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How To Spatchcock A Chicken

Spatchcocking a chicken is a culinary technique that’s pretty easy to master, even if it does have a funny name. It is a way to prepare the bird so that it cooks faster and more uniformly. I’ve been a professional chef for many years, and this is hands down one of the most useful kitchen tricks. Read on to learn how to spatchcock a chicken!

Whole raw chicken on a cutting board with kitchen shears.

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What Does Spatchcock Mean?

The term “spatchcock” is believed to derive from the phrase “dispatch the cock,” a method that involves preparing a bird for cooking by removing the backbone and flattening it. This technique is also known as butterflying. The bird, most commonly a chicken, is split open from the back, the spine is removed, and then it’s pressed flat. This increases the surface area of the meat, allowing for faster and more even cooking.

Why Spatchcock?

There are several compelling reasons to spatchcock a chicken:

  • Even Cooking: Flattening the chicken ensures that the legs and thighs, which typically require more cooking time, are exposed to higher heat, cooking more evenly with the breast.
  • Quicker Cooking Time: A spatchcocked chicken cooks faster than a whole bird because of its increased surface area and uniform thickness.
  • Better Skin Crispiness: Spreading the chicken out allows more skin to be exposed to the heat, resulting in crispier skin, the best part of the chicken!
  • Easier Carving: Without the backbone, carving the chicken into serving pieces is simpler and more straightforward.

What You Need to Spatchcock

To successfully spatchcock a chicken, you will need a few tools:

  • Poultry Shears: Strong, sharp scissors specifically designed for cutting through bone.
  • Chef’s Knife: For any additional cuts that need to be more precise.
  • Cutting Board: Preferably one with grooves to catch any juices and make cleanup easier.
  • Paper Towels: To pat the chicken dry before cooking.
  • Ovenproof Skillet or Roasting Pan: If you’re roasting or broiling the chicken.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Prepare the Workspace: Clean your work area and have your tools ready. Preheat your oven or grill if you’re cooking immediately after preparation, or have your marinade on standby.
  2. Rinse & Dry The Chicken: Rinse the chicken inside and out under cool running water, then use paper towels to dry the chicken thoroughly, both inside and out. This helps achieve crispier skin.
  3. Remove the Backbone: Place the chicken breast side down on the cutting board. Using poultry shears, cut along both sides of the backbone, from the tail to the neck. Remove the backbone and save it for stock or discard it. It’s important to use poultry shears, as regular kitchen scissors or a knife will be much harder.
  4. Open and Flatten: Open the chicken up and flip it over so it’s breast-side up. Firmly press down on the breastbone until you hear it crack and the chicken lies flat.
  5. Optional Adjustments: For even cooking, you can make a small cut in the cartilage at the bottom of the breastbone to help it lay flatter. You can also tuck the wing tips behind the breasts to prevent them from burning.

Cooking Methods

Once spatchcocked, a chicken can be cooked using various methods:

  • Roasting: Perhaps the most popular method, roasting a spatchcocked chicken in an oven offers an easy and effective way to achieve a uniformly cooked, crispy-skinned bird.
  • Grilling or smoking: Grilling provides a smoky flavor and char that’s hard to beat. A spatchcocked chicken on the grill or smoker cooks evenly, with less risk of burning or undercooking.
  • Broiling: Similar to roasting but with the heat coming from above, broiling can give your chicken a beautifully crisp skin in a shorter time.

Additional Tips

  • Season Well: Spatchcocking exposes more of the chicken’s surface, so season it generously with salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs you like.
  • Let it Rest: After cooking, let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be redistributed, ensuring the meat is juicy and flavorful.
  • Save the Backbone: The backbone and any trimmings can be used to make a flavorful stock or gravy.


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