Sliced roast turkey on a platter surrounded by Thanksgiving side dishes.
Chicken,  Entrées,  Recipes,  Turkey

Spatchcocked Roasted Turkey with Homemade Dry Brine

Spatchcocking a turkey drastically reduces the cooking time of your holiday meal + helps the white & dark meat both stay juicy while cooking!

Platter of spatchcocked roasted turkey made with a dry brine surrounded by Thanksgiving sides.

Spatchcocking sounds like a funny word, but it’s an incredibly efficient way to prepare turkey (or chicken!) for quick, even cooking.

Gone are the days of waiting allllll day for your turkey to roast in the oven. No more worrying about overcooking the white meat while waiting for the dark meat to cook through.

This method is a total game-changer and one that we’ve used exclusively for Thanksgiving for several years now.

It can seem intimidating at first (yes, you’re going to need to cut the backbone out of the turkey). But this post is here to walk you through the process so you can feel confident when it’s time to make your Turkey Day dinner at any time of the year.

Thanksgiving dinner on a plate with a glass of wine.

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🦃 Why spatchcock a turkey?

  • Spatchcocking enables your cook time to be reduced by about half, which is especially welcome if you’re making turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other holiday meal.
  • The white meat and dark meat finish cooking at roughly the same time. That means there’s less of a chance of ending up with dry breast meat.
  • You can roast the meat at a higher temperature. And since all of the skin is on top, you achieve crispier, more delicious skin.
  • The discarded backbone adds rich flavor to homemade turkey gravy or stock.

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🥣 Benefits of using a dry brine

When we spatchcock a turkey (or chicken!), we also like to use a dry brine to season and tenderize the meat while keeping it moist and juicy.

  • The spices have more of a direct impact on flavoring the meat.
  • It helps keep the skin crispy.
  • You’ll get a deep, rich, natural turkey flavor. Injected saline solutions often mask these flavors.

My homemade dry brine seasoning blend recipe is super easy to put together, and you can make a big batch and keep it in the pantry until you’re ready to use it.

Spoon lifting a dry brine seasoning mix out of a bowl.

Note that my recipe makes around 1 1/2 cups of seasoning, but you’ll only need 1 tablespoon per 4 pounds of meat that you want to dry brine.

There’s lots more info about this in my dry brine post, so head over there if you want the lowdown.

It is important to note that if you’re using a dry brine, you want to choose a turkey that hasn’t been previously injected with a saline solution, so be sure to read the label.

You can also check out this article from Serious Eats on how to brine a turkey or chicken (they cover both wet brining and dry brining).

Close up of sliced turkey breast with golden brown skin.


📝 Ingredients and kitchen equipment

Here’s everything you’ll need to spatchcock your poultry. It’s pretty minimal, but having these tools will make the process of breaking down the turkey or chicken much easier (see recipe card below for ingredient amounts and full directions):

🍗 A few notes about giblets

When you buy a whole turkey or chicken, you’ll often find the neck bone and a bag of giblets stashed in the cavity.

Don’t be afraid of that little bag – use it to add flavor to your meal!

While I recommend utilizing giblets for homemade gravy, you certainly don’t have to.

Whether you’re using the giblets or not, you’ll need to be sure to remove that bag from the turkey before you cook it so you don’t end up accidentally cooking it.

The bag often contains a mix of organs – heart, liver, and gizzards. You can read more about giblets here, but just note that for the gravy recipe, you’ll want to remove the liver.

The liver is deep red and shiny. It’s usually the most slippery of the organs, for lack of a better term.

Including the liver in gravy can make it bitter, so I completely omit it.

Container holding turkey bones and giblets.
Collect the giblets, neck bone, and backbone in a container to use for gravy or homemade stock.
Raw turkey with giblets removed showing the liver.
The liver is deep red and shiny and can make gravy bitter, so I usually omit it.
Patting turkey bones and giblets dry with a paper towel.
Pat the giblets and any reserved bones dry before adding them to a hot pan when cooking them.

For my gravy recipe, I utilize the rest of the giblets and neckbone along with the backbone of the turkey if I have spatchcocked it.

When working with a dry brine, I remove the giblets and put them in a sealed container in the refrigerator along with any bones and trimmings from prepping the turkey.

On the day I plan to roast the poultry, I’ll take them out, pat them dry, and use them to make this gorgeous gravy recipe.

I have a full post to show you how to spatchcock a turkey and will link it here as soon as I publish it.

The method for spatchcocking is great for chicken, too, and you can make gravy for your chicken in the same way.

Packaged whole turkey showing the label.
Look for a turkey that hasn’t been injected with a saline solution or pre-brined.

✅ How to spatchcock a turkey

Roll up your sleeves, because prepping a turkey (or chicken) for spatchcocking is a bit of work. It’s not difficult, but it takes muscle for sure, especially if you have a larger piece of poultry.

Spatchcocking is basically butterflying the piece of meat so it lays open nice and flat for even cooking.

I’m going to walk you through the entire process with photos of each step so you can feel confident moving forward in your own kitchen.

Remove the bones, giblets, and feathers

Reaching into a turkey to remove the bag of giblets.
Reach into the cavity of the turkey to remove giblets and/or the neck.
Pulling the neck bone out of the cavity of a raw turkey.
Save these pieces to make a delicious homemade turkey gravy!
Holding the bag of giblets from a raw turkey.
Be sure to check the neck-end of the turkey for a bag of giblets also.

Turkeys often have the neck bone and/or a bag of giblets (heart, gizzards, liver) stuffed inside of them. Growing up, I remember these bags always getting tossed. But hang on to those bits!

Pop them into a freezer bag or container and save them to make some seriously delicious homemade turkey gravy. Trust me! The added depth of flavor is absolutely incredible.

Up until a few years ago, I only ever saw the bag of turkey parts stuffed into the main cavity of the turkey. But some, like the one in the photos for this post, have a bag stashed in the neck-end as well.

Be sure to check both – you don’t want to wind up baking that in with your meat.

There are also sometimes still a few feathers (or bits of feathers) stuck in the skin of the turkey. You can sometimes remove them by hand, but I find that fish bone tweezers or clean pliers work best.

Things can get slippery, and having something to get a good grip on the feathers helps with easy removal.

Dry the skin of the turkey well

Patting the skin of a raw turkey dry.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Drying raw turkey with paper towels.
Be sure to get all of the areas so it’s as dry as possible.
Drying under the wings of a raw turkey.
Don’t forget to lift the wings!

Next up, dry your turkey well with paper towels. Make sure you get the exterior as dry as you can, including spots like under the wings.

The dryer it is, the better. I’m all for reducing kitchen waste whenever possible, but some jobs are just best left for paper towels. This is one of those times (but, bonus – paper towels are compostable!).

Score the skin and remove the backbone

Scoring the skin on one side of the backbone of a turkey.
Score the skin of the turkey along both sides of the backbone with a sharp knife.
Cutting the backbone of a turkey with poultry shears.
Use poultry shears to cut through the ribcage along both sides of the backbone.
Cutting a turkey backbone in half.
Use a knife to cut the backbone so it fits in your storage container or saucepan.

Once your turkey is dry, flip it so it’s backbone-side up on your work surface. Use a sharp knife (I like using a fillet knife here) to score the skin all the way from the neck to the tail along the outer edge of both sides of the backbone.

We’ve skipped this step in the past, but no longer. Poultry shears are great for cutting through bones, but they don’t do a great job of cutting through skin. Having the skin moving around while you’re trying to cut through the backbone makes the work more difficult.

Once you’ve scored the skin, use your poultry shears to cut through the bones all the way down both sides of the backbone. This can take some muscle, especially if it’s a big turkey. But you can do it!

I like to save the backbone to make turkey stock or gravy. I find that cutting it in half or thirds once it’s removed is helpful for when you go to store and/or cook with it later.

Note here that you can freeze the bones for later use. Just thaw them before proceeding to make turkey stock or gravy.

Crack the breastbone and apply the dry brine

Pressing on the breastbone of a turkey while spatchcocking.
Flip the turkey over and press firmly down on the breastbone until you feel it pop.
Rubbing dry brine under the skin of a turkey.
Gently lift the skin of the turkey and run your hand underneath to separate it from the meat.

This is the last part of turkey prep that takes some muscle. You need to flip the turkey over and break the breastbone. To do this, place one hand in the center of the breast, then place your other hand on top.

Press firmly until you feel (and hear!) the breastbone pop and break. Depending on your size and the size of your turkey, this can take considerable effort. I often lean in with most of my body weight to get it to break.

Breaking the breastbone ensures that your turkey can lay nice and flat for even cooking. When turkeys are cooked whole, that big, dense ball of meat takes a long time to cook. But with a nice, flat layer, it happens much more quickly.

Are you still with me? It’s time to start applying the seasoning!

Rubbing dry brine seasoning mix underneath the skin of a spatchcocked turkey.
Try to find areas to get under the skin, rubbing the spice mix as you go.
Rubbing dry brine seasoning blend into the cavity of a spatchcocked turkey.
Rub some of the dry brine spice mix on the cavity side of the turkey, drying it first if needed.

If the skin of your turkey isn’t dry, pat it with paper towels again. Using your fingers, gently lift the skin of the turkey away from the meat. You’re going to need to reach in and use your hands to poke around to create a pocket between the skin and the flesh.

This usually takes a little finagling, but do the best you can, finding any areas that you can work your way underneath the skin.

Take some of the dry brine spice mixture and rub it underneath the skin. You want to try to get an even-ish layer, but you don’t need to measure things precisely here.

Flip the turkey back over and dry out the cavity with paper towels again if needed. Sprinkle a little more of the dry brine seasoning mixture onto the cavity side and rub it around to coat.

Final seasoning for a crispy skin

Rubbing baking powder onto the skin of a turkey.
Rub baking powder all over the skin side of the turkey.
Sprinkling dry brine seasoning blend onto a turkey.
Add the remainder of the dry brine spice blend to the skin of the turkey.
Rubbing a spatchcocked turkey with dry brine seasoning.
Rub the spice mixture all over for an even coating on the skin.

Pat the skin dry once more, then sprinkle a teaspoon of baking powder all over the skin. Rub it to really spread it around, making sure to get places like underneath the wings.

The addition of baking powder aids in getting that perfectly crispy skin once you roast the turkey.

Add the remainder of your dry brine spice mixture to the skin side of the turkey and rub it all over to coat evenly. Again, remember that you’re only using a total of one tablespoon per four pounds of turkey.

So, for example, the turkey in the photographs was 16 pounds, so I used 4 tablespoons of the mixture. You don’t have to be super precise here, but try to stay in the ballpark so your meat isn’t overly salty.

Refrigerate your prepped turkey for 1-4 days

Placing a dry brined turkey into a baking dish.
Transfer your seasoned turkey into a baking dish, if needed.
Turkey in the refrigerator with a dry brine mix applied to the skin.
Refrigerate for 1-4 days.
Dry brined turkey ready for the oven.
The dry brining process removes excess moisture, so it’ll look dried out.

To save on refrigerator space, I like to then transfer my seasoned turkey to a 9×13 baking dish. Clear out a little space around your refrigerator so that nothing is touching it, and leave it alone in the refrigerator.

We always try to aim to brine our turkey for 4 days, but things happen and schedules can get interrupted. One day is the minimum amount of time you’ll need for the dry brine to start working its magic, up to a maximum of 4.

Is leaving poultry uncovered in the refrigerator safe?

This process is similar to dry-aging steak and is done with the meat uncovered in the refrigerator.

You need to make sure you have plenty of space around the turkey for this process to take place without the worry of contaminating other things in your refrigerator.

As long as the turkey isn’t touching anything, all should go well.

But if the thought of leaving poultry out in the open in your refrigerator is worrisome, you can cover the turkey with cheesecloth. This way it can still get the air circulation while it brines.

Time to cook!

Arranging a dry brined, spatchcocked turkey on a sheet pan.
Transfer turkey to a baking dish and lay flat, skin-side up.
Inserting a probe thermometer into a turkey breast.
Place one probe in the center of the white meat and one in the center of the dark meat to monitor the cooking temperature.
Spatchcocked turkey on a roasting pan in the oven ready to roast.
Roast until both probes read 165°F.

When it’s go-time, preheat your oven. The cook time and temperature will vary based on the size of your turkey (see chart below). Your best bet is to monitor the temperature as it’s cooking.

We love using a dual-probe thermometer for this, as you can monitor the temperature of the breast meat and the leg/thigh at the same time. You can also use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature periodically during roasting.

Transfer your brined turkey to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Place probes in the center of the light and dark meat to monitor the temperature of both while it roasts.

Dual probe thermometer display showing turkey temperature settings.
If your two probes are changing at drastically different rates, it’s likely they aren’t placed correctly.
Spatchcocked roasted turkey on a half sheet pan in the oven.
Once both probes have reached 165°F, remove the tray from the oven.
Spatchcocked turkey on a half sheet pan.
Do NOT discard the pan drippings! Save them for gravy-making!

Try to be sure you’re probing the meat in the center of the breast and thigh. If you’re touching bone or are too close to the edge, the thermometers won’t read properly.

If the temperatures are changing at drastically different rates, it’s likely that they aren’t placed properly. No big deal, just take it out, readjust, and pop it back into the oven.

⏲ How long to cook a spatchcocked turkey

Here are some general guidelines for cook time and oven temperature, based on the weight of your turkey:

Turkey WeightOven TemperatureCook Time
8-12 pounds325°F2 3/4 to 3 hours
12-14 pounds450°F2 to 2 1/4 hours
12-14 pounds425°F2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours
15-17 pounds450°F2 3/4 to 3 hours
15-17 pounds425°F3 to 3 1/4 hours
18-20 pounds450°F3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours
18-20 pounds425°F3 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours
21-23 pounds450°F3 3/4 to 4 hours
21-23 pounds425°F4 to 4 1/4 hours
24 pounds450°F4 to 4 1/4 hours
24 pounds425°F4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
Use a thermometer to ensure your turkey has reached 165°F in the center of both the white and dark meat.

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Close-up of sliced turkey breast on a platter.

Spatchcocked Roasted Turkey with Homemade Dry Brine

  • Author: Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen – Ashley Covelli
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus 1-4 days in the refrigerator
  • Cook Time: 2 hours (or more, based on the size of your turkey)
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (varies, based on the size of your turkey), plus 1-4 days in the refrigerator
  • Yield: Varies
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Spatchcocking a turkey drastically reduces the cook time of your holiday meal + helps the white & dark meat both stay juicy while cooking!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 whole turkey, not previously brined or injected with saline solution (see post above)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dry brine spice blend (you’ll need 1 tablespoon per 4 pounds of turkey if using my dry brine recipe)

Instructions

  1. Remove giblets and neckline from the turkey cavity and reserve for gravy, if desired.
  2. Dry the skin of the turkey well with paper towels. Score the skin of the turkey along both sides of the backbone with a sharp knife. Using poultry shears, cut through the ribcage along both sides of the backbone. Remove the backbone and add it to the reserved gravy bits.
  3. Flip the turkey so the breast is facing up. Press down firmly with one hand on top of the other until you feel it pop/crack. You’ll likely need to really lean into it.
  4. Gently lift the skin of the turkey and season it with some of the dry brine mixture (see post above for detailed instructions and photos). Flip it over and rub some more of the mixture all over the cavity side.
  5. Flip the turkey over and pat the skin-side dry once more. Sprinkle baking powder all over the skin and rub well to coat, making sure to get underneath the wings. Add the remaining dry brine mixture to the skin side and rub all over to coat evenly.
  6. Transfer your seasoned turkey to a baking dish and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 day, up to 4 days.
  7. Preheat your oven according to the chart in the post above, based on the weight of your turkey. Transfer your turkey to a large, rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Roast in the preheated oven until the light and dark meat both reach 165°F. Reference the chart in the post above for time guidelines. I recommend probing the light and dark meat with a dual-probe thermometer.
  9. Once the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and tent it with foil until you’re ready to carve it. Be sure to reserve the pan drippings for homemade gravy!


Notes

See my post above for more in-depth information, tips, and step-by-step photos of how to spatchcock the turkey, cooking times based on weight, etc.

Keywords: Thanksgiving, turkey recipe, spatchcock

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Ashley Covelli is a food photographer, recipe developer, and culinary instructor based in Ossining, New York. She loves helping people become enthusiastic and adventurous in the kitchen so that they can build skills and confidence to cook for themselves and their loved ones. She can almost always be found with at least 3 different beverages within arm's reach.

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