from the freezer. Read about that here.

How to spatchcock a turkey.

A Mennonite farmer once told us any job is possible if you have the proper tool. The proper tool for this job is a pair of poultry shears. This is crazy, but we had a pair of these shears in our house and I never knew what they were for. In fact, I almost got rid of them because they were not good at cutting paper when I couldn’t find the scissors I wanted!

Poultry shears have sharp, curved blades helpful for getting into hard to reach places when deboning meat. They remind me of pruning shears – the handles help you get a good grip so you can squeeze down hard as you cut. Plain scissors will work, but there will be a little more huffing and puffing involved.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Defrost the bird. Remove the neck and gizzards from inside the two cavities, one on each end of the turkey. Wash the bird inside and out. Pat dry.

Lay the bird breast-side down. The wings should be on top.

Remove the backbone with poultry shears. First, one side of the spine

and then the other. CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

Save the backbone for the turkey stock.

Flip the bird over and press down on the sternum, aka the breastbone, located between the breasts, as if to do CPR. Repeat, moving your hands down along the sternum, until you no longer hear crunching as you press.

We practiced spatchcocking two different sized turkeys during the week. The smaller one splayed out flatly with just the chest compressions. The larger one needed a little more help to flatten it. My husband turned the breast over and used a meat cleaver to cut into the sternum to split the chest open a little more.

 

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How to Cook the Bird 

We cooked one in the oven and the other on the grill. I’ll show you the oven method first.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Arrange the bird on a roasting pan. Rub olive oil all over it, top and bottom, and season with a generous amount of salt and garlic pepper. I use McCormick’s Garlic Pepper.

The hottest part of an oven is the two back corners. Place the roasting pan in the oven, so the thick breasts are in the back.

I cooked the bird for an hour and fifteen minutes and then started checking the meat’s temperature every ten minutes. I checked the temperature in many spots — the thickest part of the breast, the thickest part of the thigh, etc. As long as every section registers at least 165º the turkey is safely cooked. I shoot for 160º because, after many years of cooking, I understand the concept of “carryover” heat and know that as the turkey rests, the internal temperature will climb to 165º. The concept is well described in this post.

I let the turkey rest on the counter for about 30 minutes and then poured off and saved the drippings for my poultry stock.

Before I added the drippings to the stock, I poured them into a fat separator to remove the fat.

When my husband and I spatchcocked the other turkey earlier in the week, we cooked it on a grill using indirect heat.

Don’t ask me what got into me; all that frilly seasoning was unnecessary! The flavor profile was a FAIL; too sagey and lemony.

Having said that, it sure was fun to decorate!

And it sounded lovely in all of its crackly glory as it roasted in the grill.

 

That turkey was 13.5 pounds before I opened the sack. It was done in 75 minutes. It was as moist as the oven-roasted turkey.

So, that is the end of my spatchcocking saga. I’ve got my eight quarts of gelatinous poultry stock and seven pounds of turkey meat.

Later this week, I will gather all the ingredients for Bruce’s gumbo and get busy chopping. For now, I’ll rest on my laurels

knowing this is in my future.

The recipe that is trending on my blog this morning is Karen’s Foolproof Make-Ahead GravyIt is delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I am grateful to all the folks who read my blog, make the recipes, and write to share their experiences. Thank you. You give me joy!

If you need last-minute instructions on how to cook a few traditional sides and desserts for Thanksgiving, check out Thanksgiving Week on the Menu.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

15 thoughts on “How to Spatchcock a Turkey

  1. Hi Judy,

    Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for you and your posts that are alway so interesting and fun! In these uncertain times I look forward to your posts and learning something new!

    Best wishes

    Tammy Gray (The Cabin Coffee and Cafe’ in Cadi) (937) 478-9633

    >

    1. Tammy! It is so good to hear from you. Kelly and I so miss going to see you at The Cabin. The atmosphere at The Cabin was friendly, and it gave us a place to go, eat, and hang around outside of our own home. I miss your multigrain croissants, too. I hope life is good. Thank you for the nice comments- music to my ears. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving Judy and Kelly! I worked in the HLA lab at MGH and then in research with Dr. Cosimi. My (now) husband Dan was doing transplant research with Dr. Winn. Kelly was probably the Transplant Fellow? The old, old days! I’ve enjoyed following your blog posts for a while now, and was happy and surprised to see a familiar face!
    We do have one son home and our daughter and her bf here for Thanksgiving, so we’re thankful for that. Our oldest son and his family are staying in Rochester NY for all the holidays 🤔
    Take care and stay safe!
    Scarlet Artruc and Dan Doody

    1. What a marvelous surprise. I read your message out loud to Kelly. So fun. How ever did you find my blog?! Our MGH years, and living on the hill with our babies were wonderful years. I often tell stories about looking out the window with the children as we watched Kelly walk up the hill on his way home. Good times! Thank you so much for writing.

  3. Judy,

    Hope you and Kelly are well and having a pleasant Thanksgiving. Deborah showed me your dispatch describing spatchcocking a turkey. As I scrolled through the pictures and got to the bottom, it looked like Kelly was doing chest compressions on the turkey. I think it was probably a little late for that!!

    Best,

    David & Deborah

    1. This cracks me up every time I read it and I’ve read it many times! It just hits a funny nerve on this bittersweet holiday.

      It might interest you to know that Kelly has now sewn up THREE chickens that have been torn apart by various predators. They have all survived — must have been all that good training he had in Boston.

      We were both delighted to hear from you and hope it won’t be long before we can see each other again. xo

  4. It looks easy and delicious Something new to try Hope you have a very enjoyable day. Happy Friday as well ssf

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