Now that I've mastered spatchcocking, I might never make chicken any other way again.
Butchering has never been something I've been comfortable doing in the kitchen. But as Real Simple's social media manager, I'm lucky to get a front row seat for every lesson that food director Dawn Perry teaches in Real Simple Cooking School. During one of our Facebook Lives, Dawn decided to demonstrate how to spatchcock a chicken—that means splitting open a bird by removing the backbone. And you do this with just a pair of kitchen shears. No meat cleaver required—not even a knife? Of course, I immediately took interest.
I’ve heard about spatchcocking for years—even watched previous food editors make it in front of my eyes—but I’ve never been bold enough to try it at home. Whole chicken recipes have always sounded intimidating, especially ones that involve removing the entire backbone and “splaying” the legs. But after paying close attention to Dawn's technique, taking notes, and going back to study the material, I decided it was finally time to roll up my sleeves, face my fears, and spatchcock a chicken on my own.
Well, maybe not entirely by myself. I tend to perform better under a little pressure, so I tried this technique for the first time in front of a few friends. Here’s how it went.
I did as instructed and washed my hands thoroughly—the #1 Cooking School rule. Then, I preheated the oven to 450°, put on my apron, and gathered my equipment: paper towels, a plastic cutting board, and kitchen shears. I then patted the chicken down with paper towels, placed it breast-side down, and went for it. I did as Dawn instructed and cut along both sides of backbone with "pressure and confidence." I pulled the backbone out...and that was it. I'd done it. I'd actually removed the backbone from a chicken. And once I got over the sound effects, it really wasn't that intimidating. The hardest part was done.
Next, I flipped over the chicken, breast-side up, and opened it like a book. Then I pressed firmly down on the breastbone with the heel of my hand to flatten out the chicken, and it was officially fully spatchcocked. YES! I was so proud of myself. Not to mention, my friends were super impressed. (Hello, new party trick!)
I continued my adventure by following Dawn's recipe, which uses just a simple coating of olive oil, salt, and pepper. To make the chicken skin extra crispy, Dawn suggests cooking it on the stove, breast-side down, in a cast iron skillet with a smaller skillet on top to apply pressure. (Fun fact: this is where the name of the recipe title, Chicken Under a Brick, comes from.)
After about five minutes, I removed the small skillet and transferred the cast iron pan to the oven. Fifteen minutes later, I had to face another fear: flipping the chicken. So I grabbed two oven mitts, lifted the cast iron skillet out of the oven using both hands and a little muscle, and placed on the stove. I then armed myself with not one but two sets of tongs (also known as "an extension of your hand." in the Dawn Perry Cooking School text book). I made sure to really get under the chicken, and flipped it away from me to avoid oil splatter. Phew! Second task completed. I placed the chicken back in the oven, and waited another 15 minutes.
When the time was up, I put my meat thermometer to work to see if my chicken was safe to eat. Once it reached 165°, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. My friends even gave my dish rave reviews, and I don’t think they were just being nice.
There's a reason spatchcocking is so popular, I learned, and it's not necessarily be because it's deceptively easy. It also results in an irresistible chicken. The skin gets so incredibly crisp, while the inside stays juicy and tender. And once you get the hang of it, the entire cooking process takes about 35 minutes from start to finish. Since this first success, I’ve spatchcocked whole chickens five more times—and to be quite honest, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make chicken any other way.