Knowing how to butterfly a chicken for the grill is a simple, albeit scandalously underutilized, kitchen trick that’ll save you untold time and frustration at the grill and earn you accolades galore at the table. It basically means taking the backbone out of the bird, which enables you to flatten the hen, and that in turn ensures the chicken cooks far more evenly on the grill than if it was in its god-given lumpy form which results in some parts sadly overcooked and others maddeningly undercooked. The name “butterflying” presumably comes from the resemblance of the spread-out hen to a butterfly (well, maybe it resembles a butterfly a little after a few beers). You’ll also hear the technique referred to as “spatchcocking,” although we won’t delve into the etymology of this term as we’re a little scared of what we may find. Whatever you call this nifty trick, after you try it once, you’re going to want to do it again. And again. And again. And it works with any of your usual rubs and marinades. A pair of sturdy kitchen shears will make much quicker work of the task for the spatchcock-obsessed than even your trustiest chef’s knife, though the latter comes in handy after you pull the chicken from the grill and need to divvy up the chicken parts. Here to explain how to execute this easy technique is Myron Mixon in an excerpt from his latest and greatest work, BBQ Rules. —Renee Schettler Rossi
I can’t preach enough about how much faster and easier it is to cook a chicken if you butterfly it before you put it in your pit or smoker. You can butterfly—or spatchcock, as we old-school barbecue cooks like to call it—a chicken in less than a minute with just a pair of kitchen shears. You’re just cutting out the backbone so that you can open up the bird, kind of like how you would crack a book. Here’s how.
Place the chicken on a clean cutting board so it’s breast side down. The backbone runs down the center of the chicken from the neck to the tail. Starting on one side of the tail—either side is fine—cut all the way up along the spine of the chicken, exerting a little pressure to cut all the way through the bones (it shouldn’t need a lot of strength to do this—it’s easy to do with either a knife or kitchen shears).
Then repeat the process by cutting up the other side.
Now you’ve cut out the backbone, which you can grab with your hands and simply yank out. You can either save the neck for stock (smoke it first and your stock will be delicious) or toss out if you’re feeling lazy.
Press down on the chicken with your palms to flatten it. This action should break the breastbone so that the chicken lies flat. Then you can tuck the wings under the breast so they don’t dry out, and you’re good to go.
Incidentally, the best chickens to buy are local birds that have never been frozen and that foraged for food and ate plants (in other words, not industrially raised corn-fed birds from the freezer case). Birds that are 3 or even 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.8 kg) are my ideal.