Why Spatchcock Your Turkey: Succulent Meat, Evenly Golden Skin, the Savoriest Stuffing

Remove the backbone and roast your bird flat atop a big pile of stuffing to produce succulent meat, crackling skin, and plenty of everyone’s favorite side dish.

Published Oct. 2, 2023.

Spatchcocking a turkey involves cutting out the backbone so that the bird can be laid flat for roasting. Yes, it’s that simple! After this minor surgery, the white and dark meat, freed from the spheroid geometry of a whole bird, will both cook to perfection without manipulation or the need for a special setup. That’s because the legs and thighs, previously tucked beneath the breast, now lie alongside it, outstretched in a single plane. In this arrangement, the leg quarters cook at nearly the same rate as the breast since they receive heat from all sides. Also, because all of the skin is face up, every inch of it will be directly exposed to the heat of the oven and transformed into a bronzed, crackling treat. 

There’s one more advantage, and it’s a big one: You can roast the splayed turkey atop a large mound (about 16 cups) of stuffing, and the bread cubes will soak up every drop of the bird’s golden, savory drippings, taking on coveted roasted-in-the-cavity flavor. No more holiday kerfuffles over who gets a precious spoonful of the 3 or 4 cups that can be squeezed inside a bird: With this approach, you’ll have enough for everyone to come back for seconds.

Technique: How to Spatchcock a Turkey

A sharp pair of kitchen shears is necessary to cut through the backbone. If you need to create more force, try gripping the shears like hedge clippers, with one hand holding the top finger loop and the other hand holding the bottom loop.

1. REMOVE BACKBONE Cut through bones on either side of backbone, staying as close as possible to backbone, then remove it and save for gravy.

2. FLIP & FLATTEN Flip turkey over and press down firmly with heels of your hands to flatten breastbone.

The Stuff(ing) of Dreams

My recipe starts with the application of a dry brine to a 12-pound spatchcocked turkey. Rubbing salt and sugar onto the flesh sends seasoning deep inside and helps it hold on to precious moisture. Next, the bird is refrigerated uncovered for 24 hours to parch the skin so it turns exceptionally crisp in the oven.

For the stuffing, I cut 11/2 pounds of fresh sandwich bread into cubes and toasted them in the oven. Toasting dries the crumb via evaporation, priming it to soak up plenty of liquid for a stuffing with a custardy texture. (Stale bread produced slimy, oversaturated results. This is because stale bread is not actually dry, but rather retrograded; it contains trapped moisture that is released when heated.) 

After softening aromatics—onions, celery, garlic, citrusy thyme, and woodsy sage—in butter, I mixed them with the dried bread cubes. Since the turkey would shed lots of poultry-infused, salty juices during roasting, I kept the mixture relatively dry, moistening it with only 1/2 cup of water and three eggs. 

If you prep the stuffing the day before, all you’ll need to do on Thanksgiving morning is transfer it to a roasting pan, arrange the bird on top, and pop the pan in the oven. 

Easiest-Ever Holiday Twofer

A simple arrangement produces juicy, crisp-skinned turkey and a generous amount of stuffing. 

Foil Shield: A double layer of foil, arranged snugly around the contours of the breast, prevents the lean meat from overcooking. 

Spatchcocked Turkey: Removing the backbone and splaying the bird means that the dark and white meat will both be tender and juicy at the end of the roasting time. 

Stuffing: A generous amount of stuffing, prepared with very little moisture, sits beneath the bird to capture every last drop of its savory juices during roasting. 

Roasting Rules

To prevent the stuffing from scorching, I took to compacting it into a 9-inch square so that the turkey, laid on top, would shield it completely. The delicate breast meat needed a little protection too: I arranged a double layer of foil on top to prevent it from overcooking. After 45 minutes in a 425-degree oven, I dialed the heat down to 325, removed the foil, brushed on melted butter (its milk solids encouraged browning), and continued to slow-roast until the skin was crisp and deep golden brown and the breast registered 155 degrees and the thighs 175 degrees.

While the turkey rested, carryover cooking gently nudged the breast to a 165-degree serving temperature. Meanwhile, I stirred the fat-laced drippings that had accumulated at the edges of the pan into the stuffing and then briefly popped the pan back into the oven to gently crisp the top of the stuffing.

There you have it: a flat-out delicious, two-component centerpiece for your holiday table.

Thanksgiving express: Prep the turkey and stuffing in advance. On Thursday, simply drape the bird atop the stuffing and roast it for about 3 hours.

Carving a Spatchcocked Turkey

Carving a roasted butterflied bird follows virtually the same steps as carving a whole turkey, but the flattened shape makes it easier to execute.

1. SEPARATE LEG QUARTERS FROM BREAST: Slice through skin connecting leg quarter to breast and lift leg slightly to expose joint connecting thigh to breast. Cut through joint. Repeat on other side.

2. SEPARATE WINGS FROM BREAST: Locate where wing bone meets breast meat and cut through skin and connective tissue to separate. Cut through joint that connects wings to carcass to separate.

3. REMOVE BREAST: Run tip of knife first along breastbone and then along rib cage, gently pulling meat away from ribs and using ribs as guide as you cut. 

4. REMOVE HIP BONES FROM THIGHS: Flip each leg so skin side is facing down. Locate top of hip bone (triangular shaped bone attached to thigh). Work thumb between hip bone and thigh and pull hip bone away from thigh meat. 

5. SEPARATE DRUMSTICKS AND THIGHS: Cut through joint, following white line of fat separating drumstick and thigh.


Stuffed Spatchcock Turkey

Remove the backbone and roast your bird flat atop a big pile of stuffing to produce succulent meat, crackling skin, and plenty of everyone's favorite side dish.
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