Spatchcock Chix

My first grill was a little hibachi. I thought I was smart with my charcoal briquettes, starter fluid and masses of smoke. It took so long to grill chicken outdoors that I usually half cooked it in the oven and used the coals for finishing flavor.

Everything’s different now with my kettle cooker. I’ve abandoned briquettes for lumps of hardwood charcoal and chased away smelly petroleum-based lighter fluid with a chimney starter and one sheet of newspaper. I cook a whole chicken, plus everything else for dinner, on my kettle grill in half an hour. It’s a great way to keep heat out of the house in summer.

Spatchcock is not only a fun word that hardly anyone knows anymore, but it explains one of the most efficient ways to grill a whole chicken. A shortened form for “dispatch the cock,” it refers to a split-open, flattened chicken ready to grill. Back in the 18th century the cock was no doubt turned on a spit over a hearth fire, and it works even better on the back patio barbecue.

You’ll find spatchcocking a simple operation that depends on a sharp chef’s knife and a sturdy wooden cutting board. You can also use a poultry shears if you have one, but the knife does the task faster.

Spatchcock Grilled Chicken

1 whole frying chicken, 3-4 pounds

salt to taste (suggest 1 ½-2 teaspoons)

Freshly ground pepper, ground allspice, paprika

Fresh sage, thyme or tarragon, optional

Stand the chicken upside down with the legs pointing up and cut down on either side of the backbone. Remove the bone (wrap and add to your stock stash in the freezer). Flatten the chicken, pushing down on the breastbone. To insure that the chicken remains flat, bare each knee pushing it out from under the skin and cut through the knee tendon without cutting through the joint. Replace the skin cover. This will prevent the legs from popping up as they roast. Tuck the wing tips under the shoulders and sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt. For added flavor, dust the chicken with freshly ground pepper, a bit of allspice and paprika. If possible allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for half an hour before cooking. To fancy things up, tuck a few sage leaves or thyme springs under the breast and thigh skin along with some slivered fresh garlic.

Using a kettle grill, ready a charcoal fire, heating the grate and waiting for the temperature under the dome to reach 400º. If your kettle does not have a thermometer, test the heat by holding your hand over the coals, making sure it feels oven-like hot.

Place the chicken bone side down on the grill, cover and wait 20 minutes. (Use this time to scrub your cutting board well with soap and hot water.) If the skin has not begun to brown, turn the chicken over using tongs and grabbing one of the leg bones with a mitted hand. Replace cover and grill ten minutes more. Turn skin side up again and test with an instant-read thermometer, which should register 160º in the thigh.  Remove chicken to a wooden cutting board and allow it to rest 10 minutes before cutting.

Note; To cook an entire meal along with the chicken, add a large onion cut in ½ inch slices, a few small red potatoes parboiled 3–5 minutes and broccoli spears or halved zucchini. After the vegetables are cooked, sprinkle them with salt and drizzle with olive oil.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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