A Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey is a game-changer for the holidays or any special occasion. Spatchcocking a turkey (removing the backbone and flattening it) allows it to cook faster, and also more evenly versus a traditional whole bird. And smoking a turkey adds amazing flavor that cannot be replicated in the oven. Learn the steps for the perfect holiday turkey with an added spicy and savory Cajun seasoning.
There are endless ways to prepare and season your holiday turkey. Many opt for a traditional roast to make a show stopping centerpiece for their table. Others opt for the wild side and fry the whole bird (you know who you are). And some are looking for something different to change things up a bit each year! Inspired by the popularity of our Bourbon Brined Smoked Turkey (with over 1.5 million views), we wanted to step it up a notch with a little more flavor punch and a technique that speeds up the cooking process. Enter spatchcocked turkey.
Check out our round up if you are looking for other Thanksgiving recipe ideas on the smoker.
- What is Spatchcocking?
- Thawing your Frozen Turkey
- Turkey Brine Ingredients
- How to Spatchcock a Turkey
- Smoking a Spatchcocked Turkey
- When is a Spatchcocked Turkey Done?
- Buying Turkey
- Wine Pairing for Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey
- Sides and Desserts
- Food safety
- Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey Recipe with Cajun Seasoning
What is Spatchcocking?
Basically speaking, spatchcocking means butterflying, and evolved arguably from Irish phrasing of dispatching a rooster. It’s the technique of removing the backbone of the turkey with a sharp boning knife or culinary scissors, and then flattening the turkey so that you have a more uniform shape.
The uniform shape of the turkey makes the cooking process faster since you don’t have a large cavity and bird to cook. It creates a more even surface for cooking (preventing smaller parts from drying out). And for grilling or smoking, it also makes it much easier for the bird to sit on your grates. Overall it’s quicker, easier, and, well, pretty much a fool-proof process (once you remove that backbone of course).
And while some may argue it doesn’t create the pretty centerpiece for your holiday table versus classic whole bird, I beg to differ.
Before actually spatchcocking, we are going to start with a brine to add moisture to the bird.
Thawing your Frozen Turkey
If you’re starting with a frozen turkey, plan 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 pounds of turkey. So give yourself the time to buy AND thaw prior to brining the turkey. For brining you need to start with a fully thawed (or fresh) turkey.
Turkey Brine Ingredients
Brining the turkey is important when smoking because it keeps a level of moisture in the bird that is otherwise pushed out in a low and slow cooking process. Brining uses a mixture of salt, sugar, water, and spices and leverages osmosis to infuse the cells of the turkey with the flavor and water. We have a detailed recipe and explanation on a basic turkey brine. This recipe expands on that by adding Cajun flavors, both to the brine and also dry rub (bring on the flavor!).
Combine the following in a large stock pot or cooler and stir to incorporate. If you don’t have a large stockpot, consider a large plastic brining bag available online or at the grocery store. Be sure any bag you use is food safe.
- Kosher Salt
- Brown Sugar
- Cajun Seasoning
- Whole Black Peppercorns
- Bay Leaves
Place the turkey into the stock pot and store in your refrigerator for 24 hours (no longer than 30 hours). If you brine longer than 30 – 36 hours the cells will start to break down and the texture of the meat will be gummy.
Some recipes will call for preparing the brine over heat. This speeds up the process of the salt and the sugar infusing with the water. However it can also be done with cold water. If you apply heat, be sure the brine is cooled down before adding the turkey to avoid food borne bacteria from developing. This is why we just do it cold, so we save time and don’t have to cool it down.
Hint: If you are brining multiple turkeys, plan one portion of brine for every turkey. And then just use a clean cooler to brine the turkeys. Be sure to keep the brine cold with ice throughout the process.
How to Spatchcock a Turkey
After the brining is done, it’s time to spatchcock and prepare the turkey for the smoker.
- Remove from brine and pat dry: Start by removing the turkey from the brine and discarding the brine. Place the turkey on a large cutting board. Dry off the turkey completely (inside the cavity and on the skin).
- Prep the Turkey: Stand the turkey upright so the breast side is facing AWAY from you. You’ll be looking at the backbone.
- Remove the Backbone: Using a sharp boning knife or culinary scissors make a small cut on one side of the backbone. You are testing to see where the cartilage and bone meet so you can make heavy downward strokes to cut through the cartilage. Once you make about a 1-inch cut, continue cutting downward along the backbone until you have cut all the way through. If you run into bone, just continue to move the knife slightly further from the backbone until it hits cartilage again.
- Repeat on the other side of the backbone.
- Flatten the Turkey: Place the bird, breast side down, and press down on each side to flatten. Flip the bird so it’s breast side up, and press again (you’ll hear bones cracking) until the bird is flat.
- Tuck the wings under the bird and prepare to season.
Season Turkey: Now that the turkey is spatchcocked, liberally apply cajun seasoning to both sides of the turkey. No oil is needed as it will stick to the bird. Now it’s ready to go onto the smoker.
Smoking a Spatchcocked Turkey
- Prepare the smoker, targeting 275 degrees Fahrenheit, using fruit wood like apple or cherry. Oak is another great wood flavor for turkey.
- Place the seasoned turkey onto the smoker, with the breast side facing up. Insert a Bluetooth thermometer like the Thermoworks Smoke Unit into the thickest part of the turkey breast and close the lid.
- Continue smoking covered until the internal temperature of the turkey reads 160 degrees F on your Bluetooth thermometer. At this point start probing the other breast and other parts of the turkey. Some of the smaller pieces (like wings) may be higher in temp. Once all portions of the turkey read at least 160 – 165 degrees F it’s time to remove the turkey from the smoker.
- Let rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with your favorite sides.
If the turkey is done earlier than you wanted, it can be wrapped in foil and then stored in a clean cooler with no ice and stay warm for up to four hours.
When is a Spatchcocked Turkey Done?
Pull the turkey when the internal temperature of the bird is 160-165 degrees F in the thickest part of the bird.
In general a spatchcocked turkey will take about 10 minutes per pound (versus 15 minutes per pound for a whole turkey), when smoking at 275 degrees F.
However, always smoke turkey to temperature and not time. The legs and thighs of a turkey will always cook faster than the breast. This means as you check the temperature of the breast and it’s 150, then the thigh may be running closer to 170. This is normal. The legs and thighs are delicious and still tender when cooked to 170 or 180 degrees F. The key is that the breast must be cooked to 160 – 165 degrees F in the thickest part to reach a safe minimum temperature for food safety.
For portions plan roughly 1 ¼ pounds of meat per person when taking into consideration sides. You have to factor in the bone weight. When planning how long it will take to smoke, plan roughly 10 minutes per pound and add 20 minutes for the resting period (versus 15 minutes for a whole turkey).
And if you are looking for options this year on where to buy turkey online here are some of our favorites that deliver right to you.
- D’Artagnan – Incredible options from small farms around the country including organic, heritage, and wild birds.
- Diestel – Bringing turkey to the table from a regenerative family farm since 1949.
Wine Pairing for Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey
The underlying flavor of the turkey is accentuated by the heat and herbal notes from the spice. Consider a bold wine with good acidity. A syrah would be nice, or a balanced Zinfandel. Or check out our Thanksgiving Wine Guide for more great ideas.
Hint: There is always room for sparkling wine.
You can also explore our favorite holiday wines from from the Vindulge Wine Marketplace. Get flat rate and free shipping for bulk orders.
Sides and Desserts
Some of our favorite Thanksgiving side recipe ideas are below.
- Grilled Sweet Potato Mash
- Smoked Sausage and Caramelized Onion and Cornbread Stuffing
- Smoked Turkey Collard Greens
- Grilled Apple Crisp
Below are a few leftover turkey ideas for turkey.
- Buffalo Turkey Dip – A great cheese dip using leftover turkey.
- Green Chili Turkey – Can be eaten on its own as a thick soup, or makes great topping for enchiladas.
- Turkey Chili – A delicious comfort food with lots of flavor.
- Balsamic Turkey Salad – Sub the chicken in this recipe for turkey.
Be sure to follow proper food safety steps for a healthy and fun holiday meal.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C) per the USDA. We recommend pulling at 160 because carry over cooking will allow the roast to come up to 165 while resting.
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Be sure brines stay cold (under 40 degrees)
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on the link, we may receive a small commission if you purchase through the link. We partner with brands we know and love and use and it helps keep the blog going!