The first time I heard the term spatchcock was in 2009, in an extremely fancy butcher shop in Sydney where the cuts were displayed as if you were shopping in a meat boutique. I thought spatchcock was cute and funny, but little did I know until I looked it up and tried it out, that it simply meant butterflying a chicken, and splitting the bird open so it would lay flat and roast quickly. The benefits of the method are that the bird browns and cooks more evenly. The meat retains its succulence.
Since then, I’ve been spatchcocking chickens on a regular basis. The term originally meant to cull immature male chickens. Nowadays, it’s a cooking technique. It’s also known as “spattlecock.” Whichever term you use, the method saves time. A service-oriented butcher will do the deed for you. First time out, it may seem a little strange and seemingly violent. However, once you get the swing of spatchcocking a chicken, you can try it on say, a turkey for Thanksgiving!
This year, because of writing Thanksgiving-oriented assignments for Rodale’s Organic Life and Rachael Ray Every Day magazine, I’ve roasted a lot of turkeys. If you spatchcock a 13-pound turkey (purchased weight, with giblets), the roasting time is roughly 1.5 hours. A 4-pound chicken takes about 40 minutes. Spend less time in a hot kitchen and more time sipping a cooling beverage. (General roasting tips are at the end of this article.)
Questions that may linger in your head:
What kind of equipment do you need to spatchcock? Tools for spatchcocking a bird include poultry shears, and if you’re attacking a turkey, a serrated bread knife. I’ve used a heavy cleaver but have cut through the breast bone with it; there’s more control with poultry shears. The offset serrated knife is the same one that I use for banh mi making. Its funny shape gives you greater leverage.
How big of a bird do you want to spatchcock? Anything up to 14 pounds works well, I’ve found. The reason is that the shears can handle the job easily and a heavy-duty, rimmed baking sheet can hold a splayed-out bird of that maximum size. Any bigger and you’ll need a full-sheet pan and a commercial-grade oven.
Do you handle a chicken differently than a turkey? A chicken is easier to deal with because it’s smaller and easy to manipulate. A 13-pound turkey is three times bigger than an average chicken so spatchcocking the bigger bird requires a little more finesse.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to spatchcocking a chicken or turkey: