How to Spatchcock a Chicken

To spatchcock a chicken means to remove its backbone so that it can lie flat. A spatchcocked chicken is much easier and quicker to cook and carve, so knowing how to do it yourself can be a bonus. All you'll need is a good pair of poultry shears.

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Before we start, it is important to remember that you will be handling raw chicken when you spatchcock a chicken. Remember that your hands and everything you touch will need a proper washing when you are finished. I like to use a cutting board that can be popped into the dishwasher for complete sanitation and I make sure I have soap and a clean hand towel ready before I start.

The first step is to pull out any extra fat and giblets that you might find inside the chicken. You can discard both if you like, or keep them if you like to include giblets with your gravy and or use the fat for cooking.

Removing the extra fat from inside a chicken.

Then, make sure you have a good pair of poultry shears to take on the next steps. (If you don’t have poultry shears, you can use a chef’s knife, but shears make the task very easy.) Turn the chicken so that it is breast side down with the tail end of the chicken closest to you. Use your shears to cut up one side of the backbone from the tail towards the head.

Cutting up one side of the chicken backbone - the first step in how to spatchcock a chicken.

Once you have cut all the way from the tail to the head, rotate the chicken so that the tail end is away from you and start to cut down the other side of the backbone.

Cutting down the second side of the backbone of chicken.

You can discard the backbone or better still, save it in a zipper sealable plastic bag with other chicken bones and use it to make bone broth or stock.

A chicken on a cutting board with backbone removed.

The next step makes it much easier to flatten the chicken. Open the chicken up and score the breast bone. The trick here is to slice into the breast bone but not slice all the way through. You might run your knife along the breast bone several times in order to score the bone enough to allow it to open up when you turn the chicken over.

Scoring the underside of the breast bone of a chicken.

Flip the chicken over and bend the breasts away from each other so that the chicken flattens out. The legs should naturally turn inward and lie flat.

A spatchcocked chicken on a cutting board.

The last step is to tuck the chicken wings behind the breasts and make sure the chicken is completely flat. If it is not lying flat, try scoring the underside of the breast bone one more time – perhaps with a little more force. Once that bone has been properly scored, you’ll find the chicken opens up very easily. 

Tucking a chicken wing behind the breast - the last step in how to spatchcock a chicken.

Now your chicken is ready to cook. Season with salt and pepper, or apply a spice rub, and roast or grill. You put some work into going this far, but rest assured your work will pay off. The cooking will be quicker, flipping the chicken will be easier and carving the chicken into pieces at the end will be a breeze.

Quick Notes:

  • Remember to wash your hands and anything you touch very well after handling the chicken.
  • Use very sharp poultry shears for the task, or alternatively a sharp chef’s knife.
  • With the chicken breast-side down, cut down each side of the backbone of the chicken so that you can remove it completely.
  • Save the backbone for stock or bone broth, or discard.
  • Score the breast bone in the chicken cavity without cutting through the chicken.
  • Turn the chicken breast-side up and bend the chicken breasts towards each other to open the chicken up.
  • Tuck the wings behind the breasts before grilling or roasting.

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Comments (3)Post a Reply

  1. Chef Meredith, you are awesome! Great teaching!
    I am a 7-12 grade culinartyarts teacher, however I learn so much from you. I have watched
    You on QVC for years and shamefully purchased many products. Please keep up the good work! We, all need You! I think you are so great!
    Happy Cooking!

  2. I second Esther’s comments. I’ve also learned so much from you. I appreciate you breaking down all the many steps involved and making it look so easy and manageable. I’ve been curious about what a spatchcock chicken was and now I’m more apt to give it a go. You said the chicken will cook faster….any guesses how much time we can shave off the cooking time? How about if I Airfry it? What might that time look like? Special temperature? Thanks for your helpful guidance!

    1. Thanks Karen. I was able to shave off about 20 – 30 minutes on a 5-pound chicken on a 400ºF grill. A 5-pound chicken would take about 1½ hours in the oven, so that’s a pretty significant time savings. Air-frying it would be a challenge because of space. You could cut the chicken in half and get it to fit in your air fryer, but it would be a challenge to fit a whole spatchcocked chicken in, I think.

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