Research “spatchcock,” and you will find more information on the origin of the word than actual directions for this cooking method, which has been described as a “Thanksgiving game-changer.”
According to the 1999 edition of the Oxford Companion to Food, the culinary term “spatchcock” has its roots in the 18th and 19th centuries, was revived towards the end of the 20th century, and is said to be of Irish origin. The phrase is used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat, akin to “butterflying.”
Unlike a traditional recipe, most directions for spatchocking include illustrations for prepping. Besides making an intriguing presentation and being simple to carve, a spatchcocked turkey requires less time in the oven or on the grill. In most cases, this process reduces the roasting time from on average three hours to anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. It is also easy to make a pocket between the skin and breast meat to stuff the bird with a layer of vegetables and seasonings. The variations in flavor would come from whichever method of preparation is chosen, from simply sprinkling the bird with salt and pepper and brushing with olive oil, to more creative herb and spice applications.
There are a number of helpful websites to walk any cook through the process, among them Serious Eats, which points out one more advantage to spatchcocking a turkey: The gravy is so much better when there are real bones and meat to add to the mix, resulting in a more flavorful broth with which to prepare the gravy. Serious Eats also recommends preparing a bed of vegetables, if spatchcocking in the oven, to capture the turkey drippings as the bird roasts.
A spatchcocked turkey also requires a slightly different carving technique, so while the dining table may lose the drama of a fully cooked bird taking center stage, standing ready for the carving knife, the gains may include more free time for the chef, and certainly a lively topic for dinner conversation.
And here is a handy note: A Rouses butcher will spatchcock a turkey for any customer who asks. Just to be sure to say “split and dressed,” and it is always a good idea to add the word “please”!