Serves a Crowd

Roast Spatchcocked Turkey

October 15, 2012
18 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 24 hours 45 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Makes whatever sized bird you have
Author Notes

In some ways, this recipe represents the best of Food52. I haven't done my holiday turkeys like this for years and years. No, this one was developed with a lot of help via the Hotline (especially when it was the FoodPickle), and then refined last year using the basic dry brine technique of the Russ Parson's "Judy Bird" posted as part of the Genius series. I've made a lot of turkeys over the past 35 years, experimenting with all different methods. This is by far my favorite. Here's why. We always take a rather long hike on Thanksgiving Day, so my turkey doesn’t even go into the oven until mid-afternoon. Butterflying the bird helps get dinner on the table much sooner. Also, if you brine (wet or dry), your drippings generally taste too salty to use in gravy. Having the back of the turkey (not brined) to roast on its own with the neck of the bird allows you to make a flavorful gravy. (See my recipe for “Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy”, if you’d like more specific information on that. You don’t need to buy extra wings, if you have the back.) Furthermore, a spatchcocked bird doesn’t take as much vertical space in the oven, leaving more shelf space for cooking side dishes. Butterflying also produces an evenly cooked bird, as the lower joints cook more quickly, so the breast does not dry out.

If you want to roast a spatchcocked turkey, you really should buy your bird from a butcher who will "butterfly" it for you. Make sure you have her or him give you the backbone and other parts that are removed, as they are perfect for roasting and making a rich stock for gravy. Wrap up the turkey back and neck in butcher paper or put them in a plastic bag; refrigerate until you need them. They are perfect for roasting separately, to make gravy.

If you butterfly the bird yourself, get the sharpest kitchen shears you can find and patiently snip (it may feel like hacking) down each side of the backbone. A sharp cleaver or a good-sized butcher knife may be necessary to cut into the pelvis, if you're roasting a larger bird. Then cut deeply into aptly-named keel bone between the two breast halves, 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.

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Five Two Essential Roasting Pan & Rack
- Five Two Bamboo Double Sided Cutting Board
- Five Two Essential Kitchen Knives


Test Kitchen Notes

Though it may sound like a old-fashioned culinary term, spatchcocking is in fact one of the biggest hacks around when it comes to cooking poultry. Essentially, to spatchcock (or butterfly) a bird is to remove its backbone and flatten it before cooking.

You can spatchcock any bird, but let’s talk turkey. As the author notes, cooking turkeys present a number of challenges, from fitting a large bird into the oven along with everything else needed for Thanksgiving dinner; how the breast meat is finished cooking long before the dark meat come up to temperature, not to mention just how dang long it takes to cook a big ol’ turkey. When spatchcocking, these problems disappear: the flat bird neatly fits in a standard half sheet pan, so you can easily pop in a casserole dish of stuffing or a pan of Brussels sprouts on another oven rack. And as for the over- or undercooking risk, when the entire turkey lays flat on the tray, it cooks more evently, as heat hits the whole thing directl. Perhaps most importantly, the turkey will cook in significantly less time than non-spatchcocked—figure about 6 minutes per pound if following this recipe, or until thigh meat registers 165°.

A few things to keep in mind when spatchcocking for the first time. Defrost the turkey before starting, and note that this can take several days if it was frozen. Place the turkey on a large cutting board and remove giblets from inside either end’s cavity (save them for stock!). Dry off the skin with paper towels, then flip the bird breast-side down. Using your sharpest pair of kitchen shears, cut out the backbone from pole to pole—it helps to start from one end, cut up about halfway, then turn around the bird and finish cutting from the opposite end, then repeat on the other side. Save the backbone with the giblets, then flip the bird breast-side up. Either shallowly snip just the interior flexible breastbone (without cutting through the meat or skin), or, by applying as much weight as you can to the skin-side, break the breastbone by pressing down firmly until the turkey sits flat. You’re ready to brine! Also, as our author notes, if this process simply isn’t for you, buy your turkey from a butcher who will spatchcock it for you. —A&M

What You'll Need
  • 1 Whole turkey (you choose your size!)
  • Kosher salt for the rub (1 tablespoon for every five pounds of turkey; for a smaller bird, you might need a bit more.)
  • Fresh herbs for the rub. (I use a combination of fresh marjoram and thyme; you could use rosemary and sage, or your favorites.) 2-3 thick sprigs of each for a small bird, and 5-6 for a large one.
  • White wine (one glass for the bird, one for you)
  1. Blitz the salt in a food processor with the leaves and slender stems of the herbs. Thoroughly pat the bird dry inside and out, and then rub the salt gently into the skin, using a bit more on the thickest part of the breast. Sprinkle the herbed salt evenly over the inside areas of the turkey as well.
  2. Put the turkey into a large plastic bag, with the two back edges together, so that it looks rather like it did before you removed the backbone. Squeeze out as much air as you can from the bag, and secure it shut. Then, sit the turkey in the bag, breast side up, in a large bowl. Put it in the fridge for three days, rubbing the salt into the skin gently every day, and turning it upside down in the bowl 24 hours before you plan to cook the bird. (I strongly recommend using a bowl because, no matter how good your re-sealable bag may seem, it’s likely to leak.
  3. The night before you plan to roast the bird, remove it from the bag, and put it on a large plate with the back pieces together and the breast up. (If your fridge is stuffed, like mine usually is the night before I roast a turkey, you can also wash and dry the bowl to use instead.) Put it in the fridge until an hour before you plan to begin roasting. If you're getting up very early on T-Day, you can do this in the morning, as long as the bird has at least 6 or 7 hours to sit uncovered before you remove it from the fridge.
  4. 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. For some reason, I don’t own a decent flat roasting rack, so I set my largest cookie cooling rack on three sturdy stalks of celery, to give it a bit more stability.
  5. Heat your oven to 450°F. Add about a cup of water, to keep the pan juices from browning too much in the early stages. For a small or medium bird—up to 18 pounds—roast at 450°F for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°F. For larger birds, start at 425°F degrees and lower it to 375°F. Knock all of these down 25°F for a convection oven.
  6. The turkey is ready to take out of the oven when a thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the breast, without touching the bone, reaches 150°F and the thickest part of the thigh hits 165°F. It’s okay if the thigh temperature exceeds 165°F; dark meat isn’t as noticeably affected as breast meat by a bit of over-cooking.
  7. Check the internal temperature after the bird has roasted for 4 minutes per pound, e.g., for a 12-pound bird, after 48 minutes. It probably won’t be anywhere near done by then, but a smaller bird could be, if the oven is running hot. If you don’t have one of those handy-dandy leave-in thermometers that let you know when you’ve reached the desired temperature, continue to check occasionally. How often you should check depends on the size of the bird, the readings you get, and how hot your oven actually is.
  8. Cover the breast with foil after about 45-50 minutes, or whenever it starts to look very dark. I usually pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Then I pour myself one. This is optional but recommended. Based on the comments of others, I suggest putting foil on the legs of larger birds, if the drumsticks seem to be getting too crisp.
  9. Once the internal temperature of the breast at its thickest part has reached 150°F, take your beautiful turkey out of the oven, remove the foil and let that bird rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  10. Meanwhile, use the pan drippings in very small quantities to season your gravy. (The drippings may be too salty to form the basis of your gravy, so unless you have a better method for making gravy, roast that turkey back separately and use its drippings instead. See my “Make Ahead Turkey Gravy” recipe for more detailed instructions.)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kim
  • PhillipBrandon
  • Risottogirl
  • Lynn Sarnow Born
    Lynn Sarnow Born
  • AntoniaJames

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

127 Reviews

MonicaAnn January 5, 2023
The holidays are over, and tonight, I'm roasting another spatchcocked turkey. After dry brining uncovered in the fridge, I've taken to loosening the thigh and breast skin, adding a pat of butter and stuffing them full of stuffing. Seems to really help the meat come out even more juicy and flavorful. Any remaining stuffing goes under the cavity between the bird and the broiler pan. I then rub butter on the outside, and salt and pepper. Beautifully browned and crispy skin. I find I have to roast mine longer than the instructions indicate, but just chalk that up to the variation in ovens. Have been doing it this way for over 3 years. Never going back to a regular turkey.
MonicaAnn January 5, 2023
I'm also certain the stuffing under the skin adds to the cooking time, as well.
nbrown November 30, 2022
Superb, Antonia James!
My first time trying a spatchcocked turkey and I am so glad I landed on your recipe.
I started with a 16 lb bird. The butcher did not remove the keel bone, so I used pair of very sharp poultry sheers and managed to remove it myself. I carefully loosened the meat around the keel bone - gently scraping around it with a knife. Then using a small but strong sniping motion worked through the ribs with the shears to get it out. As you mentioned in the comments, removing the keel bone was key to getting a larger turkey flattened.
I could not resist that pricy, generous display of chanterelle mushrooms at the grocery store. I cubed them up and threw them in the pan under the rack. They absorbed some of the turkey juices and white wine baste.
My family commented that this was the best turkey ever.

AntoniaJames December 1, 2022
nbrown, thank you so much. "Best turkey ever?" High praise that is. Love the idea of throwing mushrooms in the pan! I'll be doing that next year. Thanks for letting us know. ;o)
MonicaAnn January 5, 2023
Re: keel bone - I follow America's Test Kitchens instructions on this for their Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken. They advise to put a small slice through the top of the cartilage, flip the bird breast side up and press firmly with both hands and it will crack. Works great for turkey, too.
nbrown January 5, 2023
Thanks, Monica,
I will give that a try that technique next year.
DJM-VA November 24, 2022
Amazing recipe. Easy to follow...may have added some extra wine [plus an Xtra glass for the cook] wish I could attach my photo!!
AntoniaJames December 1, 2022
Thank you, DJM-VA. Extra wine, plus an extra glass for the cook - always a good idea! So glad it worked out well for you. ;o)
Bemused November 24, 2022
This is the best-written turkey recipe I've ever read. It specifies cooking times for birds of various sizes. Most assume you're cooking a 10-12 pound turkey. Covering the drumsticks and other pieces with foil makes a ton of sense. This will be my guide today.
Arthur J. November 24, 2022
For turkey, I have a DEDICATED pair of Fiskar Pruning shears for yard and garden. It cuts through the turkey bones with ease! For smaller birds, I find a sharp pair of poultry shears sufficient. You cut through where ribs join the spine. You don’t try to cut through the spine itself
Mrs B. November 24, 2022
Great tip!! Thanks so much. Santa has been duly advised. Happy Thanksgiving!!
Makingheadlines November 16, 2022
Help, please: I have a 16 lb spachcocked turkey, so it's likely too large to lay flat in my roasting pan. What size baking sheet do I need to purchase and can anyone recommend one they like or where they got it?
AntoniaJames November 16, 2022
I have never spatchcocked a bird quite that large, but I just smoked a 13 pound turkey this past weekend which I let come to room temperature on what is known as a "half sheet pan," which is about 13" x 18". I'm quite sure that your turkey would fit on a sheet pan that size. I have tried several brands over the years, and Nordic Ware is my favorite (and seems to be that of various experts, too, as I've noticed in comparison review articles). You can buy them in the Food52 Shop, but also at restaurant supply stores and on Amazon. They are well worth the investment.

Also, it's just as well that your roasting pan won't work. You really need to expose the turkey all over on a surface with much lower sides in order for it to roast properly. ;o)
Makingheadlines November 16, 2022
Thanks! I just ordered the Nordic Ware Extra large (14 x 20) Oven Crisp Baking Tray. It comes with a rack and has 2" sides, so it will make it a little easier not to spill than the traditional sided baking sheet. Does that sound like a good choice to you? And may I ask two other questions: 1) I ordered a fresh bird and the butcher suggested 16 lbs for 11 people to have leftovers. Does that sound right to you? 2) I was considering a buttermilk and salt wet brine if I don't do your brine. Can I use your timing directions even if I use this wet brine? Thank you so much. I appreciate how simply you've written your directions and how complete they are. Most others are only for smaller birds and don't give such specifics.
AntoniaJames November 17, 2022
That rack sounds fine! The 2" sides should be okay, and the surface area should be more than enough.

The 16 pound bird should be plenty. I don't know how old or how hungry each of your guests will be. There will be plenty for everybody at the table, but how many leftovers there will be depends on how much is eaten on Thanksgiving itself. Generally, if you're serving the usual array of sides, people don't take an enormous amount of turkey. If you really want to make sure there is enough for sandwiches, you can set some aside in advance.

The timing instructions should be the same if. you use the wet brine. Don't rely on those recommendations, however. Use a probe thermometer to start checking early. Mine always seem to take less time than I expect.

Here is a note of caution, however. Your bird is at the top of the range of ideal weights for spatchcocking a turkey.

It is critical therefore that you either cut out the keel bone completely (I've never been able to do it myself, so get your butcher to do it for you, if possible), or at least snip around it part way to release the meat attached to it, and then cut the keel bone down the middle from the top a good inch or two, if you can. You may have to break it by pressing down very hard on the outside of the bird at the top. Breaking it is okay. The point is that with a turkey breast that size, you must flatten it out well, to allow it to cook properly all the way through.

I had a situation a few years ago when some of the breast meat looked a little pink after I'd removed the bird from the oven, started carving, etc., despite correct internal temperatures on my probe thermometer. I sliced it anyway and then dropped the slices in a skillet with some hot gravy for about 1 minute, which completed the cooking quite nicely.

Have fun! ;o)
Makingheadlines November 17, 2022
Got it. Thanks. I have the butcher spatchcocking it for me. I'll call in advance to give them that direction and remember I must have it completely flat.
Makingheadlines November 17, 2022
And can I use my old school meat thermometer my mom gave me years ago -- you know it's got a round head with numbers on it and it has a pointy end to go into the meat or is there something new I need to buy?
AntoniaJames November 17, 2022
That meat thermometer should be okay. Check it by putting it in some boiling water to confirm that it is accurate (it should be 212 degrees, if you live at or near sea level). ;o)

AntoniaJames November 17, 2022
Be very clear with them that they must "remove the keel bone." That should do the trick. I'm guessing that they are getting a lot of requests for that these days. When you go to pick it up (perhaps before they go back into the cold room to get your order for you), ask them to check, to confirm that they removed the keel bone. With the craziness those workers are dealing with this week, details like that could be overlooked.

And make sure they give you the back and neck! You'll want those for making gravy - ahead of time. ;o)
Wonderwoman984 November 24, 2022
I use a full sheet pan. I'm roasting a 22lb hen. I lay the seasoned turkey on a bed of onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, sage & lemon. Comes put perfectly every time. I baste a with white/melted butter combo
Pickyeeee November 26, 2021
Help! My butcher gave me a butterflied turkey but removed ALL the bones, I am now left with a completely boneless turkey that is kept intact via the breast and its ski . I was really looking forward to doing this spatchcocked recipe, any ideas on cooking times and temperatures or methods for this unfortunate circumstance?
AntoniaJames November 16, 2022
How much does it weigh? Yes, the time will be much less. It almost doesn't matter how much it weighs, as you'll want to start, early, to check the temperature.

For a 14-pound turkey I'd reduce the initial browning phase by 10 minutes and then start checking with a probe thermometer after 45 minutes, keeping a close eye on it and checking frequently, as it no doubt will roast very quickly.

Checking the internal temperature though is absolutely the only way to do this.

Please let us know how long it takes and how the turkey turns out! Thank you. ;o)
saucy S. November 24, 2021
Question… you not put some butter on the bird before roasting?
AntoniaJames November 24, 2021
I do not. The high heat brings the juices out of the skin right away, which seem to be all that's necessary. You could, of course, brush melted butter on it if you wanted to. I've never tried it, but I've seen recipes where others do.
Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)
Kim November 9, 2021
So easy after you spatchcock the bird, juicy, takes less time to cook. Easier to carve after
PhillipBrandon November 22, 2020
We've taken to spatchcocking our turkey every year, mostly for speed (and one memorable instance, sheer geometry) but this year I'm wondering about those oven bags for cutting down on the scrubbing up. Is there any reason I couldn't roast my butterflied bird in a Reynolds sack?
AntoniaJames November 23, 2020
If the sack is large enough, I can't see why not. I've never done it, but one would think it would work. The only issue I see is that, because you're essentially steaming the bird, you won't get the crispy dry skin. Does one take the bird out fo the bag for a final roast, to dry out and brown the skin? ;o)
PhillipBrandon November 23, 2020
For the sake of the recently scrubbed oven walls, one might be removing it from the hot box entirely, and selectively torching it.
andi November 19, 2020
A crazy question...our butcher ran out of small turkeys so we have 1/2 of a 26 pound one. Basically, it is spatchcocked...but my question is this: Do I cook it as a 13 pound turkey or 26? My concern is that the bird is "thicker" and not really the same as a real 13 pound one.
AntoniaJames November 20, 2020
I'd start by using the 13 pound turkey as your guide, but check it of course and extend it a bit if necessary to cook the breast all the way through. For this, please use a probe thermometer. It's really the only way to know for sure. If you find when carving that you've ended up with breast meat closer to the bone that is just not cooked, chunks or slices of that can quickly finish cooking if you warm them for a few minutes in very hot gravy.
Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)
andi November 20, 2020
Thank you so much!
Risottogirl November 17, 2020
This has been my go-to method for grandmother did it this way but she'd likely never used the terms "spatchcock" or "dry brine". She called it a salt seasoned butterflied bird. LOL I have never found the drippings to be too salty for the gravy, but I use homemade double or triple turkey stock that has no salt added to it at all. This year I will be using the same method with a walnut fed turkey. Should be interesting!
Walter T. November 30, 2019
Beest turkey I have ever prepared. Juicy with crispy skin. My guests were marveling. I am a convert. Never again a whole turkey -- only a spatchcoked one.
AntoniaJames December 3, 2019
Walter, I'm delighted to hear that.

Thank you for your kind comment. ;o)
Ellzabeth R. November 3, 2019
Back again...used this recipe with a small chicken that I butterflied...shorter time for everything...easily one of the most flavourful and best tasting dinner involving chicken that we have had. Will try the gravy next time too.
AntoniaJames November 4, 2019
Thank you, Elizabeth, for this comment and the one you posted last month I'm honored - and so pleased - that (a) even a turkey hater in your midst liked it, and (b) that you used the recipe twice! ;o)
Ellzabeth R. October 17, 2019
Used this turkey recipe last Sunday for our Canadian Thanksgiving for family and friends. I've butterflied chickens and turkeys for a long time now, my preferred way of cooking them, but although the results were good, this one was the best. We had other meat offerings as one part of the family has always expressed a dislike of turkey. The best vote for this recipe came from a 16 year old youngster who was helping her Dad carve the bird by arranging it on a platter and she turned to me and stated that she hadn't liked turkey at all but this was delicious and she couldn't help tasting little slices of it as she worked. This is our new go-to for turkey in the future! Thank-you!
Stephen M. December 25, 2018
Just cooked a 16 pound turkey. Followed the recipe precisely and roasted the bird on my Camp Chef pellet smoker. I Pre-heated at 400 and turned it down to 325 immediately. Covered the breast and leg tips with foil after an hour. The breast hit 150* after two hours.

It was the juiciest bird ever; perfectly cooked! The pellet smoker did not impart a smoky taste at all. It was just a delicious turkey.
Lynn S. November 25, 2018
I prepared this according to the recipe and it was GREAT! We had a 12 1/2 lb. turkey and it only took about an hour and a half to cook and was so flavorful. I used a rack over a baking sheet and put sliced lemon underneath the bird while it cooked. I was worried that it might be too salty with the dry brine but it was perfect. Thanks for this recipe!
Arlene December 26, 2017
Spatchcocked my first turkey yesterday and it was, hands down, the tastiest turkey ever! I used your tutorial for cooking times only and it was spot on. I have an electric oven so am unsure about my oven temperatures. Checking the temp after roasting 4 minutes per pound is very wise advice so you can adjust cooking times as necessary. If you like dressing, try putting bread pieces (14 oz french bread, white bread, whatever kind you like) underneath and around your bird, mixed with minced veggies: 2 onions, 4 celery stalks and 5 cloves garlic, sauteed in 1T Sage, 1T Thyme and 4T butter. Pour just a little broth (maybe 1 cup) over the bread before roasting the bird. When the turkey is done you just spoon the dressing into a container and voilà! you have delicious dressing!
AntoniaJames December 26, 2017
Thanks, Arlene. I'm so glad the timing suggestions worked for you! I've been doing this for a number of years, always with a smaller bird. After learning of some discouraging results with larger birds, I researched the roast time point - and must give the good people at credit for the updated rubric. I followed those guidelines this Thanksgiving and all agreed that it was my best turkey ever.

Great idea to put the stuffing ingredients under the bird. I will try that next time. Happy New Year! ;o)
jodyrah November 20, 2017
Nothing revolutionary. Mark Bittman did this in 2002.
AntoniaJames November 20, 2017
jodyrah, no one here is claiming that it's revolutionary. May I respectfully suggest that the dry brine (not in Bittman's recipe) results in a superior, beautifully flavored, moist turkey? As noted in the headnote, that dry brine is borrowed with gratitude from Judy Rodgers - also not revolutionary, but if I may say so, a good idea. ;o)
jodyrah November 24, 2017
I actually dry brine using kosher salt and baking powder ( I put a compound butter (garlic, fresh herbs, lemon zest, and a bit of minced Thai chili) beneath the skin. Spatchcocked breast, roasted 450’. I use a meat probe so only an occasional check for over browning. Stock, garlic, quartered onions, meyer lemon, herbs in the pan makes for a wonderful gravy.
AntoniaJames November 24, 2017
Sounds great, jodyrah. So many good suggestions here. I haven't tried the baking powder . . . have had good success with the herbs + salt, but I admire and trust Kenji so I'll look into this. Thanks for the tips! ;o)
Bradley S. November 24, 2019
Jodyrah, next time you have a thought just let it go.🤦‍♂️🤡
AntoniaJames November 20, 2017
To update this, to reflect the concerns of those with much larger birds: The 10 minutes per pound rule does not seem to have worked for some who used it on bigger turkeys. I tested this recipe on a smaller turkey and had to rely on someone else (it happened to be Melissa Clark of the New York Times) when scaling it up. Based on the comments below, my original instructions apparently recommend a much longer roasting time than is necessary. For birds in the 20+ pound range, please start checking at 2 hours and, as noted, put foil on the breast when it starts looking very dark. I see in one comment that someone with a 25 pound bird found it was done in 2 1/4 hour. Those with medium size birds, say 16 pounds, should check after 1 1/2 hours. Results can vary widely due to differences in ovens' heating and insulating properties, how often they're opened and shut, etc. The key here is to start checking the internal temperature early to prevent overcooking. ;o)
P.S. I'm going to ask the editors to revise the instructions in this recipe to reflect this additional information. I cannot do it because the recipe was a contest finalist and therefore is locked down.