How to Butterfly

Butterflying a piece of meat increases the surface area of that meat, allowing it to be easily rolled around a stuffing or filling. It's easy and a useful trick to have up your sleeve.

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A hand opening up a butterflied turkey breast to show where the knife has cut.

What Does it Mean to Butterfly?

Butterflying a piece of meat (or poultry or fish) means to slice into the meat parallel to the cutting board, cutting it in half but not all the way through to the other side so that the two halves are attached and you can open them like pages of a book. Essentially, it means to cut meat in half, making it thinner but also doubling the surface area.

Hands placing a filling in a butterflied fillet of salmon.

Why Butterfly?

There are a few reasons why you might want to do this, but the most likely scenario is that you are preparing the meat to wrap around a stuffing. Butterflying the meat not only makes the meat thinner, but gives you more surface area to more easily roll around a filling. You might also butterfly a piece of meat, or chicken breast because you want it to cook faster and making it thinner will accomplish this. A butterflied chicken breast or steak has more surface area to come in contact with a marinade and with your cooking surface, giving it more flavor. Butterflying also gives you the opportunity to make a piece of meat more even in thickness. You can butterfly a wider section of meat in order to make all areas evenly thick. This ensures even cooking. 

Slicing the turkey roulade on a cutting board.

What is Double-Butterflying?

To Double-Butterfly a piece of poultry or meat means simply to butterfly twice, making the piece of poultry three times as wide and a third as thick. You do this by slicing into the meat only one third of the way down instead of halfway down, flip the meat over and repeat. As a result, the “pages” of meat will open like an accordion instead of as a book.

The Steps

The steps below walk you through how to double-butterfly a turkey breast for a turkey roulade. You can follow these same steps for a large steak, a large piece of fish or even a chicken breast on a smaller scale. If you want to simply butterfly (as opposed to double-butterfly), simply make one slice only and cut halfway down from the top of the piece of meat.

Turkey breast on a green cutting board with a chef's knife, rotisserie spit, scissors and kitchen twine near by.

Step One: Set Yourself Up

Place your turkey breast on the cutting surface parallel to your knife.

A hand pressing down on a turkey breast while a knife slices into the breast parallel to the cutting board.

Step Two: Position Your Knife

Use one hand to press down on the turkey breast firmly while you slice with the other hand. Position the knife parallel to the cutting board and one third of the way down from the top of the turkey breast (or two thirds of the way up from the cutting board). 

A hand pressing down on a turkey breast while a knife slices into the breast parallel to the cutting board.

Step Three: Make your First Slice

Slice into the turkey breast, but stop before you reach the other side. Do NOT slice all the way through.

A hand turning over a butterflied turkey breast on a green cutting board.

Step Four: Turn the Meat Over

Flip the turkey breast over so that the cut side is away from your knife. 

A hand pressing down on a turkey breast while a knife slices into the breast parallel to the cutting board.

Step Five: Make your Second Slice

Slice into the uncut side of the turkey breast, with your knife parallel to the cutting board and one third of the way down from the top of the turkey breast (or two thirds of the way up from the cutting board). Be careful at this point to slice into the meat that is intact and not where you’ve sliced before.

A hand opening up a butterflied turkey breast to show where the knife has cut.

Step Six: Open up the Meat

Again, stop before you cut all the way through the turkey breast so that the turkey is still in one piece. If you make a hole in the turkey, don’t fret (you can see a hole above). You can always patch this up or make sure you put this part of the turkey near the beginning of the roll so that it gets covered with another layer of turkey. 

Seasoning a double-butterflied turkey breast on a green cutting board.

Step Seven: Pound and Season

You may want to pound the meat at this point to get it to be evenly thick in all areas. Then season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Spreading a filling on a butterflied turkey breast on a green cutting board.

Step Eight: Spread Filling

Add your filling to the double-butterflied turkey, spreading it out evenly, but leaving some space at the edge farthest away from you.

Hands starting to roll up a double-butterflied turkey breast with a filling inside.

Step Nine: Roll it Up

Roll the turkey up around the filling, starting at the edge closest to you.

Hands finishing rolling up a double-butterflied turkey breast with a filling inside.

Step Ten: Get Ready to Tie it

Get ready to tie the roulade in place. There are many ways you can do this. You could cut several short pieces of kitchen twine and tie the roulade at regular intervals. To learn how to tie the roast efficiently with one piece of twine, go to the next lesson on How to Tie a Roast or Roulade.

 

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