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Chickens:  Spatchcock 101

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Chickens: Spatchcock 101

After a couple years hiatus from raising birds, we are back in the game and the first batch look amazing. We have done more general posts regarding chicken in the past , even one regarding the value and inputs of chicken (18.00 Chicken). This post will be focused entirely on the method of spatchcocking, a method of preparation of a whole chicken that enables you to cook a whole bird more evenly and in a shorter amount of time, 45 minutes or less in most cases.

When you prepare your bird in this way, you are essentially flattening out the bird to expose the legs to a higher heat. This is exactly what you want, as the legs will cook slightly faster than the breasts, allowing them to get up to the 165 range, while the breasts reach only about 135 - 140, resulting in juicy meat and crispier skin all the way around.

Pre-Salting

Before we begin cutting the bird— the secret to crispy skin begins 12 - 24 hours beforehand with pre-salting. Pre-salting a chicken allows the salt to penetrate entirely through the bird, ensuring that all your meat is evenly seasoned. It is worth noting, if you are going to add additional spices to the outside of the chicken, we generally just add it at the end, when we remove the bird from the fridge to come back up to room temperature before cooking. The reason for this is that salt is the only part of the seasoning rub that can truly move through the muscle of a bird, or any meat for that matter. Other spices do not penetrate more than the surface, if at all, though critically important to the flavor of your dish and meat.

In addition to evenly seasoning the meat, pre-salting also draws excess moisture out of the skin. This is exactly what you need and want for delicious, crispy skin. As you cook the bird, you’ll see it turn an enviable golden brown with an unmistakable crackle. You can thank us later.

The biggest question we get is when sharing the pre-salting step is, “ How much salt? “. The short answer, “More than you think. “. As you can see below , there is a generous amount of salt, rubbed into the bird and sprinkled into the cavity. After you pre-salt the bird, place it on a sheet pan with a rack so that the back skin doesn’t get soggy as the moisture is pulled out. Pre-salting can be done before or after the spatchcock step, but because we are limited on fridge, I salted the bird whole and broke it down before cooking, which you’ll see below.

I salted this whole, not yet cut, to save space in the fridge. If you have the space, you can split it before salting.

I salted this whole, not yet cut, to save space in the fridge. If you have the space, you can split it before salting.

Preparing The Bird

There are several ways to prepare a bird for spatchcock (most are quite similar), but this is our preferred method. You’ll simply need a pair of kitchen shears and a cutting board.

  1. Place the bird breast side down on the cutting board.

  2. Locate the spine of the bird and cut just to the right or left of the spine. You are separating the spine from the ribcage so that you can flatten the bird in step three. Here, some people cut down the other side of the back, removing the entire spine, using it to make stock or a sauce. It all depends on what we are making, whether we remove it. Below we just do a single side.

  3. Place your palms on both sides of cut and press outward spreading the bird until it’s flat. You may have to press harder on the wing joint.

And there you have it, 3 easy steps and your bird is ready to cook. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect the first few times. It’ll still taste great, and you can keep practicing until you get it right.

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We grilled our spatchcocked bird, but you can just as easily cook it in the oven. You would cook it breast side up the whole time at 450 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. You’re looking for the bird to reach around 140 at the coolest part of the breast, and 165 in the thigh. Check at 20 minutes, and then every 10 thereafter, to make sure you’re not burning the skin or overcooking the bird. If you don’t have one yet, stop what you’re doing right now and buy a good meat thermometer! Do it!

If you are cooking in an oven, we suggest cooking on a rack that will allow you to catch the fat that renders out of the bird as it cooks. These are not your supermarket birds and as you can see below, they are filled with bright yellow fat from all of the grass they consume and the local organic grain they eat. This is called schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. That’s another post, though. The gist is, save it and use it to roast vegetables in, especially thinly sliced potatoes or potato pancakes.

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If grilling, your charcoal should be nicely ashed over so that you don’t have hot and cold spots. With the grill ready to go, we place the bird, breast side down over a medium heat. We want the breast to cook quickly at the top and begin to crisp the skin. We do not want the skin to burn, however, just crisp.

After your skin is slightly crisped, flip the bird over and cook skin side up. If you have a lid for your grill, close it and cook until the bird reaches the temperature of 140 in the coldest part of the breast and 165 in the thickest part of the thigh. Depending on your temperature, this should take approximately 35 - 40 minutes, assuming you’re running at a temperature of 450 degrees.

If you are grilling without a lid, and just on an open grate, you will still cook most of the way skin side up, but you’ll be finishing your bird skin side down for the last 5 minutes for a final crisp. The time will vary based on the hotness of your coals and distance to the grill surface, but the temperatures above are what you are shooting for. For more detailed cooking instructions for over coals, check out Kenji’s article here.

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When your bird has come to fully cooked temperature, rest the bird for approximately 10 - 15 minutes. You want all of those juices and fats to redistribute throughout the meat. If you don’t wait, the juices run back out and what makes the birds so juicy is lost. From this point forward, slice and enjoy how you wish. Just don’t forget to save the bones to use for the best chicken stock you’ll ever have! Throw them in a labeled ziplock freezer bag for a rainy day.

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