How To Spatchcock A Turkey

How To Spatchcock A Turkey

One of the big thrills of grilling a whole turkey is the presentation. Placing a plump, golden brown bird in the middle of the dinner table is one of the most picturesque and memorable settings of the holiday season.  At least it is if you carve the bird at the table. I don’t. I make a mess in the kitchen.

While there is no denying how wonderful a perfectly grilled turkey looks, my guests rarely see it unless they happen to intercept me on my trip in the backdoor from the grill.  Instead, they are treated to a beautiful platter of sliced breast meat, pulled thighs, and criss crossed turkey legs.  Once the food goes down, it’s time to eat, not stare.

So yes, a whole turkey looks awesome. However, what if we had a way to grill turkey in half the time that tastes twice as good and doesn’t require a photo opportunity?  We do.  We can spatchcock it.

I’m a huge fan of spatchocked chickens, which is the process of removing the back bone, cracking the breast bone, and grilling the entire bird flat.  It’s a faster, more even cook, which yields wonderfully moist meat and crisp skin.  It works great for a chicken and it definitely works great for a turkey, too.

Spatchcock Turkey
by Mike Lang

Serves: 8-10 people

Ingredients
1 fresh or thawed turkey, 10-14 pounds
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T Herbes de Provence
olive oil
salt and pepper

While a spatchcock chicken can fit on any grill, a spatchcock turkey takes up a little more real estate.  My 14 pound turkey easily fits on my 26.75” One Touch Gold, or if I was using gas, my Summit Grill Center.  For a 22” kettle, I would use a turkey closer to 10 pounds.

The Spatchcock

Tools: Kitchen Shears   

Place the turkey breast side down.  With a sturdy pair of kitchen shears, start to just one side of the turkey’s tail and cut up one side of the turkey’s backbone.

Next, cut up the other side of the backbone.

Remove the backbone and either discard or save for another use.

Locate the breast bone and snip an inch or so in with the shears.


Flip the turkey over so it is skin side up.  Place both hands on the breast and push down.  You will hear the breast bone and cartilage snap. The turkey should now lie flat.


Tip: For really crisp skin, spatchcock the turkey the day before and allow to rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator 24 hours before grilling.

Prep

While I love well-seasoned turkey skin, I also like the meat to have a little something extra.  To ensure this, I separate the skin from the turkey and work seasonings directly into the meat.

With a fork, mix the herbs, butter, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Separate the turkey’s skin from the breast meat by working your fingers directly under the skin.

Continue to work from the bottom of the turkey all the way to the neck.  

Once separated, add equal parts of the herb butter to both sides of the turkey and massage in.

Generously season both sides of the turkey with salt and pepper.
 
 
Rub lightly all over with olive oil.
 

 

The Grill

Prepare the grill for indirect medium heat (350 F).  Since the turkey is so big, I place all of my charcoal to one side of the grill in a semi-circle fashion using the Char-Basket Charcoal Fuel Holders.  

Tip: I like just a little bit of smoke on my turkey, so I always add one small chunk of apple wood just before closing the lid.  It’s just enough to make the turkey more interesting and yet not too overpowering for guests not fond of smoked foods.


Lower the lid.

Tip:  If your turkey takes up a lot of space on the grill, consider using aluminum foil to shield parts of the bird too close to the coals.  

On average, a 12 pound turkey will take approximately 90 minutes to grill.  The turkey is done when both the breast and thigh reads 165 F with an instant read thermometer.

Remove from the grill, tent with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.  Carve and serve.

 
 

What are your thoughts? (9)

12.29.16

Terry H

I'd like to spatchcock a 15# turkey on my Genesis Gold B gas grill. I regularly split and grill (cut side down) 5# chickens over a smoker box and indirect medium heat for 55 minutes and they are perfect. What suggestions can you give for the turkey? I find a great description of spatchcocking and grilling over charcoal in a kettle, but less so for cooking over gas. This is a great source of straight scoop. Thanks.

12.29.16

Mike Lang

Hi Terry!

I'm glad your Genesis Gold B is still treating you well! It's an awesome grill! Essentially, the process for grilling a spatchcocked turkey is easily adaptable to gas, as they are both an indirect cook. The only issue you may have is space for a 15 lb turkey. If the bird spreads over the lit burners, I would add aluminum foil under the bird in those areas to shield it. The other option is to just use one burner and then rotate the turkey halfway to ensure even cooking. I hope these tips help! Best of luck!

Mike

11.24.16

Michael D

Mike - I'm smoking a 19.5 lb turkey that I spatchcocked today. Should I plan on about 3 hours for 270 F in the smoker? Do you have any suggestions on wood? I have hickory and apple. Also, is it really necessary to soak the wood for an hour?

Thanks for you help and Happy Thanksgiving.

11.23.16

Mike Lang

Hi Michael - That sounds great and your timing is right on the money. I always go with something sweeter, like apple or cherry, but a single chunk of hickory would be a nice addition. I always use chunks...well, almost always, and when I do I never soak them. Just throw them in and go. I hope that helps!

Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!

Mike

11.21.16

Trevor H

Hello,

I'm spatchcocking my first turkey but cannot find a calculator on time per lb. I'm cooking a 24 lb bird with 26.75" One Touch with a Smoke EZ adaptor. Plan is 275 for 4 hrs based on above listed times but would love confirmation or a link to any references.

11.21.16

Mike Lang

Hey Trevor -

I love your plan! The spatchcock is one my favorite way to prepare turkey! 4 hours sounds right on the money. To be sure, I would monitor the progress with a remote thermometer and start to check periodic readings with an instant read thermometer at the 3 1/2 hour mark just to be sure.

Enjoy your feast!
Cheers!
Mike

11.17.16

Ron H

Hi Mike
This year I plan to grill a spatchcock 16 lb turkey on my summit grill. Do you have suggestions on best way to grill this indirect when the bird covers almost all the grill?
Ron

11.17.16

Mike Lang

Hi Mike! Check out today's blog post for a step-by-step photo illustrated post about how to Spatchcock a turkey. Any parts that are too close or over a burner can be wrapped in foil to prevent burning. Just take the foil off toward the end of cooking so the skin has a chance to brown. Good luck! - Mike

11.26.15

Phil P

I've smoked a turkey before, and roasted it on my Genesis. Tomorrow will be the first spatchcock turkey! I've done chickens like this. Here's hoping!

11.24.15

Erika S

Our oven died yesterday with 10 people arriving soon, so it's a make-it-work kind of thanksgiving. Hooray for the grill, the toaster oven, and a sense of humor!

I have a 3-burner Weber Spirit. I was originally (when we had an oven) going to spatchcock the 14-lb turkey, put it on a metal cooling rack set over a half sheet pan full of carrots, onions, and celery, roast at 425, and then use the drippings for gravy. While I would love a grilled-tasting bird, my family is looking for a more traditional-tasting turkey. How would you recommend that I transfer the original setup to the grill (which burners, what temp, etc)? Or is there another arrangement you'd recommend? I'm afraid of the vegetables burning before the fat starts dripping down, since the sheet would be directly on the grill grates.

Thanks for your quick reply!

11.24.15

Mike Lang

Hi Erika -

Sorry I missed your Thanksgiving deadline, it sounds like no matter what I say, your Thanksgiving will be a success!

If you want to still use the root vegetables and the drippings, you may want to forgo the spatchcock and just grill the turkey, whole, in a roasting pan. Use indirect medium-high heat, with only the two outside burners lit. While it will slightly increase your grill-time from the spatchcock, it will take advantage of the space on your Spirit and still allow your vegetables to take advantage of those wonderful turkey drippings!

Best of luck and Happy Thanksgiving!
Mike

11.22.15

Mary Lee L

I plan on spatchocking a 19.5 pounder. How long will it take to cook?

11.22.15

Mike Lang

Hi Mary -

Figure about 2 hours...but most importantly until the thigh reads 165 F with an instant read thermometer. Grill on!

Mike

11.07.15

Mark J

Hi,

Just a couple quick questions as turkey day is again approaching. Last year I grilled my turkey according to the directions in Weber's fantastic "Cooking With Live Fire" cookbook. The turkey turned out great but took several hours to cook. This year I'm planning on spatchcocking just to reduce the cooking time. The recipe above looks great but, for most roast poultry recipes on the grill I usually put a disposable aluminum pan half full of water on the charcoal level to make for more even heating. I was wondering if this is recommended for the spatchcocked recipe. Also, the grilling instructions in cooking with live fire say to put the turkey on a bed of carrots and onions in a roasting pan on the cooking grate. The advantage is obvious - you get pan drippings for gravy. So I was wondering what you think about making those two modifications to this recipe?

11.07.15

Mike Lang

Hi Mark -

I know, it's hard to believe Thanksgiving is coming up so fast!

A drip pan is for certain, but I find the water is not necessary. However, if you have had success with it in the past, by all means, use it! In the end, I always believe in doing what works best for you. The same goes for the vegetables and pan drippings. I like to use the foil pan under the grate and place the vegetables there. This allows the turkey, in my opinion, to cook more evenly by not having it in a roasting pan.

If you are unsure of exactly which way to go, I suggest having a trial run with a chicken. The only difference would be cook times, other than that, it would be a great way to practice your process!

Good luck!
Mike

12.03.14

Stephen S

This has easily become my favorite method to cook a bird. I absolutely love the flavor it produces and the time it cuts down in cooking.

12.02.14

Mike Lang

Hi Stephen, I could not agree more. It really is the literal "best of both worlds." In fact, I am in such agreement, I'm planning one for Christmas, too!

Mike

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