Removing the backbone of a chicken allows it to lie flat, which significantly speeds up the cooking time and helps the chicken cook evenly and fast. This simple technique is known as ‘spatchcocking’ (or butterflying) and requires just a pair of kitchen scissors. This spatchcock chicken can be prepared on the grill, smoker, or in your oven. Add our flavorful, sugar-free rub and you’ve got an easy, fool-proof spatchcock chicken recipe that you’ll use every time.
This recipe was originally posted June 9, 2021; Updated August 3, 2022.
what is Spatchcock Chicken?
To “spatchcock a chicken” means to remove the backbone, press the whole chicken down as flat as you can, and then cook it quickly, easily, and perfectly juicy. That’s it! Spatchcocking a chicken sounds harder than it really is, but we promise that it’s not! We think you’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to do. And since our method uses kitchen scissors or poultry shears (rather than a knife) to remove the spine of the chicken, it’s far less intimidating. Once you have one grilled spatchcock chicken under your belt you’ll wonder why you ever made chicken any other way. Give it a try. We promise you’ll LOVE to cook a whole chicken like this!
Spatchcock Chicken Recipe: The Perfect, Juicy, Whole Chicken Cooking Method
While there is nothing wrong with making a whole roasted chicken in the oven or making a whole chicken in the Instant Pot, but you’ll soon find that this method for making a spatchcock chicken produces an evenly-cooked, ultra-flavorful meal with minimal fuss.
We know that the first time you try anything new in the kitchen that it can be a little intimidating so that’s why we’re breaking it down step-by-step below. But before we jump into the “How” let’s take a look at what you’ll need.
What you need to make Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
Here are the ingredients you need to make this easy smoked chicken recipe, which can be cooked on a grill, on a smoker, on a smoker-grill, and in the oven:
- Whole chicken – any size chicken will work for this recipe. Smaller chickens (5 lbs or less) will cook faster, while larger ones will require more cooking time. When you’re shopping for whole chicken and wondering what all of the terms (like fresh, natural, free-range, and more) on the labels mean and how to choose high-quality poultry? Check out this post all about how to read and understand poultry labels.
- Avocado oil or olive oil – both oils are great options for this spatchcocked chicken recipe, so use what you have on hand
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Smoked paprika – smoked paprika gives the rub just a bit of smoky flavor without the heat or spiciness. If you don’t have smoked paprika, regular paprika or sweet paprika may also be used
- Dried thyme
- Ground cumin
- Fine salt and black pepper – use kosher salt, sea salt, or fine salt (whatever you have on hand will do)
Tools You Need to Spatchcock a chicken
These are the simple kitchen tools you need to make perfect chicken every time:
- Kitchen shears or scissors – no Chef’s knife needed, just a nice sturdy pair of kitchen scissors, which are sometimes referred to as poultry shears
- Cutting board
- Paper towels
- Rimmed baking sheet or large platter
- Instant-read thermometer
- Grill, Smoker or Oven – see the recipe card below for instructions on how to prepare the chicken on the grill, on a smoker, on a smoker-grill (such as a Traeger) or in the oven
We recommend reading through this blog post for our step-by-step instructions and photo tutorial showing you exactly how to make a smoked butterflied chicken. For the printable directions, ingredient amounts, and complete nutrition analysis that lists calories, protein, carbohydrates, sodium, and more per serving, scroll down to the recipe card below.
How to Spatchcock A Chicken: Step-by-Step Photos
OK, let’s get started. Follow these directions to learn how to spatchcock a chicken.
1. Preheat the grill, smoker, or oven: Start by preheating the grill or smoker to 375°F (aka medium-high heat). Our go-to grill is the Traeger Pro 780 wood-fired pellet grill because it’s easy to use, versatile (you can grill, smoke, and even bake on it), and the flavor you get from cooking with wood is incomparable in our opinion. Of course, you can also use a charcoal or gas grill. The key is to use indirect heat so if you’re using charcoal, get those coals good and hot then move them to one side of the grill so that you’re not cooking over a flame. For a gas grill, light the burners on both sides of the chicken (leaving the center burner off) to create indirect heat.
2. Prepare the dry rub: While the grill or oven is preheating, prepare the dry rub by combining the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, kosher salt, cumin, and pepper. Set the rub aside for now.
If your chicken came with a bag of giblets, remove those and either discard or reserve them for another use. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
3. Remove the backbone: Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears to cut along one side of the backbone, starting at the tail and cutting all in a straight line all the way to the neck. It is easier to cut through the chicken when you hold the chicken tail, or the “Pope’s nose”.
Rotate the chicken 180 degrees and make another cut along the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and discard it (or reserve it for another use like making soup or bone broth).
Now for the “Spatchcocking” step
4. Flatten the chicken: Using your hands, separate the two sides of the back and press down firmly with your palms to flatten the chicken as much as possible (see photo below). You should hear a little ‘pop’ which indicates that you’ve broken the ribs free from the breast bone, which allows the chicken to lay more flat.
5. Tuck the wings: With the breast side facing up, tuck the wing tips up and over themselves to secure them. Drizzle the chicken with oil then use your hands to rub the oil into the chicken skin.
6. Season the spatchcocked chicken: Now grab the dry rub you made (or use your favorite pre-made rub). Use a tablespoon to sprinkle and season the dry rub all over the chicken, pressing and patting the rub into the chicken.
7. Cook the chicken (grill or smoker directions): Place the chicken breast side up on the preheated grill grate over indirect heat. Cook the chicken until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast internal temperature reaches 165°F (an estimate of 45-50 minutes). Remove chicken to a clean platter or baking sheet. Tent the cooked chicken loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions: Spatchcock Chicken
Here are some common questions we get when someone asks us how to spatchcock a chicken:
- Can I use a different spice rub? You sure can! While we think this homemade rub is pretty amazing we know that sometimes you need a shortcut to get dinner on the table faster. A store-bought rub can help you do just that and with so many great ones to choose from, using a commercial rub is a great way to change things up a bit. Especially if this smoked spatchcock chicken makes its way into your regular meal rotation as it has in our homes.
- Do I need to have a Traeger to make a grilled spatchcock chicken? While a wood pellet grill like a Traeger does a spectacular job of infusing the chicken with the most intoxicatingly delicious smoky flavor, it’s not necessary. You can make a grilled spatch-cock chicken on a charcoal or gas grill using indirect heat. We use smoked paprika in the rub to give the chicken a little extra smoky flavor but you can use the smokiness by replacing the salt with smoked sea salt or by using a smoker box filled with hardwood chips specially designed for use with a gas grill.
- Can I make a spatchcock chicken without a grill? If you don’t have a grill you can still make a spatchcock chicken using your oven. Prepare the chicken as directed and place it on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.
- Can I prep this recipe ahead? Yes! Make the spice rub and store it in the pantry for up to 1 month. Rub the spatchcocked chicken with oil, sprinkle with the rub then cover, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before cooking.
- How should I store leftovers of cooked spatchcock chicken? When the leftover chicken has cooled, pull the chicken meat off the bones and shred or chop it. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Or you can freeze the cooled, shredded chicken in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to 3 months.
- What should I serve with this spatchcock chicken recipe? We think this summer vegetables salad, lemon asparagus with goat cheese sauce, baked carrots fries, this baked acorn squash with Parmesan and herbs or these crispy parmesan crusted potatoes, and these homemade cornbread muffins with honey butter are all wonderful side dishes to make while the spatchcock chicken roasts.
- 4 – 4 ½ pound whole chicken
- 1 ½ teaspoon avocado oil or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat grill to 375°F.
- Prepare the rub by combining the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, salt, cumin, and pepper. Set aside.
- Remove the bag of giblets from the chicken (if included) and discard or reserve for another use. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
- Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears or scissors, cut along one side of the backbone from tail to neck. Rotate the chicken 180 degrees and make another cut along the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and discard (or reserve for another use like soup or bone broth).
- Using your hands, separate the two sides of the back and press down firmly with your palms to flatten. With the breast side facing up, tuck the wing tips up and over themselves to secure them.
- Rub the skin with the oil then season the entire chicken with the rub.
- Place the chicken breast side up on the grill grate over indirect heat. Cook for 45-50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F. Remove chicken to a clean platter or baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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Oven directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare chicken as directed. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 40-45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F. Remove baking sheet from oven. Tent chicken loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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