How to Spatchcock a Chicken

If you’re ready for some adulting in the kitchen*, you have got to learn how to spatchcock (a.k.a. butterfly) a chicken.

This simple technique consists in opening the bird like a book, so that it lies flat in a roasting pan or on the grill.

In this configuration, the chicken cooks faster and more evenly — a double win — and it is much easier then to achieve the amazingly flavorful, perfectly roasted or grilled meat you are longing for.

A really fun recipe to put the technique in practice is this chicken “under a brick”, which I make often, but you can also simply marinate the chicken and roast it straight in the oven (see picture of the finished product below!).

But before you get to that, here’s a video I made with Anne to show you how to spatchcock a chicken — much simpler than it sounds:

As you can see, I use sturdy kitchen shears to cut the chicken along each side of the backbone, then flip the chicken to breast side up and crack it open from the sides. (Some cooks just press it onto a flat surface to open, but I find it takes a little more force to open it fully.)

The backbone will not go to waste: into the freezer it goes, ready to be pulled out for a future batch of chicken soup or homemade chicken stock.

A few spatchcocking tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your kitchen shears are sharp and sturdy. (Mine are similar to these.)
  • Since you’re working with raw poultry, be diligent about having clean hands, a clean, non-porous work surface, and clean utensils. When you’re done, cleaning everything thoroughly again.
  • Do your best to procure a chicken that is organic and humanely raised. Eat chicken less often if you have to.
  • When you buy the chicken, it may be trussed (tied for roasting) with string or elastic; snip and discard before you begin spatchcocking the chicken.
  • Along the way, in the cutting or the opening, there will be some cracking of chicken bones. Don’t freak out; let it be a reminder that yes, you are about to eat a chicken that was recently an actual live bird, with bones and everything.
  • Fun fact for your friends when you serve the spatchcock chicken: in French, a butterflied chicken is called poulet en crapaudine, because apparently we think it looks more like a toad — un crapaud — than a butterfly. Have your guests decide which camp they’re in!

* And not a vegetarian, obv.

Roasted Spatchcocked Chicken

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  • Joanne

    This is the only way I roast chickens these days – the results are awesome, and the backbone is for stock, sauce-making, etc. The chicken is also easier to carve. I often use home made pesto (pistachio, walnut or almond arugula, natch!) carefully stuffed under the chicken skin. The results are fantastic, and there is no basting necessary.

    • What a wonderful idea! I’ve stuffed chickens with herbs and butter, but never pesto. Will try!

  • I’m giddy about this. A definite MUST TRY! Thank you. Laughed outloud on your “*not a vegetarian, obv”. In the past I’ve only flayed open chicken breasts in thirds (like a pamphlet unfolding) for fast even cooking in a skillet, but have never tried this! I’ll add it to my weekly menu on RealPlans.com (I don’t know how food bloggers get their recipes in the RealPlan menu options for subscribers to add to their weekly menus, but if your recipes were a part of RealPlan menus I’d pay that extra fee to get your recipes in a heartbeat!).

    • Thank you Gwendolyn! Must look into it. And please report back on the chicken!

  • Christina Saunders Sturm

    We have done this with our Thanksgiving turkeys for a number of years – best turkeys we have ever eaten. Highly recommended for the eating and for the oven time.

    • Great to know! I imagine you need a jumbo cooking vessel though? What do you use?

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