How to Spatchcock (Butterfly) a Chicken

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Ever spatchcocked a chicken? It's easier than you might think! It's the same method as butterflying a chicken, and you only need a pair of kitchen shears. Makes for more evenly cooked chicken with crispier skin!

Photography Credit: Emma Christensen

Have you ever spatchcocked a chicken before? It’s surprisingly easy! All you need is a pair of kitchen sheers and a little gumption. The benefits are faster, more even cooking, and lots of gorgeous crispy skin.

What is a Spatchcocked Chicken?

To spatchcock a chicken is exactly the same thing as butterflying a chicken, but with a name that is way more fun to say! Either way, this simply means to cutting out the chicken’s backbone and pressing the bird flat so that it cooks in a single layer.

Why Spatchcock a Chicken?

There are a major advantages to spatchcocking a chicken that, for me, put this method head and shoulders above all others.

  • Even cooking: Spatchcocking means that the breast meat and the thigh meat are on the same horizontal plane, so both cook at pretty much the same rate. This means no more waiting around for the thighs to finish cooking while the chicken breasts dry out. Which in turn means that the white meat and the dark meat lovers in your family will all be very happy.
  • Perfectly seasoned: I always get frustrated by the amount of seasoning I lose when I’m trying to season the underside of the thighs and drumsticks on a regular chicken. But since the entire surface of the chicken faces upwards once butterflied, seasoning is a cinch.
  • Lots and lots of crispy skin: Since the vast majority of the skin is exposed and facing upward, you don’t wind up with those flabby, sad areas on the undersides of the thighs and drumsticks with a butterfly chicken. All crispy, all the time.
  • Easier to serve: No trussing. No complicated carving. The chicken is easy to lift onto a cutting board and is ready to serve with just a few extra slices.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken

Step by Step: How to Spatchcock a Chicken

Most butchers will spatchcock a chicken for you at no charge, but truthfully, it’s really easy to do at home. It will make you feel like a boss, and all you need is a strong pair of kitchen shears (I love my OXO shears).

  1. Flip the chicken breast-side down: Turn the bird over so the breasts are down and you’re looking at the back. See the backbone? You’re going to cut along both sides of that backbone to remove it. You can go from the top of the chicken or the bottom; just pick a direction and go for it.
  2. Cut alongside the backbone and through the ribs: Now, you’ll need to exert a bit of force to cut through the rib bones, but I’m always surprised at how not-terribly-hard this is to do. Make sure you’re cutting near the pivot point of your scissors, where the two blades are screwed together. You’ll have the most force here; don’t try to snip with the tips of the scissors.
  3. Cut out the backbone: Cut all the way up one side of the backbone, and then all the way up the other. Remember, you’re cutting beside the backbone, not actually through it. Once the backbone has been cut free, lift it out and set it aside. (It’s great for making chicken stock.)
  4. Flip the chicken over and press on the breast bone: Use your hands to open up the chicken a little bit, and then flip it over so that the breasts are now facing up. Use the palm of your hand and press firmly down on the breast meat, right over the breastbone. You should hear a little bit of crunching.
  5. Press flat: The goal here is to flatten this area so that the breasts and the thighs are basically at the same level. Some pros recommend snipping the cartilage beneath the breastbone or even entirely removing the wishbone. This does help the chicken to lay more flat, but personally, I don’t feel like the extra fuss makes a huge difference in how the chicken cooks.

And now you have a perfectly spatchcocked or butterflied chicken!

How To Butterfly a Chicken

How to Cook a Spatchcock Chicken

You can either roast it or grill it. I’ve included some very basic roasting instructions below, which you can certainly gussy up as much as you like.

See for Yourself with These Recipes!

Watch the Video for How to Spatchcock a Chicken

Still a bit nervous? Just watch the video on how to Spatchcock a chicken below!

Updated October 10, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle. No changes to the original recipe.

How to Spatchcock (Butterfly) a Chicken

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 4 or more servings, depending on the size of the bird

This method will work with any size bird, even turkeys.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken

Special equipment:

Method

1 Lay the chicken breast side down on a cutting surface. You should be looking down at the chicken's backbone.

2 Using kitchen shears, cut out the backbone. You can start from the top of the chicken or the bottom. Cut slightly to one side of the backbone, so that you're cutting through rib bones and not the backbone itself.

If it feels very difficult to cut through the bones, try repositioning your scissors slightly further away from the backbone.

Cut all the way up one side of the backbone and then all the way up the other. Remove the backbone and set it aside.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken How To Spatchcock a Chicken

3 Use your hands to open up the bird slightly, then flip it breast side up. Now the breast of the chicken should be facing up. Fold the legs so they are facing inward and the majority of the meat is facing up.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken

4 Flatten the chicken: Use the palm of your hand and press down firmly over the breast bone.

The aim is to flatten the chicken so the breast meat and the thighs are at roughly the same level. You will likely hear some crunching (though it's ok if you don't). You can also pick up the chicken and use your hands if that feels more comfortable.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken

5 Tuck the wings under (optional): The tips of the tiny, thin wings tend to cook quickly and burn during cooking. Tuck them behind the body of the chicken to help slow down their cooking and keep the tips protected.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken How To Spatchcock a Chicken

5 Roast or grill the chicken. If roasting, place the chicken in a roasting pan, rub it all over with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 450°F for 35 to 45 minutes, until the chicken registers at least 165°F in both the thighs and the breast.

How To Spatchcock a Chicken How To Spatchcock a Chicken

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Emma Christensen

Emma Christensen is the Editor-in-Chief of Simply Recipes, and has over 10 years of experience creating food and content for web and print. She was formerly the recipe editor for The Kitchn and is the author of three books on home-brewing, True Brews, Brew Better Beer, and Modern Cider. Emma is a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts and Bryn Mawr College. She lives in San Jose, California.

More from Emma

11 Comments / Reviews

No ImageHow to Spatchcock (Butterfly) a Chicken

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. ELLE

    Thanksgiving is coming. Can this be done with a large turkey?

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Ann

    Could you use bone-in breasts?

  3. Ania

    Super easy to make and the chicken is great!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Carla Shuster

    In the instructions it mentions to set the backbone aside – what does one do with it, other than throw it away???

    Show Replies (2)
  5. Lucie

    Thank you for this great tutorial !
    I first read about this method in the book “Salt Fat Acid Heat” (can’t recommend it enough” and I was really intrigued by it. Glad I stumbled upon this post, I will be trying it very soon, for my Friendsgiving !!
    :)

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