Before you jump to conclusions and assume I am talking about something dirty, check it out. Spatchcocking is an old-fashioned term for butterflying poultry in preparation for roasting or grilling. And yes, it is a good thing to do!
The term originated in Ireland in the late 1700s. Spatchcock is also the English version of the French term poussin, a juvenile chicken, which were typically butterflied to help them cook more quickly. Eventually the name of the bird became accepted as a verb for the preparation method.
If you are intimidated by the thought of cooking a whole chicken, are looking for a faster way to cook chicken, or just want a really cool presentation for your next dinner party, give this technique a go. It literally cuts the cooking time in half. I had my chicken cooked on the grill in just about 45 minutes instead of the 1-1/2 hours if I had left it whole.
If the weather is bad and you don’t want to monitor an outdoor grill for the whole time, start the chicken on the barbecue and finish it in the oven. Heat your oven to 350°F and transfer the chicken from the grill to an ovenproof pan or baking sheet. You will get the smoky flavor and be able to finish it to perfection in the oven. Pull it out of the oven when an instant read thermometer reaches 160°F. Tent it loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. By then the juices will have been reabsorbed and the chicken will reach its final temperature of 165°F. Then just carve and enjoy!
If you shop at a grocery store that has a butcher behind the counter, they will happily cut up poultry for you. All you have to do is ask nicely and there should never be any additional fee. I always buy whole chickens because they are much cheaper (price per pound) and then have my butcher break them down, split them or butterfly them depending on how I am preparing them.
If you decide to have the backbone cut out of your chickens, have the butcher include them in your package. When you get home, separate the backbones and place them in a resealable bag. Freeze them, adding additional pieces of chicken or partial carcasses until you have enough to turn them into soup or stock for a nourishing meal.
When you first look at the recipe, you may be surprised (and maybe a bit concerned) at the amount of butter. But remember that a lot will be left on the grill and this recipe makes at least 4 servings. That is less than 1 tablespoon per serving! And for the most beautiful presentation, always start cooking this skin-side down on the grill. You will get the best marks and gorgeous crisp skin.
I love barbecued chicken, but get bored with the same old sauced version. If you want a change of pace, give this butter-basted version a try. I think you and your family will really enjoy it. I know The Artist and I did!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
The perfect pair of kitchen shears is a personal choice, but always look for a pair that can be disassembled for complete washing. You don’t want any germs lingering in the nooks and crannies! I use my shears for all kinds of tasks in the kitchen and they are an indispensable part of my tool set.
This recipe is naturally gluten-free!
- 1 (4 lb) butterflied chicken (backbone cut out), breastbone flattened
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp chile powder, such as mulato, ancho, or chipotle
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp smoky chipotle pepper flakes or red pepper flakes, optional
- Prep the Chicken: Press the chicken flat and tuck the wing tips behind the back. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chile powder. Cover loosely and leave at room temperature while you heat up the grill and make the seasoned butter.
- Preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes or build a medium-hot two-tier charcoal fire. Turn off half the grill burners and turn the remaining burners to medium heat.
- Make the Seasoned Butter: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion powder, thyme, pepper flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir until blended and reduce the heat to low.
- Cook the Chicken: Lightly brush the skin-side of the chicken with a little of the butter and place skin-side down on the cool side of the grill with the legs pointing toward the heated portion of the grill. Brush the interior of the chicken lightly with some of the butter. Cook, with the lid on, for about 25 minutes or until the skin is golden brown and no longer sticks when you try to move it.
- Using tongs, flip chicken to the other side, baste with remaining butter and cook until an instant read thermometer reaches 160°F. Remove from the grill and transfer to a cutting board. Tent loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute back into the meat.
- To Serve: Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut the chicken in half through the breastbone. Once cooked, this is simple. Separate the leg/thigh from the breast on each half creating four servings. Place a quarter on each plate and serve hot.
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