Spatchcocking a turkey means flattening it out, so it cooks more evenly and quickly.
With all the amazing ways to cook turkey, do we really need another one? Yes, we do! With a spatchcock smoked turkey, there is just a little bit of extra work that is all at the beginning. After that, it's smooth sailing to the dinner table.
I am a pretty big fan of taking our Thanksgiving cooking outside. The smell of the holiday is unmistakable. The aroma of the smoke fills the cool air as turkey stock for gravy is being made on the stove and pies are in the oven. It's pretty heavenly and that combination is one that brings so much comfort, just knowing what is ahead.
This year, I decided to change things up. After years of wet brining and smoking whole turkeys with fantastic results, I decided to not only change the brine but to spatchcock the turkey. Doing this had some pretty big benefits, and I will definitely be doing it again next year.
As much as I love brining a turkey with a wet brine because of all the flavors you can add, I don’t love how much room it takes up in the fridge and how inconvenient that can be. Dry brine solves that.
Advantages of Spatchcocking
- Quicker cook time - The thinner shape, compared to an oval whole turkey, results in a much speedier cook. The turkey has no cavity to cook through. It also works great with BBQ Chicken.
- More even cook - It's flatter and this means that some parts don't get overcooked before other parts are barely cooked.
- Easier to dry brine - You can reach both sides of the meat and dry brining takes up much less room in your fridge.
- Easier to carve with fewer bones to get in the way.
- Better turkey stock for gravy with the reserved backbone, neck and giblets.
- Whole turkey - A 12- to 14-pound bird is perfect for smoking. Fully thawed, neck, giblets and any included trussing removed. The beautiful and delicious turkey in the photos is a Diestel regeneratively raised turkey.
- Kosher salt and sugar for a dry brine to season the turkey.
- BBQ rub (optional) - I generally will skip the rub for more traditional holiday flavors.
- Fuel - Wood chunks for smoke or pellets for a pellet smoker. Cherry, apple or maple are best for turkey.
Tools & Equipment
- Smoker - Any type of smoker will work. It's best to smoke with indirect heat. I used the Big Green Egg for this turkey, but also love using a pellet smoker.
- Large cutting board - You'll want the largest one you have.
- Poultry shears - For cutting out the backbone to spatchcock the turkey. The OXO shears are my favorite.
- Sharp knife - Also for the spatchcocking process.
- Nitrile gloves - Make clean-up easy when handling raw poultry.
- Sheet pan - Use this for dry brining.
- Thermometer - So you can perfectly cook the bird. I use the Thermoworks Smoke remote thermometer and the Thermapen for spot-checking.
- Drip pan - A disposable drip pan works great with a few inches of water to catch drippings and add some humidity to the smoker's environment.
How to Spatchcock a Turkey
Spatchcocking a turkey is just cutting the backbone out and flattening it out. It is super simple to do. Despite the special sounding word, no special skills are required.
Step 1: Cut Out the Backbone
Using sharp poultry shears, cut along each side of the turkey's backbone. Start on one side, then flip it around 180 and do the other end.
Step 2: Slice the Breastplate
Use a sharp knife to make a small incision into the top of the breastbone, which will make it easier to flatten out the turkey.
Optional: You can remove the breastbone and the furcula, or "wishbone," to make cooking even quicker and carving a little easier after it is cooked.
Step 3: Flatten
Turn the turkey over so it is breast side up, stretching it out on the cutting board. Using the palms from both hands, give a forceful compression on the upper portion of the breast until it is flattened. It might take a few tries to fully crack the breastplate.
Step 4: Trim Excess Skin
Trim off excess skin around the neck that can hang down and potentially burn.
How to Smoke a Spatchcock Turkey
Step 1: Dry Brine
Make the dry brine by combining kosher salt and sugar. Liberally season all sides of the turkey. Loosen the skin and season under the skin as well.
Place the seasoned turkey on a sheet pan and refrigerate uncovered to allow the skin to dry for 2 to 3 days. There's no need to rinse the dry-brined turkey.
Step 2: Preheat the Smoker
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator before you set up the smoker and rub butter all over the skin and insert a probe thermometer into the breast.
Set up your smoker for indirect heat cooking and preheat the temperature between 250° to 275° F. Use either wood chunks for a charcoal smoker or pellets for a pellet smoker.
Add a drip pan with a few inches of water below where the turkey will sit.
Step 3: Smoke the Turkey
Place the turkey in the smoker skin-side up and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 157° F to allow for carry-over cooking.
Step 4: Rest the Turkey
Once the pull temperature is reached, remove the turkey from the smoker and rest for 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute before carving.
Temps and Times Quick Reference Info
- Prep time: about 10 minutes.
- Brine time: 2 to 3 days.
- Smoker temp: 250° to 275° F.
- Cook time: Approximately 11 to 13 minutes per pound to smoke a spatchcocked turkey at 250° F. My 14-pound turkey took 2 ½ hours.
- Pull temp (to account for carry-over cooking): 157° F in the center of the breast.
- Wood: Cherry, apple or maple are the best woods for smoking turkey.
- Cooking to Temperature and not by time. Use a remote probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature so you know exactly when it's done.
- Keep the smoker lid closed - Opening the lid as little as possible will maintain a constant temperature and result in a better cook.
- Get double-duty stock - Definitely make a quick stock out of the backbone, neck and giblets for an easy and super-delicious gravy. Then once you are done with your turkey, make a second smoked turkey stock out of the leftover bones, and make turkey eggs benedict out of leftover meat.
- A lower temp smoker = more smoke flavor, longer cook. Higher temp = crispier skin, faster cooking. I like to cook at a lower temperature with a pellet smoker and slightly higher with charcoal.
Serve It Up With
- Sausage and Apple Stuffing
- Green Beans
- Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes
- Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
More Turkey Recipes
Spatchcock Smoked Turkey Recipe
- 12 to 14 pound whole turkey, fully thawed (giblets and neck removed)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup Diamond kosher salt or 5 tablespoons Morton kosher salt for a 14-pound turkey (See note)
- 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
- Ground black pepper
- Dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage (optional)
Spatchcock the Turkey
- Remove the breastbone: With the breast-side down on a cutting board, use sharp poultry shears to cut through both sides of the backbone to remove it (reserve to make gravy stock). Make a small incision through the neck side of the breastplate to make flattening easy. You can also remove the breastbone as well and the wishbone for easier carving later, but it is totally optional.
- Flatten the turkey: Turn the turkey over so it is breast-side up, stretching it out on the cutting board. Using the palms of both hands, give a forceful compression on the upper portion of the breast until it is flattened. It might take a few tries to fully crack the breastplate.Trim off excess skin around the neck that can hang down and potentially burn.
Dry Brine the Turkey
- In a small bowl, combine a 4-to-1-ratio of Diamond kosher salt and granulated sugar.
- Liberally season all sides of the turkey. Gently loosen the skin and season under the skin as well for a quicker brine.
- Refrigerate uncovered for 2 to 3 days.
Smoke the Turkey
- Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking. Rub room-temp butter all over and under the skin. Insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast.
- Set up the smoker according to the manufacturer's instructions for indirect heat cooking and preheat between 250° to 275° F. Use wood pellets for pellet smokers or a few wood chunks for smoke flavor for charcoal smokers. Add a drip pan with a few inches of water below where the turkey will be cooking.
- Place the turkey in the smoker skin-side up and cook until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 157° F, verify with an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove and rest for 30 minutes before carving and serving.
- The type of salt you use for the dry brine, as the amount will vary depending on the brand. Figure 2 teaspoons per pound if using Diamond Crystal brand and 1 teaspoon per pound of turkey if using Morton brand.
- Optionally add 2 tablespoons sugar or light brown sugar for the dry brine to add a little sweetness.
- Unlike with a wet brine, don't rinse the turkey after it is dry brined.
- Avoid buying a turkey that is pre-seasoned or self-basting.
- Approx Cook Times: 11 to 13 minutes per pound at 250° F.