Grilling should be simple and fast. Cooking a whole chicken doesn't exactly fit those two categories. But with a little bit of knife work, you can have a super-crispy-skinned chicken that cooks through quickly.
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When senior food editor Chris Morocco was testing Allison Carroll's butterflied grilled chicken with herbs and cracked olives recipe for our July issue, he loved how easy it was to move the chicken around and cook it evenly — all because it was butterflied, a process also known as spatchcocking, which we're fans of for Thanksgiving turkey, as well.
"Butterflying turns a three-dimensional, rolly, odd-shaped object into 2-D," he says. "You need to rotate and turn it a lot more if you leave it whole — this way it is clearly just two sides." And it takes about 35-45 minutes to cook it through, so you won’t need to refresh your coals midway through. The best part about butterflying is that "the skin gets direct access to heat, so it will stay crispy even loooong after it's cooked," Morocco raves. "That crispy skin is dynamite."
All you really need is a good, sharp pair of kitchen shears to get the job done.
Below, Morocco walks us through how to butterfly a chicken, which you can use for grilling or pan-searing (preferably under a brick or heavy skillet).
1. Grab Your Kitchen Shears
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Put your whole chicken on a cutting board, legs facing you, and grab some kitchen shears. If you don't have shears, you can use a serrated knife, which Morocco likes because it is thin and can fit inside the small cavity. "This is no place to use an expensive sharp knife," he notes.
2. Cut Out the Backbone
Start with the tail area and cut up on either side of the spine, all the way up to either side of the neck. (It sounds scarier than it is.) Then cut out and fully remove the backbone so the chicken starts to lie flat.
3. Flatten the Chicken
Once you've taken out the backbone, open it up with the skin side up and flatten it as much as possible. Using your palms, press down firmly on the top of the breasts to flatten it even more — you will hear a crack, which means you're doing it right.
4. Fold Wing Tips Back
Tuck the tips of the wings behind the breasts so they don't burn on the grill.
You're done and ready to cook. For the crispiest possible skin, Morocco recommends a dry-brine or rub with a flavored oil, and then sauce after it's cooked.