Cook’s Toolkit: Butterflied Chicken

SpatchcockedChicken[Jump right to the recipe: Lime and Ginger Grilled Butterfly Chicken]

Back in July I attended the casting call for season 6 of the Next Food Network Star. It was an amazing experience and I’m happy to report that they liked me enough to call me back after my initial interview. I had to bring a prepared signature dish and do a three minute demonstration of a cooking technique, as well as answer a whole slew of questions on camera. No pressure. As you might imagine, I was stunned, excited, and just a little bit overwhelmed. After a small fit of shrieking and frantic texting, I settled in to think about what I could demo that would not only show my culinary skills and teaching abilities, but that would also represent a technique I would want to include on an episode of my show because it’s truly useful.

Spatchcock that Chicken!

To make things a little more interesting, I wouldn’t have access to any sort of stove or oven during the demo, so short of setting up my own portable burner – which I did consider, albeit briefly – I had to focus on a preparation technique instead of a cooking technique. I decided on butterflying, or spatchcocking, a chicken, and not just because “spatchcock” is a fun word to say in all of its various forms. Instead, I choose this technique because it’s greatly underutilized in many home kitchens, which is a shame because it takes a chicken to a whole new level. A butterflied chicken is simply a chicken without a backbone that lies flat and as a result it:

  • Cooks more quickly because there’s more surface area for the heat to reach. Butterflying a chicken makes roasted chicken doable even on a busy weeknight. You can have it from fridge to table in about an hour, and a good portion of that hour is inactive time for roasting (or grilling – see below). Michael Ruhlman (of Ratio fame and my literary mentor for gougers) even lists a butterflied chicken as one of his staple meals, which incidentally generated all sorts of interesting feedback on the spatchcock method of preparing a chicken.
  • Cooks more evenly because it’s flatter than a whole chicken. The white meat won’t dry out while you’re waiting for the thicker, dark meat to cook, which is a good thing because there’s not much less appetizing than dry chicken.
  • Is perfect for the grill, which is in fact exactly how I cooked my latest butterfly chicken (recipe at the end of this post). A spatchcocked and grilled chicken is the perfect way to have a comfort-food favorite during even the hottest summer months when you wouldn’t dare turn your oven on for roasting.

So how exactly do you butterfly a chicken? It’s actually not too difficult. You need three things:

  • A well-rinsed and dried chicken. Because you’ll be man-handling the chicken a bit, you want it to be more dry than not.
  • A pair of kitchen shears. You could spatchcock with a sharp knife but it’s more dangerous that way and takes longer. If you don’t have good kitchen shears, us this as an excuse to get some. They are mighty useful.
  • A large, plastic cutting board. This process is a bit messy, so a bigger board is better than a smaller one. Go with plastic to avoid cross-contamination.

Gloves are optional. I know some people who prefer to handle raw meat with gloves, and if you are one of them, then by all means don those gloves. I will tell you that spatchcocking six chickens in a couple of hours, as I did on the day I was rehearsing for my call back, will wreak havoc on your hands, so if you are doing more than a couple of chickens I’d go with the gloves.

There are three steps to the spatchcock technique:

  1. Use the kitchen shears to cut down either side of the backbone and remove it entirely.
  2. Press down on either side of the breast to flatten out the chicken. You can use a paring knife or boning cut the breastbone cartilage to make this easier.
  3. Trim the chicken of all visible skin and fat for a neater presentation.

After my call back I had this grandiose plan that I would video myself butterflying the chicken –I can do it in 90 seconds flat now – but that just hasn’t happened (yet). Until I can get my video act together, I’ve located this most excellent spatchcocking demo for your viewing pleasure. Watch it a couple of times and then buy yourself a chicken (or two or six) and practice. The more chickens you spatchcock, the better you’ll be.

Things to Do with a Spatchcocked Chicken

As I mentioned earlier, you can both roast and grill a butterflied chicken. My favorite way to roast a spatchcocked chicken is simply to salt and pepper it well on both sides, lay it cavity-side down on a bed of aromatics (onions, garlic, citrus, fresh herbs), drizzle it with some olive oil, and cook it for 45 minutes in a 425 degree oven. You can also brine the chicken ahead of time or rub some compound butter between the skin and meat before roasting to give it some additional flavor. If these ideas aren’t enough to get your culinary juices flowing, some interesting recipes I’ve found are:

Next up I’ll share my grilled chicken recipe that uses a brick to further in the Tuscan style.


Recipe: Lime and Ginger Grilled Butterflied Chicken


  • Difficulty: Medium the first time you spatchcock, easy thereafter
  • Serves: 4-6
  • Prep Time: 15 – 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes


  • 1 3-4lb. whole roasting chicken, rinsed, dried, and butterflied (see video above)
  • 2 limes, 1 thinly sliced, 1 halved
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1 large brick, double-wrapped in heavy duty aluminum foil
  • 3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat a gas grill with all burners on high. Ideally the grill will be between 500 and 600 degrees before you start to cook the chicken.
  2. Generously salt and pepper the cavity side of the chicken and lay it skin side up on a large rimmed baking sheet (this makes it easier to carry to the grill).
  3. Run your fingers between the skin and flesh of the chicken breasts and thighs.
  4. Evenly spread the ginger between the flesh and skin of both breast and thighs.
  5. Insert 2-3 slices of lime between the skin and flesh of each breast and a 1-2 between the skin and flesh of each thigh (as space allows).
  6. Generously salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil.
  7. Place the chicken skin side down on one side of the grill or to either the back or the front of the grill, depending on how your burners are situated. You’ll be turning off half of your grill’s heat (the half under the chicken) after a few minutes for indirect cooking, so place the chicken with that in mind so you don’t have to move it later.
  8. Let the chicken cook for 6-7 minutes without moving it, or until light brown. This will crisp the chicken’s skin.
  9. Turn the heat off under the chicken, place the brick lengthwise on top (don’t turn the chicken over) so it covers as much of the chicken as possible, and reduce the heat on the burners that are still on to medium-high. Ideally you’ll maintain a grill temperature of about 425 – 450 degrees so monitor it a bit during the first 10 minutes or so of cooking and adjust the burners as necessary.
  10. Cook the chicken skin side down for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the brick, flip the chicken over (cavity side down), put the brick back on top of the chicken, and cook for another 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees.
  12. Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
  13. Squeeze the juice of the remaining lime over the chicken and garnish with parsley if you’d like.

Recipe for Success

  • The lime slices should be as thin and uniform as possible to keep them from tearing the skin of the chicken. I used my mandolin to cut ¼ ” slices, but you can just as easily slice them free-hand with a sharp chef’s knife.
  • If you don’t have fresh ginger, you can substitute 4 Tbsp. ground ginger. Sprinkle it on with the salt and pepper instead of putting it under the skin with the limes.
  • I grill with gas, that’s just the way it is, so these instructions are written for a gas grill. If you use charcoal, build up one side of the grill for indirect cooking and sear the chicken for the first 7 minutes on that side of the grill, as described in step 8. Then, carefully move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill and proceed with the rest of the recipe starting with step 10.
  • If you don’t have a brick handy but do have a cast iron skillet, us it in place of the brick. Be sure the bottom is clean seeing as it will be touching the chicken.
  • You can also roast the chicken:
    • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
    • Prep the chicken through step 6 but don’t drizzle with olive oil. Instead, heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until it is just about to smoke.
    • Cook the chicken in the skillet skin side down for 6-7 minutes.
    • Place the brick on the chicken, transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
    • Flip the chicken over, replace the brick, and return the skillet to the oven for another 15-20 minutes.
    • Remove the chicken from the skillet, let rest, and garnish as described in steps 12 and 13.

Spatchcocking on Foodista Learn more about spatchcocking a chicken


  1. I think I’ll name my unborn son “Spatchcock.” So awesome Natanya!

    • Natanya Anderson /

      Isn’t it such a great word. I’ll admit that when I did my demo on the camera I stuck with “butterfly” because I was trying to be safe, but if they ever let me have my own show it will be “spatchcock” all the way!

  2. This is my favorite way to make chicken. And it is all because of the word “spatchcock”.

  3. The crispy skin on the chicken looks so good! I’m the same way with recipes and I’m happy if I can get to one new one a week!


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