Curious about how to smoke a spatchcock turkey on a pellet grill? Well, you start by removing the backbone and then splaying out the turkey before adding flavor and then smoking.
I first learned to spatchcock a turkey in culinary school. Since then, I always prep the bird like this before I smoke it.
In this post, I will show you in step-by-step detail how to spatchcock a turkey and then smoke it to perfection. Let’s get started!
Now, if this is your first time trying your hand at spatchcocked turkey, you may be wondering if you should go through all this trouble.
As someone who has been making smoked turkey for Thanksgiving for many, many years, I would say – yes, you should definitely spatchcock a turkey.
Just think about how a turkey cooks when prepared the usual way. The turkey breast is fully exposed to the heat while the legs are tucked underneath the body. This means that the top part of the turkey cooks faster than the bottom part.
Considering that you need it all to be done at the same time, spatchcocked turkey is the way to go. Here, you are cutting out the backbone and laying the turkey flat. This ensures that all parts of the bird are equally exposed to the heat at the same time.
First things first, you need to know how to spatchcock a turkey. Here are the steps that you can follow:
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Place the turkey breast side down. Locate the backbone – this is the bone that runs down the center of the bird.
You will be starting at the tail. Using a pair of sharp kitchen shears cut along the spine. Make sure that you stay as close to the backbone as possible. This way you don’t risk cutting any other joints.
To make this job easier, you can first use a sharp knife – a boning knife will work – to cut through the skin and straight down to the bone. This way your kitchen shears will have an easier time cutting through.
Regardless, you are going to need to put some muscle into getting through. If you are still finding resistance, press down on your kitchen shears with both hands for added momentum.
Another trick that I use is to stand on a stool as I cut through – I find it offers me a bit more leverage.
Continue until you have gotten to the neck of the turkey.
Rotate the turkey so that the other side of the backbone is closer to you. Then, repeat the actions of the above step.
Remove the backbone.
Flip the turkey so that the breast side is facing upwards.
Using both hands, press down on the turkey breast bone until you hear the wishbone snap.
Once this is done, you will be able to splay out your spatchcocked turkey with ease.
As you are aware, turkey dries out pretty quickly. This is why most people prefer to brine the meat before smoking it.
If this is something that you would like to do as well, you are probably wondering whether the turkey should be brined before it is spatchcocked. The answer to this is: yes.
Now, I know that a wet brine is quite popular, but personally, I prefer dry brining. Not only is it easier to tackle, but I find that it maintains the flavor of the turkey meat while offering up nice and crispy turkey skin.
As mentioned, the process is really easy. All you need is kosher salt – remember, table salt won’t do here! You can use 1.5 to 2 teaspoons per pound of turkey.
Sprinkle the salt all over the turkey, making sure to get into all those nooks and crannies. Then, place the turkey in the refrigerator overnight. It should be left uncovered. You know that the turkey is ready for smoking when the skin is dry to the touch.
Some people do like to add other ingredients to the dry brine – everything from brown sugar to aromatics. I like to keep my dry brine simple but you are certainly free to experiment with other flavors.
So, in addition to brining the turkey, you can also inject the turkey if you want. What can I say, the fear of a dry bird is real!
The great thing about injecting the turkey is that you are adding moisture and flavor directly into the meat. Furthermore, it can be done only a short while before smoking the bird.
My recommendation for a great injection marinade would be chicken or turkey stock combined with melted butter. Inject this at regular intervals throughout the bird.
Unlike with brining, you should inject the spatchcocked turkey. Wait for about an hour – or longer if you would like – and then smoke the turkey on a pellet grill.
Take the pre brined turkey out of the refrigerator about an hour before smoking.
Spatchcock the turkey.
Inject with marinade if desired.
Combine the ingredients of the rub in a bowl.
Sprinkle the rub onto the spatchcocked turkey and rub into the skin.
Prep the pellet grill and preheat to 225 degrees F.
Place the spatchcocked turkey on a pellet grill grate.
Close the lid and let the turkey cook until the internal temperature of the spatchcock turkey breast meat registers at 150 degrees F. This can take a little over 3 hours.
Take the smoked spatchcock turkey out of the pellet grill and let the turkey rest on a cutting board for at least 15 minutes before carving and serving.
The best sized bird for smoked spatchcock turkey is between 10 and 12 pounds. On average, these tend to boast the best flavor and texture. Not to mention, as far as cooking time goes, it takes a shorter period of time to smoke on a pellet grill as well.
If you are making smoked spatchcock turkey for a holiday dinner, then you are probably catering to quite a few guests. As such, it can be tempting to use a larger turkey for your meal.
Here’s the problem, though, the bigger the bird, the trickier it is to cook evenly. Furthermore, it is going to take a lot longer to smoke the spatchcocked turkey as well.
My advice would be to stick to the smaller bird. If you do want more turkey, you might consider roasting another similarly sized one in the oven. This way, there will be enough of turkey to go around.
OK, you will have seen the baking powder in the rub and wondered what on earth I was thinking! As odd as this ingredient may seem here, it actually plays an important role.
As the spatchcock turkey is smoked, the baking powder forms micro bubbles on the surface of the turkey. This makes the skin crispier. I have also found it to improve the color and texture of the smoked turkey as well.
If this addition seems a little too odd to you or you don’t want to risk it, then feel free to skip it. The one thing I do want to warn against, though, is using baking soda instead of baking powder. These two ingredients are not interchangeable in this recipe!
As you will see from my smoked spatchcock turkey recipe, I have favored a BBQ rub. This is because I find that these flavors work best for smoked turkey and similar BBQ recipes.
However, you can feel free to use your own favorite dry rub. This is especially true if you want a more festive feel for your smoked spatchcock turkey. In this case, you can add sage, rosemary, and similar herbs. You may want to ease up on the spices as well.
I will tell you that more often than not that people tend to prefer the BBQ rub over other options, though. Therefore, you may want to give it a try.
It can be tricky to get the BBQ rub to stick to the dry skin of the spatchcock turkey. If you need some help in this department, then you can apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the turkey first.
I am not a fan of this trick as you spent so much time trying to get the skin to dry out so that it will become crispy once the turkey is smoked. However, if you really are struggling then go ahead and do this – make sure it is a very light layer of oil, though.
A key step in smoking a spatchcocked turkey on a pellet grill is choosing the right wood for the job. So, what works best with turkey?
When it comes to smoking a whole turkey, there is some debate about what type of wood to use.
Now, usually, you would go for something with a mild, almost sweet smoke flavor when smoking turkey. This is because the turkey flavor tends to be pretty mild as well. As such, using stronger woods can easily overpower these natural notes and even cause the meat to taste slightly bitter.
When smoking an entire turkey on a pellet grill, though, some individuals feel that this is less likely to happen and that the meat is able to stand up to stronger flavors such as hickory.
So, what’s the verdict?
I like to err on the side of caution here and prefer something milder like cherry or maple. I find that these flavors work well with the ingredients of the rub as well.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t give hickory a try, though! I would suggest using a small amount of hickory pellets and topping the rest up of the pellet grill hopper with something like maple. This reduces the risk of ending up with bitter tasting turkey.
I can’t stress this enough – it is all about low and slow cooking when it comes to spatchcock turkey. On your pellet grill – unlike with a charcoal or gas grill – it is about managing the temperature instead of placing the spatchcock turkey over indirect heat.
If you have ever cooked turkey before then you know how easily it can dry out. This is why I prefer to smoke a turkey on a pellet grill at 225 degrees F. If you want, you can go up to 250 degrees F, but no higher than this.
It isn’t worth it to turn up the heat on the pellet grill just so that your spatchcock turkey can cook faster. While you may be able to smoke the turkey faster you will almost certainly end up drying it out in the process.
I know that tracking the internal temperature of a whole turkey, even a spatchcock turkey, can be pretty confusing.
This is because dark meat tends to take longer to cook than white meat. To make things even trickier, the turkey breast is considered to be perfectly cooked at 165 degrees F and the thighs are only considered done at around 170 degrees F.
There is also the fact that at these temperatures, your smoked spatchcock turkey is going to turn out dry and unappealing.
Don’t worry, there is a solution to all of this:
According to the USDA, your turkey is safe to eat as long as it has spent at least 4 minutes above 150 degrees F.
It is due to this, that I like to take the smoked spatchcock turkey breast out of the pellet grill when it hits 150 degrees F.
Now, before you freak out about undercooked turkey, I will explain my actions. See, there is a process that is known as carryover cooking. This is where the meat will continue cooking even once it is removed from its heat source.
Thus, when you take your spatchcock turkey off the pellet grill, its internal temp can go up by as much as 10 degrees. Due to this, the turkey will be in the safe zone.
I would suggest using an instant read thermometer to track the temperature closely. Remember to stick it into the thickest part of the breast – but keep away from the breast bone to avoid a false reading.
Keep a close eye on the temp once it hits 145 degrees F as it can rise quite quickly. The second that it hits 150 degrees F, take it off the pellet grill and let it rest on a cutting board.
If you want an easy smoked turkey recipe, then I would look no further than this guide to smoking a spatchcock turkey on a pellet grill. I have made every effort to provide you with step-by-step guidelines and offer up all the tips and tricks that I have learned along the way. Enjoy!
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