Learn how to easily butterfly a whole chicken (also known as spatchcock) and cook it to beautifully golden brown deliciousness in the oven or on the grill with these tips, techniques and more below.
Cooking a whole chicken can seem intimidating if you’ve never tried it, but I promise that it’s actually one of the easiest ways to prep a whole bird and still create an incredibly impressive meal for your family, a special date night, or any other occasion (including my favorite… random weeknight roasted chicken).
I’ve coveted and mastered many ways to cook a bird over the last several years both on and off the grill. You can read more about making a homemade rotisserie chicken or the best grilled chicken as well, but this is one of my favorite go-to methods because it’s easy, delicious, and incredibly versatile.
Why even use this technique when you can roast the whole bird as is? Because it allows you to cook an entire chicken (or even a turkey) much faster because it lays flat and open while cooking. This not only saves you time, but also helps the skin get brown and crisp!
Use this as a guide to successfully walk you through how to prep a spatchcock or butterflied chicken that can be roasted in the oven or smoked and cooked on a grill.
Also, check out the quick video tutorial too!
- Cutting Board
- Kitchen Shears or Chef’s Knife
- Baking Pan
- Cooling Rack
- Foil/ Parchment Paper
- Meat Thermometer
I’ll show you how you can remove and cut out the backbone, prep the bird for baking or smoking, and achieve the best crispy skinned bird you’ve ever had. Grab all the details below for the steps, tips, and techniques you’ll need to be a pro at cooking your next chicken recipe!
How do you remove the backbone?
- Start by removing your chicken from any packaging. I like to check first to remove any packets or the neck that’s sometimes kept in the cavity of the chicken. You can discard or save to make gravy.
- I prefer to use kitchen shears to remove the backbone personally (I feel like I have more control), but a chef’s knife is a good option as well.
- Flip the chicken over so it’s breast side down. Using your shears or knife cut just on each side of the backbone, cutting through the ribs and remove the spine completely.
- You can save the spine and use it for gravy as well (like I mentioned above) or discard.
How do you get a butterflied chicken to lay flat?
One tip some people often forget is that in order to get the bird to lay flat for even backing, you need to place it breast side up again and apply pressure to crack the breast bones. I usually grab behind the breast bone and use my body weight and push down. The chicken will crack slightly and release and lay flat on your baking pan.
How do you get crispy chicken skin in the oven or on the grill?
First, remove moisture! Moisture is your enemy and prevents browning (and in turn causes steaming instead). Pat the chicken dry with paper towels on both sides of the chicken.
Besides removing moisture, you can also leave the chicken refrigerated and uncovered with salt and pepper for a few hours over overnight. The air in the fridge will help dry the skin.
Before baking or grilling, you can use added fats as well (like olive oil, butter, and some people even swear by mayonnaise). The olive oil is a great way to also add herbs, spices, and blends like my all purpose BBQ dry rub.
Additionally, I find that using a higher cooking temperature (I prefer 425 F.) and use whole chickens that are smaller (less than 4 lbs. is ideal) produce crispier skin. I use this method over and over for both oven roasting and with indirect heat on my charcoal grill as well.
Have a chicken that’s larger than 4 lbs.? That’s ok. Reduce the overall cooking temperature to 375 F. instead. Let it cook to around an internal temperature of 145-150 then crank the heat to around 500 F. at the end to help the skin brown.
Other general roasting and grilling tips for cooking:
- If you’re cooking your chicken using either method and you notice the smaller, thinner areas of the chicken are browning too quickly (i.e. the wings and wing tips), loosely cover those areas with foil to help prevent it from getting too brown.
- Be sure to cook your chicken to a food safe temperature of at least 165 F. Be sure to use a good thermometer to measure the thickest part of the chicken (which is the chickens thigh) to register the final cooking temp.
- Use lighter wood varieties for smoking on the grill so you don’t over power the chicken with smoke flavor.
- Elevate the chicken on a baking sheet with a cooling rack to help spread heat both above the chicken and under it to allow for even cooking.
- After removing your cooked chicken, allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the juices to settle
Spatchcock Chicken Recipe Variations:
Try one of these –
- 1 Chicken (under 4 lbs.)
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Other Dry Rubs/Herbs if desired
Start by removing your chicken from any packaging. I like to check first to remove any packets or the neck that's sometimes kept in the cavity of the chicken. You can discard or save to make gravy.
I prefer to use kitchen shears to remove the backbone personally (I feel like I have more control), but a chef's knife is a good option as well.
Flip the chicken over so it's breast side down. Using your shears or knife cut just on each side of the backbone, cutting through the ribs and remove the spine completely. Place the chicken breast side back up and press down to crack the breast bones so it lays flat.
Pat the chicken dry to remove moisture, add a little olive oil to the entire chicken and season with salt and pepper or other herbs and spices if desired.
Preheat your oven or your grill (set to indirect heat) to 425 F. and cook your chicken on an elevated baking sheet with a cooling rack to allow the heat to travel above and under the chicken. Cook until the thickest part (the thigh) is 165 F. internally. Timing may vary from 45-90 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. Be sure to use a thermometer for proper cooking.
When the chicken is done, remove and let it rest for 15 minutes or so before slicing into it and serving.
See tips in the post above for cooking chickens larger than 4 lbs.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 52Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 13mgSodium: 60mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 3g