Have You Ever Spatchcocked A Turkey?

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Spatchcock! What a fun word! It almost sounds dirty doesn’t it? Its not! It just means to split a bird open and lay it flat for grilling, or smoking as I did for Thanksgiving. Here’s my story and I am sticking to it:

My wonderful neighbor gifted me his old smoker when he bought a new one for himself. smoker

So to celebrate, I decided to make some turkeys in it for Thanksgiving and invite some friends over to try it out.

First came the turkey selection: for smoking the turkey should weigh between 10 and 14 pounds, The smallest ones we could find were just a hair over 14 pounds, but I figured that after spatchcocking they would be about right.

First I removed the complete back bone by cutting along each side with my kitchen shears. Then I spread the turkey out breast side up and leaned on the breastbone area until it split apart, making the turkey flat. Then I clipped off the last joint of the wings. No one eats that part anyway and it may burn in the smoker. The wing tips went into the stockpot along with the spine, neck, and giblets. remove-bones

and the other side:


Now, just so you know, the top turkey photo is of the turkey seasoned and ready for the smoker. Before I get to that point there are some intervening steps:

First either buy fresh turkeys or defrost them according to recommended practices. Then spatchcock them. Do this at least 24 hours before you want to smoke them.

Second prepare a brine of 1 gallon water, 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Now some people say to bring this to a boil and cool it before use, but I think that is a waste of time. I just dissolve the salt and sugar in cold water, add a few spices and it is good to go. I usually use dried bay leaf, fresh rosemary and sage, and black peppercorns added to the brine. I use a wonderful stainless steel pot that I inherited from my Mom. But you can use any non-reactive container.

Just toss those birds into the pot and cover with your brine. Let the sit in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Just add brine

Remove the birds from the brine and let them dry while you prepare the smoker and a rub. First the rub:

I use real butter and I add dried and fresh herbs to suit the plan. This day I used paprika, fresh rosemary, ground black pepper  and dried sage, thyme and marjoram. I am not giving the amounts because it was to our taste .


I did use about 1/2 cup of herb butter for both turkeys.


Mind you this is NOT slathered on the skin but UNDER the skin. First I slip my hand under the skin and loosen it from the flesh. Then I grab a bit of the butter, slip my hand back in and spread the butter between the meat and the skin. The skin acts to seal the flavors into the meat.


Now for a person who gets the heebie-jeebies from raw meat, this in itself is an accomplishment, but well worth it in the end.

You can let your turkey (and self) recover while you prepare the smoker. First soak some wood chips in water for about half an hour.

Apple wood chips are great for smoking poultry

Prepare a shallow disposable foil pan with some fresh herbs (I used what I have growing: rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and chives) and a couple of inches of water.


Put the damp chips in the pan in the bottom of the smoker and the pan with the  water near the bottom.


Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. To be honest, I added the wood chips after the smoker reached 225 degrees.

Spread your flattened birds directly on the grill racks and close the door. Adjust your heat level to 225 and smoke your bird for about 20 minutes per pound until the thigh reaches 165 degrees F. Remove your birds and let stand, covered, for at least 30 minutes.

It looks like it has been run over by a truck but just look at that color and the juice!

Now a spatchcocked bird obviously does not look like your usual magazine cover bird. So it is best to cut it up before presenting it. Use your fanciest serving dish and you will be okay. After all it is the flavor that is outstanding not the looks.


Now for the really big question: Why spatchcock the bird in the first place? The reason is that by removing the backbone and flattening the bird, the breast and the thigh cook at the same rate. This produces a melt-in-your-mouth thigh and a juicy breast. No more dry stringy white meat! No more under cooked dark meat! Just pure deliciousness!

Even if you don’t have a smoker, you can spatchcock your poultry for the barbecue grill, or even for oven roasting. It will cook a little faster and will be juicy and delicious. I do recommend that you invest in an instant read thermometer so you can check the temperature of the thigh until it reaches 165 degrees F. When that happens the breast will be done. It is important that the bird rests, covered, at least 15-30 minutes after removing from the heat so that the juices can return to the meat. Try it, I promise you will like it!


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