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5 reasons to spatchcock your turkey this Thanksgiving

Crispy skin, juicy meat, and speedy cooking. What's not to love?

A person brushing a spatchcocked turkey with cooking oil Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

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When you think of Thanksgiving dinner, you probably envision a huge, round, whole-roasted turkey trussed up and set at the center of your dining room table. It's beautiful, sure, but is it really the best way to prepare the iconic holiday bird?

No, definitely not. Spatchcocking is a superior method in virtually every way.

But what is spatchcocking, you ask? Essentially, it's a fancy term for butterflying your bird and roasting, grilling, or smoking it while it's laid out flat. This method does require a little elbow grease, a lack of squeamishness, and a good pair of kitchen shears, but in the end it'll get you the best turkey you've ever tasted.

Here's why.

1. Your turkey will be ready faster

Spatchcocking can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend roasting your bird.

Opinions differ on how quickly you can cook a spatchcocked turkey. Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt—perhaps the internet's foremost spatchcocking evangelist—says you can cut the cooking time in half, to about 80 minutes. The New York Times' Mark Bittman, meanwhile, claims your turkey will be done in just 35 minutes.

Either way, your bird will cook a heck of a lot faster than the 2 to 5 hours Butterball says it'll take to roast a whole bird.

Why is it so much faster? Because a flat turkey cooks more evenly, it can handle higher heat. With a whole turkey, you have to cook at a low temperature (~325°F) to avoid overcooking and drying out the outermost layer. When the bird is butterflied, you can turn up the heat (to 450°F) without worry. As you'd imagine, the cooking time drops precipitously.

2. Your turkey will be crispier and juicier

A person removing a roasted spatchcocked turkey from the oven
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

Say goodbye to eating dry turkey meat.

One of the biggest benefits of spatchcocking your turkey is that it keeps the meat moist while providing you with crispy skin. According to López-Alt, this has to do with how the flattened turkey sits in the pan—all of the skin faces upward in open air, while the exposed meat is on the bottom.

That means the skin has plenty of uninterrupted dry heat to get nice and crispy, while the meat stews in all the fat and juices that render out, keeping it perfectly moist.

3. Your gravy and stuffing will be tastier, too

On left, person arranging chopped vegetables on baking sheet. On right hands placing spatchcocked turkey atop vegetables.
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

Roasting your turkey on a bed of veggies means extra flavorful juices to make gravy afterwards.

We hear you: "But how can that be? You can't stuff a flat turkey!"

True. Technically, it won't be real "stuffing." (We'll save the stuffing vs. dressing debate for another day.) But whatever you choose to call it, your starchy stuff will be more flavorful (and more plentiful) if you use this method.

In López-Alt's spatchcock turkey recipe, he suggests that all you have to do is lay the spatchcocked bird on top of your large casserole dish of stuffing for part of the cooking time. This gets plenty of turkey drippings into the dressing and allows you to prepare more stuffing than you'd be able to safely cram into a whole turkey's cavity. He adds that you should move the bird to another pan halfway through cooking so the stuffing doesn't burn.

If that's not enough good news for your tastebuds, you can also use the turkey's discarded backbone to make superior gravy. López-Alt even walks through the process in his in-depth spatchcocking tutorial video.

4. You can spruce up your presentation

Sliced turkey on a baking sheet.
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

Spatchcocking a turkey means you can easily carve your turkey before presenting it to guests.

Sure, a plump, whole-roasted turkey is an iconic Thanksgiving centerpiece, but it's not really the most convenient mountain of meat to tackle come dinner time. Maybe your uncle takes pride in his hard-won carving skills, but meat that comes to the table ready-to-eat is preferable to us. Plus, who wants a half-carved carcass in the middle of the dinner table?

A spatchcocked turkey is far simpler to carve, and can be just as visually appealing when presented the right way. Serious Eats and MarthaStewart.com each offer mouth-wateringly gorgeous ideas for how to plate the carved-up turkey to best effect.

5. There’s more than one way to spatchcock

The lid of a smoker lifted to reveal a smoked spatchcocked turkey.
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

You can also smoke or grill a spatchcocked turkey.

A roasted spatchcocked turkey is crispier, juicier, and quicker than a conventional whole bird, but you can cook a butterflied bird in plenty of other ways.

If you want a different taste, you can smoke your spatchcocked turkey. If you're a hardcore smoking fanatic, feel free to use a smoker. The rest of us can do it on a regular charcoal grill.

We've covered a whole cornucopia of different turkey cooking techniques here at Reviewed, but none of them compare to the ease and speed of spatchcocking. So go ahead and give it a try! Who knows, maybe this year you'll actually want to eat some turkey along with all those great sides.

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