Spatchcocking or butterflying chicken is a technique for cutting and preparing a whole chicken for smoking or grilling by laying the entire bird on the rack or grill and applying the chosen rub evenly on the meat.
The spatchcocking of the chicken involves removing the backbone of the bird, allowing for laying the chicken out flat. This technique that is believed to have originated in Ireland back in the 18th century allows for easier and faster cooking and even seasoning of all parts of the whole chicken, including the bird’s cavity.
This poultry prep technique is easy to learn and can be used for preparing other birds for cooking, including turkey, quail, goose, pheasant, and others.
You can also ask your butcher to butterfly your bird if you are not familiar with the technique.
Since the skin of smoked chicken can turn out to be rubbery when not cooked properly, you should set the temperature of the smoker too high heat. This will ensure that the skin becomes crispy and delicious.
The smoked spatchcock chicken can be rubbed with a suitable poultry rub and then smoked and served with a BBQ mop sauce of your choice.
Best of all, it takes only 20-30 minutes to prep and about an hour to cook.
Spatchcocking the chicken – a step-by-step guide
Butterflying or spatchcocking the chicken may sound complicated, but the truth is that it is relatively easy to learn and will help cook the bird faster and season it better.
Here is how to spatchcock the chicken:
- Place the chicken on a chopping board with the breast side down. You may want to use a butcher block with crevices that will help capture the juices from the chicken while you prep it.
- Use suitable poultry shears or a sharp boning knife to cut the meat from the neck to the tail along each side of the backbone.
- When you are cutting through the ribs of the bird, you will need to apply some force, but with a suitable knife or shears, you should be able to cut through the thin bones smoothly and easily.
- Proceed to trim off any excess skin or fat from the ends of the legs of the bird.
- Snip the ends of the wings off as well.
- You can use the removed backbone and wingtips to prepare chicken stock or simply discard them.
- Flip the bird over on the cutting board and press it firmly down so that it spreads out flat on the block. As you do so, you will hear a crack.
- Make sure that you press the chicken using gloves or doing it carefully as the small cut bones of the ribs can be quite sharp and can cause painful cuts.
Prepping the smoked spatchcock chicken
It is a good idea to spatchcock and to prep the bird several hours before the smoking. This will allow for time for the rub to be absorbed properly and to dry the skin as much as possible for delicious and crispy results.
Cooks and health experts advise against washing the poultry, as washing it cannot remove the potentially harmful bacteria from the chicken.
Instead, dry the skin of the bird using clean paper towels.
Lay the spatchcocked bird flat on a dish or tray, and sprinkle on kosher salt evenly on both sides. You should aim for sprinkling with ½ teaspoon of salt per pound of the weight of the bird.
Let the bird sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.
You can then proceed to add the rub to the spatchcock chicken.
You can use a preferred barbecue rub that is not too spicy or sweet, such as Plowboys BBQ Bovine Bold Rub.
To apply the rub evenly, you can use your hands or a good quality rub shaker.
Flip the bird over and continue applying the rub.
Preparing the smoker
The setup of the smoker depends on the type of smoker you have. For the purposes of this recipe, let’s take the popular Weber Smokey Mountain cooker as an example. But the instructions should work for any other kind of charcoal smoker.
The goal is to set the smoker to a temperature of 300 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for properly smoking the spatchcocked chicken.
Here is how to prep the smoker:
- Use a full chimney starter to light up the charcoal briquettes and wait until they ash over.
- Pour them into the smoker.
- Pour ½ of a chimney-full with unlit briquettes on top of the lit ones.
- When they all have begun to ash over, add several chunks of your preferred smoke wood (apple is recommended for poultry and chicken).
- When the temperature has reached the desired level, place the spatchcocked chicken on the rack with the breast facing up.
- Use a dual probe meat thermometer to monitor the temperature inside the cooker and the internal temperature of the meat without having to open the cooker and without having to babysit the cooking process.
- Leave the water bowl without water, which will allow the smoker to reach a high temperature.
- When the temperature reaches up to 380 degrees Fahrenheit, you can open the air vents in order to lower it and set it to about 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The smoking of the spatchcock chicken at such a temperature should take about an hour or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches almost 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Pulling out and serving the smoked spatchcock chicken
When the temperature of the meat reaches just less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you can pull it off and proceed to apply the preferred barbecue sauce.
You can pick any sweet Memphis-style BBQ sauce or a sauce that you prefer to use with chicken.
Apply the sauce by pouring it, or use a mop for easier and even application.
Place the chicken back into the smoker for another 10 minutes. This will ensure that the skin and added sauce will develop a beautiful and mouthwatering glaze and crispiness.
Take the chicken out and let it rest for a while.
You can then slice it or pull it, depending on your preferences. You can slice off the wings with some meat and the drumsticks and thighs of the bird. Make sure you carefully slice the breast into even pieces.
You can serve the smoked spatchcock chicken with any sides of your choice, including coleslaw, smoked mac, and cheese, or others.
When prepared and cooked properly, the skin of the smoked spatchcock chicken should be crispy and delicious, and the meat should be light pink and juicy. Don’t worry about the light pink color of the chicken, as it comes from smoking and not from undercooking it. But of course, make sure that you cook the bird to the recommended safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A whole chicken
- Smokey BBQ sauce of your choice – 3-4 tablespoons
- Poultry rub of your choice – 3-4 tablespoons
- Kosher salt – ½ teaspoon per pound
Instructions for making smoked spatchcock chicken
- Spatchcock the chicken using poultry shears or a boning knife on a cutting board. Cut it along each side of the backbone, starting from the neck and moving to the legs.
- Trim and remove the wing tips and any excess skin or fat from the ends of the legs.
- Flip the bird over and press it with your palms (using gloves) until it is flat and you hear a cracking sound.
- Discard of the backbone and trimmings.
- Dry the bird using paper towels.
- Sprinkle it with the kosher salt and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours without covering it.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge and apply the rub of your choice evenly on both sides.
- Set the smoker to a temperature of 300-350 degrees, and add 2-3 chunks of apple or other smoke wood.
- Place the bird with the breast up on the cooking rack.
- Smoke for about an hour and until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pull it out and use a mop or brush to apply the BBQ sauce of your choice.
- Place it back inside the smoker and let it finish off for another 10 minutes.
- The internal temperature of the breast should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit for the chicken to be safe to serve.
- Slice the chicken and serve it in accordance with your preferences.