Here's how to make a Thanksgiving turkey that boasts the crispiest skin and juiciest meat, and cooks in a fraction of the time it normally takes to roast a conventional bird. The technique is called spatchcocking, and it really works.
Spatchcock Turkey FAQ
What is it? A spatchcock turkey (also called "butterflied turkey") is a whole turkey with its backbone removed. The turkey is then opened up like a book and laid flat before roasting. (And it’s a whole lot easier than it might sound.)
Why is it faster? Flattening the turkey exposes more surface area to heat, so overall cooking time is reduced. Our 10-pound spatchcock turkey was done in only 1 hour 45 minutes at 350º F. Compare that with the 3 to 3½ hours it takes to cook an unstuffed 10-pound turkey at the same 350º F. (See turkey roasting chart.)
Why is it crispier? All of the skin is exposed evenly to the heat, with none of it hiding on the underside. That means it all crisps up evenly. And who doesn't love crispy skin?
Why is it juicier? Turkey has two different kinds of meat that are cooked through at two different temperatures. And there’s the problem. Breast meat starts drying out after it reaches 150° F, but dark leg meat isn’t thoroughly cooked until 165° to 170° F. People try all kinds of tricks to keep the breast from drying out while the legs are still cooking, but simply opening up the turkey and cooking it flat brings both kinds of meat to doneness at the same time. Problem solved.
How to Spatchcock a Turkey
1) Turn the turkey over, breast-side down. Using a pair of sharp heavy-duty kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone. At times you may have to use both hands to power your scissors through rib bones. A sharp knife can also help get through the tougher spots. This is perfectly normal. Pro Tip: You can have your butcher to do the work for you.
2) Repeat on the other side.
3) Save the backbone to make turkey stock for gravy.
4) To flatten the turkey further, press down firmly on both sides of the breastbone until you hear a cracking sound. Try to get the turkey as flat as you can. At this point, you have a choice to make. You can season and roast the turkey right away, or you can brine it to amp up the juiciness even more.
5) To roast the turkey, tuck the wingtips under the breast.
6) Place the turkey on a rack on a sheet pan. Pat the skin dry, rub it with butter or oil, and season with salt, pepper, and herbs.
7) Roast at 350º F for 1 hour, 30 minutes. Optional: Rotate the pan every 30 minutes to ensure even roasting. Baste with butter or pan drippings. Increase heat to 400º F and roast for an additional 15 minutes to further crisp up the skin. Internal temperature at the the thigh should be 165º F. Pro Tip: Every oven and every turkey cooks differently, so be sure to use a meat thermometer inserted at the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone, to check the internal temperature. After all, you can't undo overcooking.
8) Remove the turkey to a platter or cutting board and tent it loosely with foil. The internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees.
Here's the recipe to save and print: Roast Spatchcock Turkey
Where Did the Word "Spatchcock" Come From?
It's a difficult word to say with a straight face, I know. But no one can say for sure where the word came from. In The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson explains, "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 further speculates that the word is Irish in origin, having seen the term in Irish cookbooks that date back to the 18th century.
But go ahead call it "butterflied" turkey if that helps reduce the giggle factor.
Check out our collection of Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes.
Related Turkey Talk
All photos by Kelly Cline for Allrecipes