In the past, I have always called this method of cooking chicken “Butterflied” but it turns out there’s another name for it called “Spatchcock” that dates back to a time nobody can personally remember. Originally, this term meant a bird that was killed, split and flattened and then grilled on the spot. Today, however, we use this term to describe the bird’s preparation, not including how it’s cooked, because it’s also done in the oven.
For the Spatchcock method, start with a whole chicken, check for anything inside, wash it and pat it dry. Then turn it breast side down. Get out your sharp poultry shears (which can cut through bone by the way, so watch out for your fingers). Cut along one side of the backbone and then the other so you totally remove it. (You can freeze and use that piece later to make stock or to enhance gravy.) Then spread the chicken apart. Some people also make small cuts in the cartilage on both sides of the sternum (at the center of the breast) so it will lie even flatter. This isn’t necessary, but I also like to do it. Now flip it over and push down hard to flatten it.
If you like, you can wrap clean bricks in tin foil and put them on top of the chicken to weight it down (also called bricked chicken) but it isn’t necessary. If you use them, remove them ¾ of the way through your cooking time so the skin has a chance to brown.
The major advantage of this preparation is that it reduces cooking time. You can finish a chicken in 30 to 40 minutes (at 425⁰F) as opposed to an hour. Plus, it makes a very cool presentation and is much easier to serve, especially if you cook some homemade dressing underneath it. (If you add dressing, you will need more cooking time to bring it to the poultry safe temperature of 165⁰F.) Imagine how much quicker you could carve and serve your meal if you use this method to cook your Thanksgiving turkey! I highly recommend it, as long as you have a cooking pan that is large enough. It also makes a nice presentation for a bird as small as pigeon or Cornish hen.
This method is great for grilling where it’s harder to cook the meat of a whole bird evenly. Just stay away from recipes that include a lot of fat that could drip onto the fire, causing flaming and please don’t char it. (Both of these things are thought to create cancer causing properties in your food.) Remember, however, that you can push your hot charcoal to the sides of your grill, cover it and basically create an oven where you don’t have to worry about that so much.
Beyond that, you can use any poultry recipe you like. If cooking in the oven, you have more options. You can put butter and herbs under the skin, stuffing or herbs underneath or use any rub that you like. Brushing oil on the skin before cooking is the best way to seal in the flavors. I also like to sprinkle paprika on top of the oil, which gives the finished bird a rich brownish color. Give it a try! Add some vegetables and rice and you’ve got a great comfort meal for any time of the year!