Spatchcock Grilled Chicken

A naughty-sounding name is about to become your favorite grilling technique.

September 2010

When we’re looking for barbecue advice, we turn to Pete Marczyk, one of the gurus behind Uptown’s Marczyk Fine Foods market. He’s an unabashed fan of the backyard barbecue, and from pork ribs to chicken, he’s never steered us wrong. From his grill to yours, how to cook chicken perfectly, every single time.

1. Say what?
“Spatch the Cock” is thought to have come from “dispatch the cock,” which means to butterfly the chicken. First references to the technique appeared in Irish cookbooks in the 1700s. Poultry prepared this way cooks faster, thus keeping the breast meat tender and moist.

2. Options, options
“This is as much a method as a recipe,” Marczyk says. “Once you have mastered the relatively simple task of boning the chicken, the variations are endless." The flavorful dish can be served hot or cold with a brightly flavored salad for a refreshing meal. “My favorite [pairings] are a warm potato salad, fresh greens with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and a chilled rosé.”

You will need:

  • one whole chicken,
  • a grilling basket (optional, but good to have),
  • a grill (Marczyk prefers charcoal-fired),
  • ¼ cup fresh tarragon
  • (roughly chopped),
  • ⅓ cup Dijon nongrainy mustard,
  • 1 tablespoon honey,
  • 1 teaspoon water,
  • and salt and pepper.

4. Spatch the Cock

  1. Cut the backbone out of the chicken by cutting down on both sides of the spine. Lay the chicken out on its breast and splay it open.

  2. Make a scoring cut between the breasts along the keel bone and cut through about the last half-inch at the front of the bird. Run your finger along the keel between the cartilage and the meat, and free the bone.

  3. Using “filleting” technique, carefully remove all rib bones and the wishbone. Make a cut along the thigh bone, near the center of the bird. Cut around the bone, working toward the shin until bone is free from meat but attached at the shin. Finally, cut the thigh bone away from the shin bone and the rest of the bird.

  4. With a little practice, this should take five to seven minutes. (Or you can ask your neighborhood butcher to do it for you.)

5. Marinate
Once the chicken is spatched, season generously with salt and pepper. Mix ⅛ cup of the fresh tarragon, the mustard, honey, and water together and sparingly coat the bird on the skin-side, and more generously coat the bird on the flesh side. Let the chicken rest unrefrigerated for 30 minutes, or in the fridge for up to six hours. Slip the remaining fresh tarragon between the skin and breast meat for additional flavor.

6. Prepare the Grill
While the chicken is marinating, prepare the grill. Marczyk uses mesquite charcoal and a two-piece grilling basket, along with a few bricks to adjust height over the flames. You can also cook the chicken directly on the grill, but it requires more attention and care to keep it from burning. If using a basket, arrange chicken neatly inside, paying attention to symmetry for even cooking. Test your fire with an open hand, two to three inches above the grill. If you have to pull away in less than three seconds, it’s too hot. You can use bricks to raise your basket a little higher to avoid scorching. If using a gas grill, adjust heat accordingly.

7. Cook the Chicken
Turn frequently to avoid flare-ups and to promote evenness. If the skin is burning, raise the basket higher by using more bricks (Marczyk uses as many as three). Cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until done. Allow the chicken to rest at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cut off the drumsticks and wings, and cut the whole bird into single pieces. Makes about four servings.