Splatchcock turkey

Two spatchcock turkeys on Marshall Cooper's custom Jambo J-3 smoker. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the Posse wanted to share a lesser-known turkey recipe with our readers. Pitmaster Marshall Cooper suggested we smoke a spatchcock turkey, a technique I hadn’t tried before. He enjoys having the ability to cook a big turkey hot and fast. Our total cook time for two huge turkeys was three hours.
By definition, spatchcock is poultry or game that has been prepared for roasting or grilling by removing the backbone, and sometimes the sternum of the bird and flattening it out before cooking. Marshall uses this technique a lot while smoking chickens, it allows the white and dark meat to be cooked far more evenly than a full bird.
Splatchcock turkey

Marshall Cooper cuts down the back as he preps a spatchcock turkey. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

We picked up a couple of big birds for the cook last weekend, one weighing in at 22 lbs. and the other 23 lbs. The turkeys were brined for 24 hours prior to the cook. Then on to the spatchcock.

From my perspective, the toughest part of the process was splitting the turkey down the backbone, especially the huge birds that Marshall selected. You need a super-sharp, high-quality knife, but if you hit the seam right it can go more smoothly, as shown in the time-lapse video below. Sometimes he’ll remove the entire backbone before smoking, sometimes he’ll cut down one side and leave it attached, to be removed when carving the turkey after cooking.

Once the turkey is split open, pat dry and spray with Pam to help the rub stick, then add your favorite poultry rub. For this cook, Marshall used both Money Championship Rub from Big Papa’s and Killer Hog’s The BBQ Rub from Mississippi. His favorite six poultry rubs are shown in a photo below.

We cooked the turkeys on Marshall’s custom Jambo J-3 smoker, nicknamed Jumbo, which he had dialed in at 300 degrees F. Place the bird cavity side down and don’t flip during the cook. For ease of handling, Marshall put each bird on its own circular grate on top of the regular Jambo grate. With a totally consistent fire, our two turkeys were ready in exactly three hours, far less time that a full bird would have taken normally. Your time will be less, of course, if you have a smaller turkey.

Splatchcock turkey

Turkeys are brined for 24 hours in food-grade 5-gallon buckets. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

We confirmed they were ready when the breast reached 160 degrees F and the deep thigh meat reached 170 degrees F simultaneously, measuring with a probe thermometer. According to Marshall, this is another advantage of the spatchcock technique. The two meats can reach different temps at the same time, unlike traditional cooking where the white meat might have to be overcooked to reach the right temp for the deep thigh meat.

Once you’re done, let the meat rest for 30 minutes or an hour, it will be far easier to carve when it’s cooled a bit. We hope you enjoy this recipe and happy holidays to our Posse friends.

Brine recipe

2 cups of your favorite poultry rub
1 cup of sugar
3 cups of water

Bring the mixture of rub, sugar and water to a simmer (do not boil) and stir until completely dissolved. Transfer to a food-grade bucket and add more water to bring the volume up to 2 gallons, stir until fully mixed together. Add turkey and refrigerate for 24 hours. Ideally you’d like the level of water to be about 3 inches higher that the top of the turkey.

If you don’t have the refrigerator space to do this, you can use a jumbo zip lock bag and place in a good quality cooler with ice for 24 hours. Marshall also suggests you check Lowe’s to get the food-grade buckets for brining, they are $4.99 each but are often much more expensive at butcher supply stores.

Splatchcock turkey

A spatchcock turkey, carved and ready to eat. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Splatchcock turkey

Here are six of Marshall Cooper's favorite poultry rubs, which can be used in the brine and also applied to the turkey before smoking. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Splatchcock turkey

Pitmaster Marshall Cooper pulls a spatchcock turkey from the smoker after cooking for three hours at 300 degrees F. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Splatchcock turkey

When the turkey breast gets to 160 degrees F, it's ready to be pulled from the smoker. Dark meat from the deep thigh needs to be closer to 170 degrees F. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Splatchcock turkey

Marshall Cooper and his two main backyard pits, a customized Jambo J-3, front, and a custom oversize Pitts & Spitts smoker in the back. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Luke Middendorf

6 years ago

This looks amazing. Will have to try very soon!

Todd Tinker

4 years ago

Maybe I missed it, but it would have helped to give us an approximate time for the cooking.

Chris Wilkins

4 years ago

Hi Todd: Our total cook time was three hours for two birds. In general, it's very difficult to give an approximate time for most cooks on an offset wood-burning smoker, since there are so many variables involved: temperature of fire, weight of meat to be smoked, even humidity and kind of wood. Therefore, it's always best to depend on a probe thermometer to determine when things are done. Thanks/Chris

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