Spatchcocking Is The Secret To The Juiciest Barbecue Chicken

Beef and pork may be the big two barbecue meats, but sometimes nothing hits the spot like a smoky barbecued chicken. Quicker and less fussy than ribs or brisket, barbecue chicken still gives you that juicy, sweet, and tangy flavor you expect from your grill, which makes it a great summertime meal. But what happens when you want to barbecue a whole bird? Roasting a whole chicken in the more controlled environment of the oven is already challenging, so adding in the volatile heat of an outdoor grill only makes things more difficult. And getting that temperature right is important, because messing it up gives you a tough, dry chicken. That's why, when it's time to barbecue a whole chicken, it's time to spatchcock.

Spatchcocking is also referred to as butterflying, and it's a method of preparation for whole chickens that helps them cook both more evenly and more quickly. Spatchcocking involves removing the spine of the chicken, so the whole bird stays together but is able to lie flat during a grill or roast. Spreading out the chicken this way means certain parts like the thighs get more exposed to the heat than they normally would, ensuring they cook faster. It also offers juicier results because a more even heat means the whole chicken finishes at the same time, instead of some parts overcooking and drying out before the others finish. For barbecue, where temperatures can vary wildly by location on the grill, it's ideal.

Spatchcocking barbecue chicken means more evenly cooked meat

Using the spatchcocking technique to get your chicken done faster may seem antithetical to barbecue, which is built around low-and-slow, but chicken meat doesn't have the same properties as beef and pork. The reason you normally want to go slow when barbecuing is that you're bringing the meat up to the point where connective tissues start melting, which is what makes ribs or pork shoulder so juicy. But chicken doesn't have that much fat or connective tissue in the meat itself, so the longer you cook it, the drier it gets. By helping the chicken cook in a little over half an hour, spatchcocking keeps it moist and tender.

To spatchcock a chicken you'll want tough scissors, ideally kitchen shears, but if you don't have those then a good serrated knife can work. Flip your chicken over so it's breast side down, then cut on either side of the spine from the back to the front of the chicken. It takes some effort, but the bones here are small enough that they should cut pretty easily. Once you've repeated on the other side and removed the spine, flip the bird over and press down on the breast to flatten it. You should hear the breastbone crack as you do this, which will let you lay the chicken flat, with the most meaty parts facing up. Then it's ready for a dry rub and a relatively short stint on the grill.