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How to Spatchcock a Chicken

First Image
Spatchcocking a chicken sounds a bit scary on first blush, but it simply means butterflying the chicken. The reason you do this is because cooking a whole chicken is very difficult to do well without a little help. The chicken consists of several pieces large and small, from wings to breasts. These pieces will cook up at different rates and the end result is a bird with over cooked wings & undercooked breasts. One solution is to butterfly or spatchcock the chicken. The chicken is spread open and presents a more uniform thickness for cooking. To spatchcock the chicken, you cut along either side of the spine and remove the spine. At this point the chicken is flipped, spread open a little and you push down hard on the breast bone. This breaks the breast bone and allows you to now spread the chicken out so it lays flat. Some recipes will call for you to remove the breast bone, but breaking it is sufficient to spread the chicken out flat. See the tips & tricks below the pictures for some addition things to know.


Here are the three things we need. The chicken, a clean cutting board & a pair of Kitchen shears. Most good knife sets come with Kitchen shears so you may already own them. If you don’t own a pair of Kitchen shears they are well worth picking up.


It is a good idea to have a dedicated cutting board just for use with raw poultry. I’ve marked the corner of my poultry cutting board so i can’t mistake it for anything else. Some cutting boards come in different colors to help you tell them apart.


Place the chicken on the center of the cutting board, spine side up. You can see the neck sticking out on the right. You are looking for the flap of skin at the other end of the spine. This is where you start cutting. There are a series of small bones just outside the spine, which are relatively easy to cut.


Starting at the left side of the flap of skin I have cut a line halfway up the left side of the spine. I am using the protruding neck bone to help me hold a line along the left side of the spine.


The first cut along the left side of the spine is complete.


Using the right side of the flap of skin, I have begun cutting along the right side of the spine..


Continuing along with the cut along the right side of the spine and once again using the protruding neck as a guide line.


The spine has been cut out and removed. You can save the spine, freeze it & use it for chicken stock.At this point remove the neck, gizzards and general clean up the cavities..


Use the shears to cut away the excess skin around the edges of both the neck & body cavities.


Flip the chicken over so the breast bone is facing up. Spread the bottom of the chicken (where the breast bone was removed) as much as possible. Place the heel of your hand on the breast bone & with a brisk forceful downward push break the breastbone. This will allow you to spread the chicken out flat. At this point you may be done.


Some recipes also want you to remove the breast bone. In this photo I have cut around the breast bone & am pulling it back.


Here the chicken has been spread out flat. The breast bone is seen on the top left of the cutting board and the spine is on the left side.


Here the chicken is on the smoker. In this picture the side firebox is on the right. The chicken has been placed so the legs (which cook to a higher temperature) are closer to the heat source and the breast meat which cooks to a lower temperature is facing away from the heat source.

  • For food safety purposes, it is a good idea to have a dedicated cutting board for use with raw poultry & only raw poultry. Mark the cutting board or use a different color cutting board to make sure you can tell this cutting board from your other ones.
  • Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before and after handling raw poultry.
  • There is no need to remove the neck, gizzards etc. before spatchcocking the chicken. Once the chicken is cut open they will be far more accessible than they would be by trying to pull them out of the cavities.
  • Save, wrap & freeze the spine bone. It can be used for chicken stock.
  • As long as you snap the breast bone so the chicken can be laid out flat, you may not have to remove the breast bone. Check your recipe for the direction to take.
  • The wings can be tucked under the body of the chicken to help them cook more evenly.
  • When placing the bird on the grill, place the legs facing towards and the breasts facing away from the heat source.

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