All too often, I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get dinner on the table. I know that some of you can’t relate—especially those of you who subscribe to a meal planning service (like my favorite one, Real Plans—a fantastic, customizable, all-in-one meal planning tool). You’re proactive. You have your crap together. You’re cool as a cucumber.
Me? Not so much. My inherent contrariness and (ironically) my recipe testing duties get in the way of my ability to effectively plan my meals in advance. I’m also a procrastinator, which doesn’t help. When the sun goes down, I’m usually still catching up on the latest celebrity gossip on TMZ or lost in a pile of cookbooks. Sometimes, I don’t snap out of it until my kids prod me (“MOM! WHAT ARE WE EATING TONIGHT?!?”)—at which point I do what comes naturally: roast a chicken.
One of my favorite weeknight dinner hacks (literally) is to have a spatchcocked and dry brined chicken ready to go. I know what you’re thinking: SPATCHCOCK? DRY BRINE? WHAT THE %&$*! ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Don’t be intimidated—it’s not as scary as it sounds. Plus, you can keep the prepped bird in the fridge for up to 3 days and roast it on demand. It’s comforting to know that even when I’m pressed for time, I can still get crispy skin and evenly cooked, juicy meat using the foolproof techniques I’m about to share.
Don’t forget: you can successfully spatchcock big birds (e.g., turkeys) as well. If you’re at all nervous about using this method to cook your turkey on Thanksgiving, do a test run this week on a chicken. I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll be hooked, and that it’ll be your favorite way to prepare whole birds from now on. (For those of you advanced spackcockers who are ready to level up, make my Peruvian Roast Chicken + Aji Verde Chili Sauce from our cookbook!)
Ready for the step-by-step instructions? I’ll even point you to my accompanying Periscope videos to show you how to spatchcock away!
- 1 (4-pound) whole chicken
- 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (not all salts are the same!)
- ¼ cup softened butter, ghee, or fat of choice
- 1 tablespoon salt-free herb-blend of choice
- Baking sheet
- Stainless steel wire rack
- Aluminum foil
- Kitchen shears
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Small bowl
- Meat thermometer
Grab you chicken and remove the extra bits hidden in the cavity. I normally reserve the heart, gizzards, and neck for bone broth, and you should, too.
Next, spatchcock the bird. With a sharp pair of kitchen shears (and yes, the Kershaw Taskmasters are my fave), cut out the backbone of the chicken by making parallel cuts along each side of the spine.
If you hit a bone that’s hard to crunch through, swing the bird around and cut from the neck hole side instead. Once you remove the backbone, save it for that bone broth you’re going to make.
Use your shears to snip a shallow incision in the cartilage on the back of the breast bone. Then, use both hands to firmly press down to flatten the chicken.
The splayed-open chicken should now look the facehugger from Aliens.
Flip the bird (tee hee!) skin-side up, and use your fingers to gently separate the skin of the chicken from the breast and thigh meat to create pockets. Make sure you don’t tear any holes or detach the skin from the bird entirely.
Measure out the salt in a ramekin, and sprinkle it on the outside of the chicken…
…and massage it under the skin wherever you can reach.
Season the underside of the bird with the remaining salt.
Tuck the wings behind the breast so the tips won’t burn.
Set a wire rack on top of a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and place the chicken skin-side up on the wire rack. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Pre-salting really does make a difference, but if you’re pressed for time, you can skip to the next part.
When you’re ready to roast the bird, heat the oven to 400°F on convection roast or 425°F in a regular oven, and place the rack in the upper middle position.
Grab your softened fat of choice—I leave my butter out in the morning so it’s ready to go at dinnertime—and mix in your preferred herb or spice blend. There’s really no wrong way to flavor-boost your chicken. (Caveat: I normally choose a salt-free blend because the chicken is already brined.) Some great blends include: Penzey’s Sunny Paris, Garlic Gold Italian Herb Nuggets, Dukkah, and Madras Curry Powder. Be bold and try something new! If it smells great, chances are it’ll make your chicken taste great.
Spoon one-fourth of the herb butter under the skin onto a chicken boob. Repeat on the other side.
Press your fingers on top of the skin to spread the herb butter evenly over the breast.
Divide the remaining herb butter and tuck it under the skin onto the thigh meat. Do your best to massage the butter down to the drumstick. You’ll be able to spot the herbs under the skin, so you’ll know if you were successful or not.
Re-position the chicken on top of the wire rack, making sure the wingtips are still tucked behind the breast, and rearrange the skin to fully cover the meat. Then, pop it in the oven.
Roast the chicken for 45 minutes or until the breast meat reaches 150°F and the thigh meat hits 170°F as measured by an instant read thermometer. Remember: an accurate instant-read meat thermometer is the key to perfectly cooked chicken.
Take the bird out of the oven and rest it for at least 10 minutes before carving.
Wanna see the interactive Periscope videos I shot of all the steps? Here’s Part 1 (spatchcocking & salting), Part 2 (making the herb butter), and Part 3 (carving and serving). Live viewers asked questions while I prepped my chicken, so if you’re still scratching your head about how to spatchcock a bird, go watch the replays. And be sure to follow me on Periscope so you won’t miss my next live cooking demo!
Looking for other ways to cook a whole chicken?
Check out these recipes:
- Dorie Greenspan’s When In Doubt, Chicken-In-The-Pot
- Easiest Roast Chicken Ever
- Julia Child’s Classic Roast Chicken
- Slow Cooker Roast Chicken and Gravy
- Weeknight Roast Chicken
Now go spatchcock, and report back with your results!
Looking for more recipes? Head on over to my Recipe Index! You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPad® app, and in my New York Times bestselling cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel 2013).