Why in the world would someone want to take a 16 pound perfectly nice looking turkey, butterfly and smash it down flat? Well, that’s precisely why I’m doing it – to find out why and if it’s deserving of the all the rave & praise so many are giving it.
Let me just start by telling you this is not a low saturated fat recipe. If you are watching saturated fat, omit the butter or substitute it with olive oil. It’s a once a year splurge for me, and it has 0 carbs and oodles of protein, so I’m not going to worry about the fat. Most of the butter drains away during the cooking anyway, and, with removing of the skin, the saturated fat is much less than what’s stated. However, I wanted to be fair, and so, have included it in the nutritional information below.
I might as well start with what we sacrifice by cooking a bird spatchcocked, and it’s pretty obvious, right? We won’t have that picture-perfect, fully intact bird in the end. That’s the primary sacrifice. Also, if you’re someone who still stuffs your bird despite all the warnings, you’ll have to find a different method. The stuffing will have to be on the side. Can you live with that?
So, why would someone want to go this way with their bird? Apparently, a spatchcocked bird cooks quicker and more evenly. That’s what I’m told. I’ve also heard a spatchcocked bird tastes better. Is all that true? I’m going to test it. My turkey is in the oven as I write this, so I’m still waiting for the results. The suspense is killing me!
I’m cooking my 16.5-pound bird at 450 degrees F! I’ve never cooked a bird on a high temp like that. I also took some butter and mixed it with some seasoning and massaged that under the skin on the breast and the legs. I figure, go big, or go home, right?
Traditionally roasting a turkey almost always means the breast meat will be dry before the thighs reach the magic temp of 165-180 degrees F. Cooks try to combat this inevitable outcome many ways. Some people roast their turkey breast side down to protect the breast. You might see the host in the kitchen basting, basting and basting some more. Others cook their birds in an oven bag, which speeds up cooking time. I’ve used the bag method, and I can say it works well. It’s also a method I recommend to newbie cooks as it almost guarantees a good bird with little effort. My traditional seasoning on a bird in a bag is a liberal amount olive oil, along with salt, and pepper rubbed all over the bird. Very simple.
But, we aren’t talking about birds in a bag, are we? No. We’re cooking a spatchcock turkey who received an under-the-skin massage of butter, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I am so hopeful this bird will be spectacular.
My bird is now done, and I just can’t believe it! It’s been what, about 90 minutes. 90 minutes with a 16-pound turkey! Now, if you’ve cooked a 16-pound turkey in a bag, you know that takes about 2 ½ hours, which is still significantly less time than the 3 ½ hours it takes to roast a turkey using a more traditional method.
To spatchcock a turkey is to remove the backbone and butterfly the turkey as flat as you can get it. I wasn’t able to take step by step pictures of the process because I was wholly focused on getting it right. Here’s a slideshow for you if you need some additional visual instructions. I scored the meat and skin on either side of the backbone to use as a guideline. Make sure you have some decent poultry shears or pruning shears to remove the backbone. Don’t try this with dull or wimpy scissors. At best, you’ll accomplish nothing, at worst, you could really hurt yourself, so don’t even try. Starting on one side of the backbone, at the bottom of the bird, using poultry shears, I began cutting upwards toward the neck. I pulled the bird apart slightly as I went and freed the backbone from that side. Next, I moved back down to the bottom of the turkey and cut along the other side of the backbone until it was completely free from the bird. I reserved the backbone for Instant Pot gravy, along with the neck. You could save the bones to make a stock later on. I also removed the larger fat bodies around the neck and discarded.
I had to get Jim to help me with this next step. You may need to find a strong neighbor or family member too. I turned the bird over, with the breast facing up. I was supposed to push the breast down as hard as possible with the goal of making it as flat as possible. It’s supposed to do some cracking and popping to tell you it’s working. I had none of that, so Jim had to be brought in to help.
Next, I placed the bird on a cooling rack nestled in a sheet pan. I scooped up a dollop of the butter mixture and started rubbing it into the meat under the skin. I repeated this for each leg and the breast. I used the last little bit of the butter mixture to rub on the outside of the skin.
I arranged the bird with the wings at the side (or you could tuck the wings under) and with the drumsticks pointed in at the knees and the bottom of the drumstick pointing out. Under the bird, on the cooling rack, I added some onion, lemon, and apple, which helps produce steam for the turkey.
I used my favorite iDevices Kitchen Thermometer to keep track of my turkey temperatures in the leg and breast. I love this device because it has two temperature probes and connects to my phone so that I can keep track of it without opening the oven, affecting the temperature and level of humidity. It has a sensor that beeps at me when one of the probes gets close to the desired temperature too. Super handy and I highly recommend it! I am so glad I used my iDevices Thermometer because this bird went from a low temp to done in a time span I didn’t expect. I’m sure I would have overcooked it without it. The iDevices Thermometer is accurate, quick and has two probes to simultaneously track two temperatures whether you’re cooking a full turkey or two separate pieces of meat. You leave the probes in during cooking and use the digital readout or the app on your phone to monitor your food. It’s fantastic for the grill too! In my opinion, it’s best-in-class and at a very reasonable price-point.
So, that’s pretty much it. Oh, wait – I suppose you want to know how it turned out? I was pleasantly surprised. First, it was a beautiful golden brown over the entire bird, except one wing, it was looking a little charred. The skin was super crisp and was easy to remove. I was impressed by the length of time it took to roast this bird as well as the juiciness of the breast meat. The whole bird was perfect! So there you have it. Would I do it again? Yes. Yes, I would and will.
What you need:
A sharp and hefty pair of poultry shears or handheld pruning shears – I am not kidding about this one. None of my kitchen shears would make a dent in this bird. Therefore, we had to go to the store to get some heavy duty poultry shears. You’ll also need a rimmed sheet pan and a cooling rack. The turkey will cook on a cooling rack which is placed inside the sheet pan. For a bird up to 14-15 pounds, a half sheet (12” x 16”) will work well. Birds larger than 15 pounds will most likely need a full sheet (16” x 24”).
- 1 whole turkey, completely thawed
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- ½ tablespoon poultry seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 apple, quartered
- 1 small onion, quartered
- Rinse the turkey and pat dry.
- Spatchcock the turkey using sharp shears (cut the backbone out using directions above). Push breast down until it’s relatively flat. The ribs should crack and break.
- Mix the butter with the poultry seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, liberally spread most of the butter mixture under the skin of the legs and breast.
- Use the remainder of the butter mixture on the outside of the bird.
- Place the bird on the cooling rack and sheet pan. Arrange onion, lemon, and apple under the breast cavity.
- Roast in oven until the breast and thickest part of the thigh are at least 165 degrees F. The time will vary with bird size, so it's important you keep a close eye on it. It cooks pretty fast! My 16.5-pound bird was done in 90 minutes. Remember the bird will continue to cook while resting outside of the oven.
- Rest the bird while you finish the gravy, at least 20 minutes.