While I love to roast a whole chicken for an early Sunday night supper, when the temperature rises over 80 degrees, heating the oven becomes martyrdom. But cooking a whole chicken on the grill takes hours of baby-sitting, right? Not if you spatchcock the bird first.
While the word “spatchcock” may sound like it’s terminology from a lawn game, it’s actually just cooking speak for removing the bird’s backbone and breastbone so that the chicken lies flat.
To spatchcock a chicken, place the whole bird on a cutting board, belly side down. Then, using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, start at the neck and cut all the way down the length of the backbone on one side, then the other. Cut all the way through the chicken so you can remove the backbone completely, and fold the chicken open.
Cutting out the backbone alone will allow the chicken to lie fairly flat, but it’s even better if you get the breastbone out of the way, too.
To remove the breastbone, lay the chicken-skin side down and use a smaller knife to make a slice on each side of the breastbone. Don’t cut all the way through the bird like you did for the backbone. Then, run your fingers along the cuts to loosen the bone and attached cartilage and tug them out.
It’s really an easy process once you have a bird in front of you, but if you need step-by-step photos, I recommend the book How to Grill by Steven Raichlen. You can also make fancy cuts to tuck in the legs and wings, but, honestly, I’ve never bothered.
While a regular whole chicken takes about an hour and a half to cook, a spatchcocked bird will be done in about 45 minutes. If you have spare basil, your chicken will taste amazing marinated in pesto beforehand, as Raichlen suggests. We also love to stuff the skin of our birds with citrus, herbs and butter as in the recipe below.
Citrus Thyme Spatchcocked Chicken
- Whole spatchcocked chicken, approximately 4 pounds
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 10-12 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 an orange or a whole lemon, plus extra for serving
- Salt and pepper
Slice the citrus fruit into thin rounds. Alternating so that the ingredients are evenly distributed, gently stuff the citrus, thyme and butter under the chicken’s skin. Rub the outside of the bird with any excess butter, then season the outside with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken-skin side down over direct, medium heat on your grill. Cook for about 15 minutes on the first side, then about 20-25 minutes on the other, paying attention to the heat. The outside of the bird will blacken in places, but you certainly don’t want the bird burnt to a crisp.
The chicken is done when your meat thermometer registers 180 degrees, and the juices are running clear. Allow the bird to cool a little before carving it up and assembling the pieces on a platter. Serve with extra citrus wedges, perhaps a grilled vegetable, and definitely a tray of cold drinks.