How to Spatchcock Chicken, According to Our Test Kitchen

This easy strategy allows you to roast or grill the bird in less than half the time!

Roasted spatchcock chicken
Photo: clubfoto / Getty Images

The concept of roasting a chicken certainly sounds simple, right? Grandmas and gourmet chefs alike have been doing it for decades. But just like with how to make pancakes or how to make chocolate chip cookies, a simple concept is begging for variations. Plus, with all of those cooks in the kitchen, nearly everyone has their own secret for the “perfect” roast chicken.

We stand by our Test Kitchen’s Classic Roast Chicken method that requires just a bit of butter, broth, salt, pepper. But when we’re crunched for time or are aiming to max out the golden brown, seasoned bits, we swear by the spatchcock chicken. 

Ahead, your complete guide to how to spatchcock a chicken, including what that term means in the first place, reasons why we adore this easy method, plus we’ll dish up a few of our favorite spatchcock chicken recipes for you to try at home.

What Does it Mean to Spatchcock a Chicken, Exactly?

If you go by Merriam-Webster’s definition of “spatchcock,” as a noun, it means “a fowl split and grilled usually immediately after being killed and dressed.” But in modern-day parlance, spatchcock is used as a verb, and refers to a process of removing the backbone of a whole chicken (or turkey or other bird, for that matter, and no matter where and when you acquired said bird) so it can lie flat. 

Think of spatchcock chicken like the butterflied version of whole roast chicken. You need not roast it, though. You can spatchcock chicken to grill, roast, smoke, air-fry; the choice is yours.

Why spatchcock a chicken? With more surface area exposed and less thickness for the heat to penetrate, it cooks far faster than a full bird. In fact, in a 425°F oven, a whole chicken usually takes about 90 minutes to roast. A spatchcock chicken recipe, by contrast, should be ready in about 45 minutes. (That said, as always, we recommend using a meat thermometer and these food-safe cooking temperatures rather than relying on time to tell when a chicken is done.) 

A spatchcock chicken should cook more evenly than a whole roast bird since the protein is spread into a flatter layer. Plus, you’ll also score more flavor since you can more easily season the portions of the bird that would have previously been inside its cavity.

How to Spatchcock a Chicken

You can use this method for how to spatchcock chicken for turkey (like our Lemon-Thyme Split-Roasted Turkey), duck, or any other large bird. If desired, start by marinating the chicken or coating it in a seasoning rub, then follow these steps for how to spatchcock a chicken: 

  • Place the chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board. 
  • Starting from the neck end, use sharp kitchen shears to make a lengthwise cut down one side of the backbone. 
  • Repeat the lengthwise cut on the opposite side of the backbone. 
  • Remove the backbone (psst…save this in the freezer to make chicken broth at another time!). 
  • Turn the chicken, skin-side up, and press down between the breasts to break the breast bone. Flatten the chicken as much as possible with your hands. 
  • Use kitchen shears to remove the wing tips (saving them for broth as well, if you like).
  • Cook via your desired method; grilled spatchcock chicken, smoked spatchcock chicken, air-fried spatchcock chicken, or roast spatchcock chicken our our Test Kitchen’s favorite strategies. 

Optional, but highly recommended: Serve with your dipping or barbecue sauce of choice.

Mexican Spatchcock Chicken with Quinoa Salad
Andy Lyons

Spatchcock Chicken Recipes to Try

Our Mexican Spatchcock Chicken with Quinoa Salad and Spatchcock Barbecue Chicken with Raspberry Glaze can walk you through the entire process, seasonings and all. But feel free to get creative and use this spatchcock chicken blueprint for any whole chicken recipe you crave, even those family heirlooms. We’ve already had success with spatchcock chicken twists on Honey Roast Chicken with Spring Peas and Shallots, Herb-Roasted Chicken, and Bayou Rotisserie Chicken, too. We bet grandma would award you with a blue ribbon for creativity!

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