How to Spatchcock a Turkey

November 3, 2020

If you’ve ever found the idea of spatchcocking a turkey too big an endeavor, this post is for you! Join me as I walk you step-by-step through How to Spatchcock a Turkey.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Spatchcocking a turkey is one of my favorite ways to prepare a turkey. It flattens the entire bird, creating a more even cooking surface and ensuring that the various parts of your turkey cook closer to the same temperatures and times.

In a nutshell, to spatchcock is to cut out the backbone. So the main goal when spatchcocking a turkey is simply removing that backbone so your turkey lays flat for cooking. This process involves three pretty simple, straightforward steps: Preparing, cutting, and laying flat. 

For some added help, check out the video at the top of this post and follow along as I remove the backbone from a turkey before cooking it on the smoker. Let’s get to some spatchcocking!

Susie holds the neck of an uncooked turkey with a whole turkey resting on a wooden cutting board in front of her.

Materials Needed to Spatchcock a Turkey

There are a few things I recommend having on hand before you begin working on the turkey. This will make clean up a bit easier and allow the process to go quicker.

  • Large cutting board. Start with a large work space to prepare and cut your bird. I prefer using a large wooden cutting board to allow me plenty of space to work on my turkey. 
  • Sharp kitchen shears. Since the whole process of how to spatchcock a turkey is removing the backbone of the turkey, you’re going to need some sturdy, sharp kitchen shears. I used Shun shears, but you can use whatever you have. You don’t have to go fancy, but I recommend you get some that come apart so you can clean and sanitize after.
  • Nitrile gloves. Messing around with raw poultry can get…well…messy. I like to wear some nitrile gloves to keep the raw meat off my bare hands. Once I’m done handling the turkey I simply throw them in the trash when I’m done cutting the bird.

Alright, folks. Now that you have the necessary materials within reach, let’s get to that three-step process of spatchcocking!

1. Prepare the Bird

Set up you prep space with your large cutting board cleaned and ready to go. Make sure your board is also easy to sanitize after working with the raw meat. Strap on those gloves and let’s get to work!

Before you get to all the cutting, you need to prepare the turkey. Pull the giblet bag out of the turkey and set it aside. I like to keep these to make some delicious Turkey Gravy. You can honestly save everything from the bird and smoke it or use it in different applications later.

Next up, remove the neck by pulling it out of the bird. I also remove the turkey timer if the turkey you’ve purchased comes with one (an instant read thermometer will be much more reliable, so no need to use this guy). Finally, remove the tail by giving it a quick snip. 

Kitchen shears cutting up the left side of the backbone of an uncooked whole turkey.

2. Cut Out the Backbone

Next, you’re ready to remove that backbone! Flip bird over so it’s breast side down. Grab your shears and locate the backbone. Once you’ve successfully located it, you’re ready to begin cutting.

Run your sharp kitchen shears up right side of the backbone and start snipping. You will encounter a bit of resistance at times, but that’s nothing a little bit of extra pressure (and two hands!) won’t fix. Honestly, if I can do it, so can you. Once you have cut the entire length of the right side of the backbone, move to the left side.

Repeat this cut on the other side of the backbone. Run your shears up along the left side of the backbone to completely remove the backbone from the turkey.

Finish up by snipping and cleaning up any remaining pieces leftover from removing the backbone so you have a nice, clean cavity inside the bird.

Lastly, snip approximately 1-2 inches down the breastbone as seen in the picture below. This will make it easier to flatten your bird once you turn it breast side up again.

Kitchen shears cutting two inches down the breastbone of an uncooked whole turkey.

3. Flatten the Bird

Congrats! You just spatchcocked a turkey! The last thing you need to do is fully flatten the bird to prepare it for cooking. This last step is just as important as removing the backbone, so pay attention!

Begin by turning the legs out. Next, using the heel of your hand, press firmly on the breastbone. You will feel a slight pop and your turkey will lay nice and flat on your cutting board. Look at how beautiful and flat your turkey is now! Your turkey is now much more aerodynamic with a beautifully even cooking surface.

Last up, make sure you tuck the wings to ensure your breast cooks evenly and the wings don’t burn. Your bird is now prepped and ready for seasoning and cooking!

Susie tucking the wings of a spatchcocked turkey underneath the bird.

Spatchcock Recipes

Now that you’ve learned how to spatchcock a turkey, try your hand at some of these recipes! 

Did you know the same process can be used on chicken as well? Here are some of my favorite spatchcock recipes for chicken!

Two-image collage of cutting the backbone out of a turkey and flattening a turkey on a wooden cutting board. Text overlay reads: How to Spatchcock a Turkey.

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