Meat Tips: Butterflying a Chicken
Throughout the years of recipes, I often call for a butterflied chicken, to which there's always at least one comment asking how to do that exactly. So I thought it was time to resurrect the Meat Tips and answer this very important question. Whether you call it spatchcocked or butterflied—both refer the same thing—this method of preparing a chicken only takes a few minutes has so many advantages that every home cook should know how to do it.
The whole thing starts out with a whole chicken, which is an imperfect object to cook—chunks of meat at all different areas around the body make even cooking and browning difficult. So unless I'm using the rotisserie or have some real presentational need to keep the bird whole, I'm in the practice of always butterflying, which results in a quicker and more even cook.
You only need two common kitchen tools to butterfly a bird—a knife and kitchen shears. The shears do most of the work here by being the device of choice to remove the backbone, which is the first step in the process.
Chicken bones are easy to cut through, so it only takes minimal effort to cut through either side of the backbone to remove it completely. When you're done, you'll be left with a bird that looks like this. (You can freeze that backbone for later purposes, like making stock.)
With the spine removed, next the bird is pried open, which will crack any bones that were holding it in its more natural state. From here, you could be done, but the chicken doesn't lay completely flat without a couple extra, quick steps.
To get it to lay flatter, the keel bone needs to be removed—this is the large, thick bone that sits between the two breasts. To expose the bone, make a small cut at the base of the chicken between the breasts until you hit the keel.
Now you can either cut your way around the bone to remove, or use my preferred method of just grabbing the keel with your fingers and yanking it out. Sometimes the bone will come clean out, other times it may break in half, but as long as a large enough portion has been removed, the chicken will be good to lay flat.
Flip the bird over, and admire what a difference a couple minutes of work made. The chicken is now a flat piece of meat, ready for even cooking over the coals or in the smoker. I recommend trying it out in a Huli Huli or Mexican roadside style, either are excellent, or make up your own marinade or sauce, no matter what, it's bound to be delicious.
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Chris That chicken is so spineless.
Bill Instead of dissecting out the keelbone, I take my small utility chef's knife, which I use for almost everything, Hammer it into the center of the keelbone with the palm of my hand, pry down through the bone and cartiledge, like splitting a squash, reverse the bird, and seperate the shoulders and wishbone in the same manner. Takes about 20 seconds and leaves the bone in for more flavor. Think I saw Jacques Pepin do this on one of his shows. It's quick and effective. Just did this exact thing 15 minutes ago.