Grilling Guide

How to Spatchcock a Chicken

Have you ever come across a recipe that calls for spatchcocked chicken and wondered what the heck is that? Basically, it’s the process of removing the backbone so the chicken can be flattened for a faster, more even cooking.

This strange sounding method works for all types of poultry – turkey, pheasant, quail, and Cornish game hens and is popular for roasting, grilling, or smoking your bird of choice. Spatchcocking is also called butterflying since the bird is split down the middle and opened up like the wings of a butterfly.

Just in case you don’t know anything about this poultry prep method, let’s look at how to spatchcock a chicken and see what you might be missing out on!


 Why Spatchcock Chicken?

Spatchcocking ensures that a whole chicken cooks evenly. Since different parts of the chicken are cooked at different rates, whole roasted chicken often ends up with overcooked chicken breast meat and undercooked dark meat. A spatchcocked or butterflied chicken, on the older hand, stays juicy because the thighs are exposed to more heat than usual. Spatchcocking also exposes more of the skin to heat, which allows it to get extra crispy.

A spatchcocked chicken will have a shorter cooking time than a chicken left whole. Depending on the size of the poultry and your temperature setting, it can take several hours to smoke a whole chicken that hasn’t been butterflied. A spatchcocked chicken needs about 45 minutes to reach doneness using a slightly higher-than-normal temperature. Spatchcocking allows you to combine both indirect heat (such as roasting) with direct heat of grilling, broiling, and searing.

A spatchcocked chicken is much easier to season the entire exterior, including the skin folds, along with free access to the cavity. The well-seasoned skin will be crispier since it has more contact with the cooking grates when it lies open and flat. Poultry is done faster, evenly, and more flavorful. I think it’s time to learn how to spatchcock a chicken.


Spatchcocking Steps

All you need is a large plastic cutting board, a good chef’s knife, a pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears or poultry shears that are easy to clean. Although spatchcocking sounds kind of intimidating, it is really quite simple. Just follow these four steps.

1. Prep the Chicken

There is no need to rinse raw chicken before prepping. Remove from packaging and pat dry with paper towels to remove any moisture from its surface, especially if you want crispy skin. Remove the giblets and water from the inside. Place chicken breast side down on a large cutting board.

2. Remove the Backbone

Using a sharp knife, sharp kitchen shears, or poultry shears, remove the backbone. Starting from the tail end, cut all the way up one side of the backbone. Then, repeat on the other side to remove the backbone.

3. Break the Breastbone

Flip chicken over so the breast side is up, and the inside of the chicken is on the cutting board. Cut about 1” through the breastbone cartilage with poultry shears. Using the palm of your hand, press firmly down on the center of the breastbone. You will hear a crack from the breastbone breaking. You may have to apply more pressure until you break the breastbone. 

4. Flatten the Chicken.

At this point, the chicken should be lying completely open and look as if you’ve divided it into halves that are still connected. Press down on the chicken with your hands, massaging it to lie as flat as possible. Use a sharp knife or shears to remove the wing tips, which often burn during cooking. You can cover the wing tips with aluminum foil during cooking or tuck them underneath the breasts.


Trim, Tuck, Season & Cook

Now all that’s left to do is clean up the chicken for a better presentation and cook. At the far end of the chicken close to the legs, there will probably be excess fat and skin. Trim this with shears or a knife to prevent a soggy mess on the grill.

With the chicken perfectly butterflied and trimmed, flip it over so the skin side faces up. Move the tip of each wing forward and tuck them under the breast. This will stop the tips from burning.

As mentioned above, seasoning the chicken after spatchcocking is much easier. Use a layer of olive oil to serve as a binder before sprinkling with your favorite poultry seasonings. You can use your favorite recipe for roasted, grilled, or baked whole chicken, but just remember that the chicken will cook faster. 

Use a meat probe to monitor the internal temperature throughout the grilling. Internal temperature is the only way to be certain that meat is fully cooked. Your BBQ Grill thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the breast without touching bone or cartilage which can throw off temperature readings. Per USDA guidelines, poultry is safe to consume when it reaches 165°F internally.  

Now that you know how to spatchcock a chicken, it’s time to impress your friends and family at the next backyard barbecue! Test your new skills with this simple grilled Spatchcock Chicken recipe.

Grilled Spatchcock Chicken

Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes Serves: 6


1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken, giblets removed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. With kitchen shears or a very sharp boning knife, remove the backbone by cutting down either side. Cut off the wing tips. Turn chicken breast-side up and press firmly on the breastbone until you hear it crack and chicken lies just about flat.

Combine paprika, sugar, salt, oregano and pepper in a small bowl.

Gently loosen the skin over the breast and work about a teaspoon of the mixture under the skin and over the breast meat. Rub the remainder of the mixture all over both sides of chicken.

Place in a roasting pan, cover, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 day.

Prepare a grill for medium-heat cooking, leaving a cooler area on one side of the grill to move chicken to, if needed.

Place chicken on the grill skin-side up; cook, flipping frequently and moving it to the cool area if you get flare-ups, until it is well-browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes.

An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh and breast without touching bone should read 165°F. Transfer to a platter and let rest 10 minutes before carving.