How to Spatchcock a Chicken for Grilling – And Why You Should Try it!

Spatchcocking (or butterflying) is the preferred method of many when it comes to cooking a whole chicken on the barbecue.

A whole chicken is an awkward shape and cooking it whole can result in some parts being overcooked, while others are dangerously undercooked.

To keep that from happening you can spatchcock your chicken: Remove the spine and then flatten it.

Since the bird is now flat it allows you to cook the meat evenly, so you’re not worried about the legs being done before the breast or vice versa.

A grilled spatchcock chicken on a woodne chopping board

It may look a little intimidating, especially if you’re not too comfortable with knives; but believe me, it is dead simple to prepare.

So in this article, I’ll explain how to spatchcock a chicken, how to then grill it and why it is superior to most any other grilled chicken method.

How to Prepare Spatchcock Chicken

A Spatchcock chicken is easy to prepare – when you know how.

I’ll go into further written details below, but this video from ‘Food Wishes’ does a great job of showing how to prep a Spatchcock Chicken.

Video: How to Spatchcock a Chicken

 

Remove Spine with Kitchen Shears – It’s Easier than With a Knife

Removing the spine with a knife can be difficult and dangerous. Bar none the easiest way to remove the spine is with a pair of sharp kitchen shears.

Simply flip the chicken upside down and locate the spine, running down the center middle of the top of the bird (with breast side down.)

Starting at the neck end of the chicken, cut along one side and very close the spine with the shears, from the neck end all the way to the rear, and then repeat for the other side of the backbone.

Flatten & Trim

Once the spine is removed, use a knife to cut through the small piece of cartilage just above the breastbone, near the neck.

Finally, flip the bird over and press down between the breasts to make it flat. Also, now would be a good time to trim off any excess skin or fat.

You now have a perfectly spatchcocked chicken.

How to Grill a Spatchcock Chicken

Now you have a spatchcock chicken, let’s discuss the best way to grill it. After all, that’s what this is all about, the fantastic results of cooking a bird prepared in such a manner.

Add Rub/Seasoning

While a rub or other seasoning is entirely optional, I feel it is a step that shouldn’t be skipped. There are many commercially available products on the market, or you could try your hand at making your own.

If you choose to make your own, remember that sweet is not a flavor that transcends well with chicken, so don’t reach for the brown sugar like you’re making racks of ribs.

Instead focus on the basics like salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and more savory spices like paprika, chili, and cumin.

Not sure how you want to season your chicken? No worries! The good people at Bon Appetit have compiled a list of 15 great chicken seasoning recipes!

Grill Indirect

Prepare your grill for two-zone indirect grilling and get your fire hot. You’re going to want it to be at least 400°F to render the out fat from the skin and make it crispy.

You can cook at a lower temperature, but you will likely be left with a rubbery skin that may taste good thanks to the seasoning, but wouldn’t be the greatest to eat.

You can add smoking wood if you like, though often the flavor from charcoal is enough to flavor the bird. If you do want to add some smoke, choose one of the milder woods such as Alder, or a fruit wood like Apple or Cherry.

Place your chicken on the indirect (or cool) side. Place it skin side up to keep the skin from sticking to the grill grates.

After an hour, use an instant-read thermometer to check your internal temp in the leg, thigh, and breast. If it reads 165°F your chicken is cooked. If not, just place the lid back on the grill and wait 10 minutes, then check again.

Separate Meat and Serve

Once your bird is cooked, remove it from the grill and serve immediately. If you let it rest for too long, or if you cover it in tinfoil you’re going to ruin the skin we’ve worked so hard to get crispy!

To serve, you can take a sharp chef’s knife and separate the cuts of chicken: leg, thigh, breast, and wings.

Benefits of Spatchcock Chicken

Besides being quick and easy, there are many benefits to cooking a chicken this way.

Quicker Cooking Time

Unlike a traditionally smoked chicken which can take hours at a lower temp, a Spatchcock chicken can be cooked in as little time as an hour. As Chef John Quilter explains in his recipe, by raising the temps to 400°F+, your chicken will be cooked quickly.

Seasoning on Both Sides of Bird

Since the chicken is flat, you’re able to add seasoning to both sides of the bird. This means that you’re able to get more flavorful rub on more surface area of the meat.

Crispy Skin

By cooking the chicken indirect and at high heat, you’re able to render the fat out of the skin causing it to become beautifully crispy.

Indirect Heat Means No Burned Chicken

By cooking the chicken at high heat indirect, you’re able to avoid the skin and rub becoming burned onto the chicken, as often happens when you cook directly over the flames.

Conclusion

If these instructions on how to spatchcock a chicken seem easy, well that’s because it is and we hope you come away from this article deciding to your hand at it.

If you’ve already mastered this technique, leave us a comment below telling us any tips, tricks or recipes for making spatchcock chicken. Or if you attempt it for the first time after reading this, let us know how it goes, good or bad.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed what we had to say and think it can be useful to someone else, please share this article with your friends!

Happy grilling!

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com. I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

2 thoughts on “How to Spatchcock a Chicken for Grilling – And Why You Should Try it!”

  1. Will this work with a medium size turkey 12 lbs) on a wood fired smoker?

    • Hi Sam,

      If you can fit the bird on the smoker after spatchcocking – I mean, if your grill space is large enough – then yes, sure. It’s a technique that works with anything really. I often butterfly lamb legs, sometimes chicken breasts (and more besides) in order to reduce their cooking time, or to even out thicknesses across meat to have a more even cook.

      I would say though – and this is only my opinion – I would cook the turkey whole. A large, nicely colored bird after smoking, placed whole on a dinner table with surrounding sides is a good centerpiece, has a bit of a wow factor, is impressive looking. You somewhat lose that after spatchcocking. For chickens, which are dime a dozen and eaten perhaps multiple times each month, hey ho, it’s a good technique to cook faster and more evenly. But with a turkey, which is somewhat more of a rarity and a bit of an eating event, I would leave it whole just for better presentation at the table 🙂

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