A whole spatchcocked chicken on a roasting pan, surrounded by vegetables.

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Traditionally, a spatchcocked chicken or small bird is grilled. The bird is butterflied, or split open so it lays flat, like an open book. It makes the bird easier to handle and carve, and helps it cook more evenly. It gives more surface area for basting or slathering on compound butter. And it allows more room for stuffing seasonings under the skin. Why stop at grilling? We spatchcock chicken for roasting and broiling, as well. The process is simple, but we take precautions.

A whole chicken on a cutting board with a pair of kitchen shears beside it.
To split a whole chicken or small bird open, use a pair of sturdy kitchen or poultry shears.

A person cutting through the backbone of a chicken to spatchcock it.
A heavy, sharp knife or cleaver work, too, but neither offers quite the control that shears do. Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Use the shears to cut out the backbone.

A finished spatchcocked chicken on a cutting board with a pair of kitchen shears beside it.
Open up the chicken like a book and press on it to flatten it. Save the backbone for making stock.

The perfect shears for spatchcocking and all your kitchen needs

A pair of Shun classic kitchen shears.

These Japanese-made Shun Classic Kitchen shears are among the most useful tools for the kitchen. Offering one serrated and one straight blade, they’re ideal for a multitude of tasks – from trimming meats and slicing dried fruit to shaping parchment for baking pans.
  • Stainless-steel blades: one straight and one serrated
  • Notch in the blade makes cutting through bone, wood twigs, or flower stems a cinch
  • Design features a built-in jar opener, nutcracker, and bottle opener
  • Composite handles are ridged for a secure grip
  • Halves separate for easy cleaning
  • Crafted by Kershaw, a Japanese company that has produced fine cutlery for more than 90 years

buyShun Classic Kitchen Shears, $50 on Bloomingdales.com

About Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer

Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer are the founders of Canal House. Together they create seasonal cookbooks for which they do all of the writing, recipes, photography, design, and production. They’re also 2013 James Beard Foundation nominees for their cookbook, Canal House Cooks Every Day, and for their Bon Appétit video series, “The Seasonal Cooks.” Prior to starting Canal House in 2007, Hamilton worked at Saveur as the test kitchen director and food editor. Hirsheimer is a co-founder of Saveur and served as its executive editor. @canalhouse

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  1. Long blades and a handle of equal or shorter length won’t give you much leverage. I’ve been spatchcocking chickens AND turkeys for a number of years and gave up on kitchen shears.

    The most useful “scissors” have shorter blades in relationship to the handle. It’s an application of the principle of leverage, although I don’t think Archimedes spent time futzing around the kitchen.

    I bought some aviation snips at the hardware store years ago and have been very happy with the ease of use. The added benefit is that a good pair only cost about $15 USD and will go through bones like a hot knife through butter.

    1. Glad that you found some scissors that work for you, bkhuna. We all have our favorite weapons to use on a chicken carcass.