Food & Drink

Flatten chicken for even cooking

Perfectly grilled chicken is one of life’s great pleasures. Cooked over gas or charcoal, it has crisp, burnished skin, moist meat and a faintly smoky flavor. That’s easier said than done, though, because white and dark meat do not cook at the same rate, so you can easily be left with dry, overcooked breast meat.

One of the best ways to solve this problem is to “spatchcock” the chicken. Basically, that means cutting out the backbone and flattening the bird. Barbecue master Steven Raichlen’s lastest book, “Planet Barbecue” (Workman, $22.95), has step-by-step instructional photos for the technique.

Eliminating the hollow body cavity and creating a compact “package” minimizes the disparity in cooking times. The flattened bird cooks quickly and evenly — much faster than a whole chicken and even faster than some big, bone-in chicken breasts. Even better, all of the chicken and its skin are exposed to the grill.

Raichlen cooks his spatchcocked chicken using the direct-heat method, meaning he puts it directly over the fire rather than to the side of it. The chicken is done in about 40 minutes instead of the usual 1 hour.

And spatchcocking is not just for grilling. I use the technique to prep my Thanksgiving turkey before placing it in the oven to roast.


You’ll need a brick wrapped in aluminum foil or a metal grill press for this recipe. Serve with roasted potatoes and wilted spinach. The delicate, smoky flavors imparted to the chicken are a perfect foil for a crisp, citrusy, 2009 Ehler’s Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($28).

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

1/2 tablespoon stemmed and coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/2 tablespoon stemmed and coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lemon, cut in wedges, for serving

Place garlic, rosemary, sage and pepper in a food processor, and pulse to finely chop. Transfer rub to a small bowl, stir in salt and cover tightly.

Remove excess fat from the chicken and rinse it inside and out under cold running water. Drain it and blot dry inside and out with paper towels.

To spatchcock the chicken, place it, breast side down, on a work surface. Starting at the thigh end, cut along one side of backbone with kitchen shears. Turn the chicken around and cut along the other side of the backbone. (Discard bone or save it for stock.)

Flip chicken over and open it like a book. Press firmly on the breastbone to flatten. Run the tip of a paring knife along the breastbone and cartilage below the breastbone, then run your thumbs along both sides of the breastbone and cartilage and pull them out.

Cut small slits in the skin of the bird behind the legs and tuck the drumsticks into them in order to hold them in place.

Prepare a medium fire in the grill or heat a gas grill to medium.

Generously season the chicken all over with the rub. Place it, skin-side down, on the grill grate. Place a foil-covered brick or grill press on top of the bird. Grill, turning once, until chicken is crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 20 minutes per side. Use an instant-read thermometer to check for internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Place the grilled chicken on a platter and drizzle it with olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Planet Barbecue” by Steven Raichlen