How Do You Spatchcock Chicken

If you’re like me, I was pretty amused and intrigued when I heard the words spatchcock chicken together.  But after I got over my adolescent moment, I was curious.  Spatchcocked chicken, what does that mean?  How do you spatchcock chicken? How does it make grilling or smoking chicken easier and quicker?  So many questions.  Don’t worry, we’ll take you through it all below.  

What Does Spatchcock Mean?

Ok, first things first.  What exactly does it mean when someone says, “Did you spatchcock the chicken?”  It’s believed that the word spatchcock comes from the 17th century and it means killing the cock or chicken by cutting it open to cook it.  Makes sense the word spatchcock would come from way back in the day because, I think there are easier ways to describe what you are going to do with the chicken.  But then again, that’s just me.  

Why Do People Spatchcock Chickens?

Basically when you spatchcock chicken, it just means we are going to prepare the chicken to be cooked faster and more efficiently.  We’re going to do this by cutting the backbone out of it and also cutting the breast bone so the chicken lays flat on the grill instead of round.  This will allow it to cook quicker.  If you place a whole chicken in the grill without doing this, you have to heat up the whole cavity of the chicken to 165 degrees, which will take a long time.  

We’re specifically referring to chicken here but keep in mind that it works with any type of bird.  If you really want to impress your guest on Thanksgiving, try spatchcocking the turkey.  It will cook quicker, be juicier (because of the shorter cook time) and you will have a conversation starter with your guests. 

Steps To Spatchcock Chicken

Spatchcock Proper Tools

The first step is making sure you have the right tools for the job.  You will need a medium to large cutting board, some high quality kitchen shears and a handful of paper towels.

proper tools for spatchcock chicken
  • Place the chicken on the cutting board and pat dry with paper towels.  Flip the chicken upside down so that the breasts are on the cutting board.  I find it easiest to start at the head end of the chicken so I also point the chicken towards me.

Cutting Out The Backbone

The basic premise is to cut the entire backbone out of the chicken.  Stick your finger down the neck of the chicken and find where the ribs meet the backbone.  That is where you want to start cutting.  

  • Cut down the backbone all the way to the tail.  
spatchcock chicken
  • Now do the same on the other side.  The entire backbone should be removed and discarded.  
spatchcock chicken with backbone cut out of it

Cutting The Breast Bone

Now that the backbone is removed we need to work on the breast bone.

breastbone of spatchcock chicken
The breastbone is circled in red.
  • You will now need to cut or break the breast bone.  It can be hard to see but it will be right where the two chicken breasts meet.  It should be shaped kinda like a wishbone but will only be about a half inch lo
    ng.  Once you find it, cut it down the center with the shears. 

Spatchcock Chicken All Finished Up

You’re basically done.  All you need to do is flip the chicken back over so the breasts are on top and push down on them.  You will notice the chicken will ‘spread out’ and it will sit much flatter on your cutting board.  

spatchcock chicken lays flat

Tips To Spatchcocking Chicken

There’s a few things you should keep in mind before you spatchcock chicken and during it too.  I mentioned above the importance of really good kitchen shears.  If you don’t have good shears, the rib bones and the skin will be hard to cut through.  Save yourself some time and some effort.

If you are a little uneasy cutting raw meat or chicken, you might want to think twice before starting.  If you have good kitchen shears, cutting the chicken will be easy but if you don’t, you will have to break through the rib bones which can gross some people out.  The breast bone will also be hard to cut through without good shears.  

Another thing I like to do is clean the inside of the chicken out once the backbone is removed.  Most of the time, the butcher does a good job cleaning it but if there is some leftover stuff, it doesn’t hurt to run it under some water and make sure it’s all clean.

Some people like to cut the wing tips off the chicken as well.  If you want to, that is just fine.  I don’t usually waste the time doing it.  No one will eat the wing tips but they are just as easy to throw away after it’s done on the grill or in the smoker.  

As we mentioned before, we are specifically talking about chicken in this article.  But spatchcocking will work with any type of bird.  You can use this technique on turkey, pheasants, grouse and any other bird you like to eat.  

Spatchcock Wrap Up

If you’re just learning how to spatchcock a chicken and this will be your first go around doing it, you won’t regret it.  You can grill or smoke the chicken in about half the time it takes if you didn’t spatchcock it.  You can also add seasoning or rub to the chicken easier and more consistently because the chicken will now sit flat on the cutting board instead of being round.  Ever since I learned this technique, I haven’t gone back and I doubt you will.

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