How to Spatchcock a Turkey: Step-by-Step Guide to an EASY Thanksgiving Turkey!

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A Spatchcock Turkey is the miracle Thanksgiving recipe you never knew you needed. Don’t be intimidated - learning how to spatchcock a turkey is way easier than it sounds! A roasted spatchcock turkey is perfectly juicy, evenly cooked, super flavorful, and ready in less than 2 hours, freeing up your oven to make delicious Thanksgiving side dishes & pies. Our step-by-step spatchcock turkey guide will teach you how to cook a super easy Thanksgiving turkey, making your holiday dinner a total breeze!

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How to Spatchcock a Turkey, step 4 continued: A whole turkey rests with the turkey breast side facing upwards a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. A lemon, a whole garlic bulb, two sticks of butter, a white ramekin filled with kosher salt, a pair of kitchen shears, and fresh herbs surround the raw whole turkey.

Spatchcock Turkey: The Secret to Prepping & Roasting a Whole Turkey in Only 90 Minutes!

This is going to be the year that you break up with your turkey roasting fear. You know what I’m talking about…it’s the little voice in the back of your head saying that roasting a whole turkey is so difficult you should avoid hosting Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving dinner. The voice that tells you that your turkey is going to be overcooked & dreadfully dried out no matter how hard you try. 

I’m VERY familiar with this Thanksgiving fear. We’ve all been there, trust me.

But this year, I’m giving you the inside scoop on my secret for prepping & perfectly roasting a whole turkey in 90 minutes. (& if you’re already a seasoned turkey roasting pro – you still need to hear me out…because this recipe is gonna change your turkey roasting life. I promise.)

The secret? A spatchcock turkey. 

Spatchcocking is a super simple & super effective technique of breaking down poultry. A spatchcock turkey’s backbone is removed, helping it lay flat (butterflied).

If you’ve never heard of a spatchcock turkey, have no fear. I’m here to show you that learning how to spatchcock a turkey is a complete Thanksgiving day game-changer. Let’s learn a little more about why…

What is Spatchcock Turkey? 

Spatchcocking is a super simple & super effective technique of breaking down your turkey. Basically, to spatchcock a turkey simply means that you remove its backbone, which helps the turkey sit flat as it roasts. As a result, spatchcocking speeds up the roasting process (like…A TON) & results in a more evenly cooked turkey every time. In other words, this roast spatchcock turkey will change your Thanksgiving turkey game for good.  

I’m sure you’re probably feeling skeptical. After all, pretty much every magazine article & cooking show is talking about how daunting it is to perfectly roast a turkey this time of year… 

But when you envision a spatchcock turkey, it starts to make sense. Because spatchcock (or butterflied) poultry lies completely flat as it roasts, spatchcocking our Thanksgiving turkey  accomplishes 3 important things. A spatchcock turkey…

  • cooks faster. 
  • cooks much more evenly & therefore doesn’t dry out.
  • creates space in your oven for extra Thanksgiving side dishes & treats! 

I first experienced the perks of a spatchcock turkey when Chris & I hosted our first Friendsgiving dinner together. As the then girlfriend-slash-roommate, I was cooking to impress…but I quickly found myself overwhelmed by the amount of time it was taking me to prepare all of the dishes on our Thanksgiving menu. 

In the end, the spatchcock turkey ended up saving our inaugural Friendsgiving! Even though I was behind on the rest of the meal prep, our spatchcock turkey came together quickly and dinner was right on time. The best part was the roast spatchcock turkey was super juicy, flavorful, & perfectly golden brown. I officially fell in love with a spatchcock Thanksgiving turkey, & I’ve never looked back! 

I’m here to convert you to Team Spatchcock Turkey this year. ♡ Read on to learn more about How to Spatchcock a Turkey (with step-by-step photos to help guide you along the way!), or jump straight to the recipe & get roasting! 

Why Spatchcock Your Thanksgiving Turkey?

Remember: a spatchcock turkey has its backbone removed so it sits flatter as it roasts – & a flat turkey is a really, really excellent thing when you’re roasting because:

  • Larger surface area = (much!) faster roasting time: By spatchcocking (or butterflying) the turkey, we create a much larger surface area with uniform thickness throughout. This reduces roasting time by over 100% – a 14-pound spatchcocked turkey roasts up in just about 90 minutes versus the traditional turkey roasting rule of thumb of about 13 minutes per pound (totaling to just over 3 hours!!). 
  • It cooks way, way more evenly & doesn’t dry out: Think about it – when you roast a traditional Thanksgiving, its breasts are disproportionately exposed to the heat source. Despite this, you have to continue to roast it until its legs (which are hiding under its body!) are fully cooked. This is exactly why Thanksgiving turkey is always dry: it roasts unevenly! As you wait for the dark meat to reach a safe temperature, the breast meat completely overcooks & dries out. A spatchcock turkey sits in the roasting pan with its breasts & legs with uniform thickness. This uniformity facilitates much more even cooking that results in a perfectly juicy bird – every single time! 
A spatchcock turkey cooks faster & more evenly than a whole turkey, resulting in a juicier, more flavorful roast turkey!

Now that you’re on board with making a roast spatchcock turkey, let’s walk through the 4 easy steps to make it happen.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey (with Step-by-Step Photos!)

Can you spatchcock a turkey? Of course you can! Here’s exactly how to spatchcock a turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

First thing’s first, this spatchcock turkey recipe requires just a few handy tools & ingredients. You will need…

  1. Very sharp kitchen shears. These are the kitchen shears I use – I absolutely swear by them!
  2. Large knife. This one is my favorite!
  3. Rolling pinThe secret to spatchcocking large poultry – like turkey! – easily!
  4. Roasting pan. You don’t need anything fancy here – this is the roasting pan I use!
  5. A whole turkey, of course! Your turkey should be ready for roasting at this point, so make sure it’s thawed, its neck & giblets are removed, & (if desired) brine for extra flavor.
Spatchcock Turkey ingredients arranged on a light textured surface: one whole turkey, kosher salt, butter, lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. The whole turkey rests a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. A pair of beige kitchen shears rest alongside the raw turkey.
Aside from a 12-14-pound turkey, all you need to spatchcock a turkey is a pair of sharp kitchen shears & a sharp knife. A rolling pin is also handy!

Spatchcock Turkey FAQ: What size Thanksgiving turkey should I use? ⇢ For this spatchcock turkey recipe, I recommend using a turkey between 12-14 pounds. Because it lies flat as it roasta, a turkey larger than 14 pounds likely won’t fit in a conventional roasting pan. If you need more turkey to feed your guests, then try preparing two smaller spatchcock turkeys rather than one large bird. This will also help your turkey meat stay extra-juicy! Not sure how much turkey you’ll need to feed your dinner crowd? ⇢ The general rule of thumb is to aim for one pound of turkey per person.

Reminder! If you’re using a frozen turkey, don’t forget to thaw it completely before you attempt to spatchcock it. Be sure to plan ahead, as a frozen turkey takes several days to thaw safely. The safest way to thaw a turkey is to place it in the coolest section of your refrigerator. The consistent, cool environment of your refrigerator slowly & safely brings the turkey up to temperature. Plan for 24 hours of refrigerated thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey – so a 12-14-pound turkey will take 3-4 days to thaw! 

Once your Thanksgiving turkey is thawed & ready to go, we can get started on our spatchcock turkey recipe… 

Step-by-Step Instructions for a Spatchcock Turkey: 

#1: Start spatchcocking by snipping out the backbone.

To begin, set your defrosted turkey breast side down on a large plastic cutting board (or any sturdy & non-slip surface). The backbone should be facing up towards you. Find it with your fingers & then use your kitchen shears to carefully snip all along each side of the backbone.

Hold onto that backbone for later. You’re definitely going to want it for your turkey gravy!

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

#2: Crack the turkey’s chest bone. 

Now that its backbone is removed, you should be able to gently stretch open the cavity of your turkey (where you just removed the backbone).

Locate the top of the turkey’s breast plate directly behind the turkey breasts. Place the heel of a sharp chef’s knife in the center of the top of the breast plate. Use a rolling pin to carefully yet forcefully tap the spine of the knife, wedging the heel of the knife into the bone. Continue tapping until you hear the breast plate crack.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey, step 3: A whole turkey rests with the turkey breast side facing down a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. A man's hands work to split the breast plate of the turkey to reveal its inner cavity. He holds a portion of the breast plate in one hand and a sharp chef's knife in the other. Two lemons and a pair of kitchen shears surround the raw whole turkey.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

#3: Spatchcock (butterfly) the turkey!

At this point, you should be able to stretch the cavity of the turkey completely open. If the cavity of your turkey has sharp pieces sticking out, you can use a kitchen towel to cover them & protect your hands.  

Flip the turkey such that its breast side is facing up. Place your hands on the center of its breasts, on the breast bone. Use your body weight to apply pressure to the chest plate, cracking the bone all the way through. This takes a little bit of effort, so just put some weight behind it!

The turkey should be laying pretty flat at this point. Congratulations, you just spatchcocked a turkey!!!

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

#4: Butter, butter, butter.

It’s time to butter it up! For an extra-flavorful Thanksgiving turkey, you’re gonna get butter all up in every nook & cranny of your spatchcock turkey. Check out my Lemon Herb Butter Roast Spatchcock Turkey & Spatchcock Maple Glazed Turkey recipes for some delicious butter seasoning ideas!  My Lemon Herb Butter Roast Spatchcock Turkey is perfect if you love the flavor of garlic, rosemary, sage, & thyme. My Spatchcock Maple Glazed Turkey is a little cozier with a beautiful easy maple glaze.

Whatever butter you use, the goal here is to keep your turkey nice & juicy & full of flavor!

Chris & I have kind of perfected our technique of buttering a spatchcock turkey. We like to grab a few tablespoons of softened butter with our fingers, insert it under the skin (right on top of the meat!), & use our free hand to push the butter onto the meat, spreading it across the turkey. Give it a try – super easy!

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

How to Roast Spatchcock Turkey

With your spatchcock turkey prepared & ready for roasting, it’s time to let the oven do the rest of the work… 

Again, a spatchcock turkey is going to take way less time to cook than a full turkey. But exactly how long does it take to cook a 14lb spatchcocked turkey? Plan for a cooking time of about 2 hours. 

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s how you perfectly time your roasted spatchcock turkey:

  1. Start with high heat: About an hour before your guests arrive, pop your spatchcocked turkey in a 450 degree F oven & roast, undisturbed, for about 30 minutes. Why? ⇢ Beginning with high heat helps the turkey get super golden & crispy skin – yum!
  2. Baste, baste, baste: Drop the heat of the oven to 350 degrees. Then continue to roast the turkey for another 60 minutes, taking the drippings from the turkey & basting it every 20 minutes until the thickest part of the thigh registers a temperature of 155 degrees F with an instant-read thermometer. Don’t have a turkey baster? ⇢ Buy one here – it’s less than $15 & makes life a lot easier on Thanksgiving day! You can also use a large spoon to baste the turkey, just be careful as you tip the roasting pan to gather & spoon the drippings over the turkey. 
  3. Rest the turkey: When your turkey is fully cooked, it’s important to give it time to rest. You may be tempted to try your new spatchcock turkey recipe or your guests may be getting hungry….but don’t rush it. Let the roast spatchcock turkey rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes until the temperature reaches a safe 165 degrees F. Why? ⇢ Resting lets all those delicious juices in the turkey redistribute throughout the meat for maximum flavor & texture. It’s absolutely essential. & while the turkey rests, you can take the time to make the turkey gravy.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry! Carving & Serving Your Spatchcock Turkey.

Carving a roast spatchcock turkey is similar to carving any other poultry. Start by removing the legs, drumsticks, & wings by cutting at the joints. Then hold the breast firmly in place with one hand & use the knife to help cut the meat away from the breast bone. This roast spatchcock turkey is tender & juicy, so it should fall away from the bone pretty easily! Then slice the light & dark meat into serving-sized pieces. 

To serve your roast spatchcock turkey, arrange all of your beautiful roasted turkey meat on a serving platter. Everyone will be fighting for this plate as it’s passed around the table! If you want to get fancy, garnish your turkey platter with fresh herbs, lemons, or other greens to make your spatchcock turkey look even more like a superstar!

An overhead shot of a roasted spatchcocked turkey seasoned with lemon herb butter that has been carved and arranged on a white serving platter. The platter has been garnished with various fresh herbs and lemon slices. A silver carving fork with a wooden handle rests on the side of the platter. A light gray linen napkin is tucked underneath the platter and the platter sits atop ​a lightly colored textured surface.

There you go…was that not an easy Thanksgiving turkey? Once you know how to spatchcock a turkey, it’ll be hard not to make a spatchcock turkey recipe during the holiday. I know I can’t turn back!

I can’t wait for you to try this Spatchcock Turkey Technique! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Love Easy Thanksgiving Recipes? We’ve got you covered! Be sure to try my Roasted Garlic Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Maple Mustard Roasted Brussels Sprouts, or (Cheater!) Easy Sweet Potato Casserole next. ♡ Happy cooking!

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How to Spatchcock a Turkey, step 4 continued: A whole turkey rests with the turkey breast side facing upwards a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. Two lemons, two whole garlic bulbs, two sticks of butter, a white ramekin filled with kosher salt, a pair of kitchen shears, a chef's knife, and fresh herbs surround the raw whole turkey.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey (Miracle Method with Step-by-Step Photos!)

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: serves 812 1x
  • Category: Main Dishes, Poultry & Turkey Recipes
  • Method: Spatchcock, Butterflied
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

A Spatchcock Turkey is the miracle Thanksgiving recipe recipe you never knew you needed! Don’t be intimidated – learning how to spatchcock a turkey is much easier than it sounds & results in a perfectly juicy, evenly cooked, super flavorful Thanksgiving turkey that’s ready in less than 2 hours – freeing up your oven to make delicious Thanksgiving side dishes & pies!


Ingredients

Scale
  • one 1214 pound whole turkey, defrosted if frozen

Useful Equipment:

 


Instructions

*REMINDER: If frozen, do not forget to begin thaw your turkey well before the day you plan on roasting it! If it is still frozen day-of, your turkey will not safely defrost & cook in time for dinner – it’s just not possible. The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is by placing it in the coolest section of your refrigerator. The cool, controlled temperature will slowly thaw without any areas of the turkey being in the ‘danger’ temperature zone in which bacteria grow & multiply (between 40-140 degrees F). As a general rule of thumb, plan for 24 hours refrigerated thawing for every 4 pounds – so, a 12-14 pound turkey will require 3-4 days refrigerated thawing before it’s ready to be spatchcocked & roasted.

  1. Turkey prep: Remove the turkey from its packaging. There is no need to rinse your turkey (rinsing promotes cross-contamination). Instead, simply use paper towel to pat the surface of the turkey as dry as possible. If present, remove the neck & giblets from the cavity of the turkey. Discard or set aside for easy turkey gravy. Transfer the turkey to a large plastic cutting board atop a stable, sturdy surface. Place the turkey breast side facing down.
  2. Remove the back bone: Using very sharp kitchen shears or a sharp knife, carefully snip along each side of the turkey’s backbone until it’s completely detached. Discard or set aside for easy turkey gravy.
  3. Split the breast plate: With the turkey still facing breast side down, carefully use your hands to stretch open the ribs of the turkey, revealing its inner cavity. Locate the top of the turkey’s breast plate directly behind the turkey breasts. Place the heel of a sharp chef’s knife in the center of the top of the breast plate. Use a rolling pin to carefully yet forcefully tap the spine of the knife, wedging the heel of the knife into the bone. Continue tapping until the bone cracks. How to Spatchcock a Turkey, step 3: A whole turkey rests with the turkey breast side facing down a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. A man's hands work to split the breast plate of the turkey to reveal its inner cavity. He holds a portion of the breast plate in one hand and a sharp chef's knife in the other. Two lemons, two whole garlic bulbs, a stick of butter, a pair of kitchen shears, and fresh herbs surround the raw whole turkey.
  4. Finish spatchcocking: Use your hands to stretch the inner cavity of the turkey as wide open as possible, then flip the turkey such that its breast side is facing up. Place your hands on the center of its breasts, on the breast bone. Use your body weight to apply pressure to the chest plate, cracking the bone all the way through such that the turkey lays flat  – your turkey is spatchcocked & ready for roasting. Great job!!! (Note: If you have difficulty cracking the chest plate of the turkey, flip the turkey back over, running the tip of a sharp knife over the bone from within the open cavity – these score marks help ease up any resistance. Flip the bird back over & press down on it again.)How to Spatchcock a Turkey, step 4: A whole turkey rests with the turkey breast side facing down a top two sheets of brown crumpled parchment paper that sit atop a white cutting board. A man's hands work to stretch the inner cavity of the turkey as wide as possible. Two lemons, two whole garlic bulbs, a stick of butter, a pair of kitchen shears, and fresh herbs surround the raw whole turkey.


Notes

  • Easy Roasted Spatchcock Turkey Recipes: With your turkey spatchcocked, it’s ready to roast or smoke! Use your recipe of choice to season & cook. We have 2 wonderful roasted spatchcock turkey recipes that you can check out here on PWWB – our readers have raved about them over the years, making them with great success! 
  • Spatchcock Turkey FAQ: What size Thanksgiving turkey should I use? ⇢ For this spatchcock turkey recipe, I recommend using a turkey between 12-14 pounds. Because it lies flat as it roasts, a turkey larger than 14 pounds likely won’t fit in a conventional roasting pan. If you need more turkey to feed your guests, then try preparing two smaller spatchcock turkeys rather than one large bird. This will also help your turkey meat stay extra-juicy! Not sure how much turkey you’ll need to feed your dinner crowd? ⇢ The general rule of thumb is to aim for one pound of turkey per person.

Keywords: how to spatchcock a turkey, spatchcock turkey, spatchcock turkey recipe, roast spatchcock turkey, Thanksgiving, easy, fast, butterflied, smoked, roasted, poultry

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Megan McKeehan

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 11.21.21
    Judith Schanbacher said:

    Thank you for explaining all of this! I’ve done it with chicken before but this will be my first with Turkey – It’ll save so much time. Photos to follow.

    • 11.23.21

      Can’t wait to hear how it goes, Judith! Please keep me posted!

  2. 11.26.20
    Mary-Ellen said:

    2020 Thanksgiving brought a new technique to my kitchen with this easy-to-follow recipe. The aroma of roasting turkey in our house piqued our appetites. The Lemon-Herb Butter was simple to make (I’ll never buy the store version again, now that I know how quick and easy I can make it) and kept the turkey moist and tender throughout roasting process… and these were the most delicious carrots and onion quarters I’ve ever oven-roasted. Spatchcock Turkey has become our newest Family Tradition…Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!

    • 5.28.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Mary-Ellen! So glad to hear that you gave spatchcocking a try & that it has become a new tradition – it seriously makes prepping Thanksgiving dinner SO much easier! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. 11.13.19
    Allie said:

    This is THE recipe to use when spatchcocking a turkey. I’ve come back to this recipe time and time again. My family was blown away when I followed this recipe and it was my first time cooking a whole turkey! Jess KNOWS what she’s doing.

    • 11.16.19
      jess said:

      Couldn’t agree more!! =) So glad to hear it was a hit with your family, too! xx

      • 1.11.20
        Vickie said:

        Was wondering, what would the cook time be on a 22lb turkey? Great directions, thank you.

        • 1.12.20
          jess said:

          Hey Vickie – The general rule of thumb is 5-6 minutes per pound, so a 22-lb bird would take between 1 hour 50 minutes & 2 hours 12 minutes. You’d want to check for doneness at the 5 minute/pound mark, then roast additionally up to the 6 minute/pound mark as needed.

          All that said, I don’t necessarily recommend spatchcocking such a large turkey for a couple of reasons. First, once such a large turkey is spatchcocked, it can be very difficult to fit it in a standard roasting pan. Not the first thing you’d think of, but an important logistical detail! Second, because the turkey is so large, it can definitely dry out despite being spatchcocked. You may be more pleased with the results of cooking 2 smaller turkeys. All depends on your preference & equipment.

          Hope this is helpful – feel free to drop any more questions!!! xx

  4. 11.20.16

    I wish I had a friendsgiving to host this year to make this, it looks amazing! I made my first turkey 2 years ago and it wasn’t the best. We cut it and then had to put it back in the oven since it wasn’t completely done haha. I’m gonna send this to my friend whose house we are going to!

    • 11.30.16
      jess said:

      it’s not too late to start planning a holiday dinner with friends 🙂 #justsaying

  5. 11.20.16

    Girl, you just killed this post. AMAZING tutorial. I have never cooked a turkey before (always too scared). Love the step by step photos!

    • 11.30.16
      jess said:

      thank you so much, chrissa! no reason to fear the turkey…this method is seriously so easy.

  6. 11.18.16

    This looks AMAZING! Loved your easy step-by-step guide. I’ve never roasted my own turkey but you are making me really want to try. Also… let’s talk about how gorgeous your turkey turned out! Magazine worthy!

    • 11.30.16
      jess said:

      thank you so much aya! this method seriously could not be easier – i hope you give it a try!

  7. 11.18.16
    Akansha said:

    This is the most comprehensive, most amazing tutorial ever! Girl you have major skillz!

    • 11.30.16
      jess said:

      thank you so much, girl!

  8. 11.16.16

    You are fantastic!!! Man, now I really wish i was hosting Thanksgiving!!! And yes, I am dying at your wit nad humor. Killing it GF.

    • 11.16.16
      jess said:

      thank you allie! it’s not too late to pull together a holiday dinner with friends 😉 #justsayin

  9. 11.16.16

    JESS! This is a total gamechanger. Like I feel like I could go buy a turkey today and invite people over this weekend and totally knock Friendsgiving out of the park! Your bird looks epic.

    And I absolutely love the description of the bird – “the turkey kind of lays about a bit seductively” – ha!

    • 11.16.16
      jess said:

      ellie, it IS a total game-changer. i’ve made turkey 3 times so far this year & there will be 2 more in the next week. it. is. so. damn. easy. lemme know if you try girl!

    • 11.18.19
      Samantha Harris said:

      Would you be able to do this with a bigger Turkey? We have a 20 lb Turkey for a large dinner, how much longer would you suggest cooking it?

      • 11.25.19
        jess said:

        Hey Samantha! You can totally spatchcock a larger turkey, though you’ll want to make sure your roasting pan can fit a turkey of that size. That’s the trouble most people run into – you need a BIG roasting pan! In terms of roasting time, figure about 6 minutes/pound, so 2 hours total for a 20-pound bird. I suggest continuing to baste the turkey every 20 minutes, & using a meat thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the thigh registers at 165 degrees F before pulling the turkey from the oven.