How to Spatchcock a Turkey for Smoking or Grilling


At Leaning 7 Farms, we love sharing cooking techniques and recipes that help our friends and neighbors prepare their pasture raised chickens and pasture raised turkeys.  In this post, I'll use one of our pasture raised turkeys to demonstrate how to spatchcock a bird for the grill or smoker.

What is "spatchcock"?

Spatchcock, also called butterfly, is a technique to prepare poultry like whole turkeys and chickens to cook quickly and evenly on a grill or smoker.  The idea and execution of this technique are straightforward.  Simply remove the backbone and break breastbone to allow the bird to lay flat.  In this post, I'll show you how to spatchcock a turkey, but the technique is the same for a chicken or other poultry species.

Why would one spatchcock a turkey?

By laying the bird flat on the grill, the different cuts of meat receive more uniform heat than they would if the bird were whole, which places the upper side (usually the breast) a considerable distance farther from the heat than the lower side placed on the grill.  With a whole bird, the difference in heat applied from top to bottom can make it challenging to cook all of the cuts to the proper temperature without over-cooking some cuts, especially those on the bottom.  Over direct coals, this is particularly an issue.  However, spatchcocked turkeys will cook faster and more evenly even with indirect heating methods.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Turkey on a cutting board breast-side down

Step 1: Place the bird breast side down on a cutting board.







Step 2: With a boning knife, start at the neck and follow the spine to the first rib.  Feel for the joint between the rib and the spine and use the knife to separate the joint so that the rib bone separates from the backbone.  You want to separate the joint rather than breaking the bone or trying to cut through the bone.



Step 3: Continue separating the ribs from the backbone working your way to the tail of the bird until you reach the pelvic joint where the thigh bone attaches to the pelvis and spine.  Here, you will want to press down on the bird to separate the hip joint, freeing the thigh from the connection with the backbone.




Step 4:  Once you have the hip joint free, finish cutting down the backbone to extend your cut past the tail so that one half of the turkey is disconnected from the backbone.






Step 5:  Repeat steps 2-4 for the opposite side.







Step 6:  Break the breastbone.  Place one hand on one side of the rib cage and press down while pressing down and away on the opposite side of the rib cage.  You are trying to rotate the two sides of the rib cage away from each other enough to break the breast bone between the breasts.  





Step 7:  Flip the bird breast side up and lay it out flat.  That's it!  Now the bird should lay flat with the cavity down as shown in the picture above.

Don't forget to save the backbone along with the neck to make stock!



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