Spatchcocked, Dry-Brined and Grilled – My Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, my mind is starting to fill with recipe ideas for the big feast. When I host Thanksgiving at my house (which is most every year), I also do all the cooking myself. Even before the first potato is peeled, I spend lots of time planning the menu, checking my pantry, shopping farmers markets, ordering a turkey, and making a game-day cooking plan. But my focus is always on the main event – the turkey.

Last year, I tried something new with my turkey – spatchcock! Calm down, I know it sounds like a dirty word, but it’s a real thing… Even Martha Stewart is talking about spatchcocking whole chickens. I then dry-brined the turkey overnight, and finally roasted it on the grill. After 15+ years of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, I think last year’s was the best method yet – and I’ll be repeating it this year for sure!

grilled turkey

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Again, borrowing from Martha Stewart, spatchcocking is the technique of splitting and flattening the turkey. It exposes more skin, which really crisps up at high temperatures. It also cuts cooking time almost in half. (score!)

If you’re a first timer, I suggest following Martha’s step-by-step visual guide or watching this video from Mark Bittman on Here’s the gist:

  • Step 1: Cut out the backbone (use good kitchen shears for this step).
  • Step 2: Open the turkey cavity as far as possible.
  • Step 3: Break the breastbone (this takes some strength, don’t be afraid to “break the bird”).
  • Step 4: Completely flatten the turkey onto a roasting pan.

You’ll also want to flip the legs and hook the wings to flatten the turkey as much as possible.

How to Dry-Brine a Turkey

Brining a turkey is the process of adding salt to it for 1-2 days before cooking in order to help seal in its natural flavor and moisture. Over the years, I have graduated from cooking a turkey in a bag (easy & great for beginners), to buying a pre-brined turkey, to wet brining (the most popular method for brining – although it’s messy with a big bucket of salt water in the fridge for two days), and now to dry brining.

This basic recipe for Dry Brine for a Turkey from Epicurious is a great place to start.

  • Step 1: Pat the turkey dry, and arrange it on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Step 2: Liberally sprinkle the entire turkey with kosher salt. (You can add black pepper or other dry seasoning at this point too.)
  • Step 3: Cover very loosely and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.
  • Step 4: Remove cover and let turkey come to room temperature before roasting. Do not wash off the salt!

Just before roasting, drizzle olive oil or melted butter over the entire turkey. Add any additional desired seasoning (optional). (See our suggested flavor profiles)

How to Roast a Turkey on the Grill

Cooking a turkey on the grill is A-MAZ-ING! Not only do you get great smokey flavor and charred edges, but by cooking the turkey on the grill you’ve freed up valuable oven space for side dishes and pies.

  • Step 1: Fire up the grill as usual. Once it’s fully heated put the turkey on, breast side up.
  • Step 2: Close the grill and roast! 10-16 lb. turkeys will take 2 to 3 hours to grill. But if you’ve spatchcocked the turkey, it will take only 1.5-2 hours.
  • Step 3: Using a meat thermometer, cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 180° F in thigh and 170° F in breast. When done, remove and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

If you want to get really fancy, you can wrap a few bricks or a cast iron skillet in foil, pre-heat them in the grill then use as extra weight on top of the turkey as it roasts.

Happy cooking! Gobble gobble!

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