Spatchcock Method (Butterflying)

Spatchcock method has changed my bird-roasting life forever.  I love roasting whole chickens and turkeys, but no matter how long I rest the fowl prior to roasting, there seems to always be a breast or drumstick that's a little dry or (gross) a little raw, when the rest of the bird is perfectly cooked.  Ugh.  Drives me insane.  I don't brine turkeys because, let's get real, a 20+ pound turkey is just not fun to brine.  I don't like to purchase pre-brined turkey's either because it scary what sort of funny chemicals are in it.   I've tried massively buttering and basting and covering them with foil while baking, but nothing seem to make my birds as moist as dad's Thanksgiving turkeys (dad's the chef at our family restaurant, and a great one at that)!  My only other option was to try spatchcocking.  

I decided to attempt the Spatchcock Method on Thanksgiving 2007 (been making Thanksgiving dinner for my in-law's before my husband and I were engaged, so I suppose my in-law's were my Thanksgiving guinea pigs... good thing it turned out beautifully).  Since the bird is butterflied and laid flat to roast, not only does it cook evenly, but cooking times are cut in half, so good-bye to dried out pieces!  The energy and time spent into 'butterflying' the bird is well worth every deliciously moist bite. 

Spatchcock Your Bird
Turkey, if fully frozen:  In a large pan, let turkey (18-20+ pounds) defrost in refrigerator 6 days before roasting.

Chicken, if fully frozen:  In a pan, let chicken (4-8 pounds) defrost in refrigerator for days before roasting.


What you'll need

  • kitchen shears/scissors
  • butcher knife (or large knife)
  • 1 to 2 pairs of food safe gloves (optional)
  • half-sheet baking pan, for roasting
  • large pan, to let bird rest on before roasting


1.  Remove all giblets bags and neck from cavity of bird (if you can't find the giblets bag or neck, it's sometimes in the "neck" area of the bird, covered by excess skin).  Place giblets and neck in a mixing bowl and set aside (to make gravy stock), or if making stock later, cover and refrigerate immediately.

2.  The pictures are demonstrated on a turkey, but same applies for a chicken.  With food-safe gloves on, place turkey or chicken in a clean sink.

3.  Take shears and cut 2 parallel lines along the left and right side of the "imaginary" backbone, cutting only the skin.  This will be a guide when you begin to actually cut through the bones.  Trust me, I wouldn't skip this step.  The bird will be all over the place and slipping around when you start cutting - the lines will be helpful.

4.   Starting at the "neck" end, on one "imaginary" line, open your shears wide and start cutting through the bone, flesh and skin, going up and down the lines you created along the backbone.  It's going to take some effort.  And you'll get stuck somewhere in the middle of the backbone - there's a thick bone to cut through on both sides.  Enter: butcher knife.  Before you start hacking away with your butcher knife, remove any backbone that's already been cut so it doesn't get in the way - see second photo below, looks almost like a... missing tooth.  Anyway, just keep going at it with the shears, butcher knife and your hands until the whole backbone is free.  You will have to do some powerful tugging and twisting if the shears or butcher knife can't do the job.  WARNING: BRACE YOURSELF AND THE SLIPPERY TURKEY AND YOUR FINGERS WHILE WORKING WITH SHARP UTENSILS.  Watch out for the freshly cut, sharp turkey bones - they will also try their best to hinder your goal.  Don't be scared, just be careful.  Trust me, after the first couple times, spatchcocking will be a breeze.

5.   Yay!  Now that the backbone is out (reserve for making gravy stock with giblets), the rest is quite easy.  You can remove the rib bones if you like.  Now, you'll need to "snap" the breast bone.  You can do this by using both palms to press down on the left and right side of the breasts on the turkey, skin-side up.  If your turkey is too slippery, it might not snap for you.  You can take the wings/breast on each side (in the second picture below, you'll see my hand on the left side of the wing/breast) and give those a good press downwards on both sides... if that doesn't work, pull outwards and press down.  If none of that works, just forget it.  This just allows the turkey to lay flatter and cook 'evenly' - but honestly, it's okay.

4.  Place bird flat in a large pan (not the pan your roasting with), let rest at room temperature for 2 to 2½ hours (rest chicken for 1 hour).

5.  The chicken or turkey has likely excreted a run-off of pink liquids in the pan by now.  Transfer bird to the roasting pan and pat dry again with paper towels (I recommend using a half-sheet bun pan, or else your turkey may not fit).  Tuck wings under and behind the body (see below).  Drizzle olive oil all over bird (chicken: 1 tablespoon, turkey: 3 tablespoons).  Generously sprinkle kosher salt and pepper all over, rub well.

6.  Place bird in lower-center rack (for example: turkey placement should be exactly in the middle of the oven when roasting, so if turkey is placed on middle rack, turkey will be sitting too high in the oven).

7.  Roast accordingly.

See Spatchcock (Butterflied) Roast Chicken or Spatchcock (Butterflied) Roast Turkey recipes.