If you follow my easy steps for how to spatchcock a chicken, you will achieve consistently succulent and flavourful chicken with every roast. Not only does spatchcocking reduce cooking time by 25%, but opening up a chicken so that it lays flat on the baking tray ensures that the entire chicken is perfectly cooked all the way through.
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What is a spatchcock chicken?
A spatchcock chicken is simply a chicken that has been opened out and flattened by the removal of the backbone. This means the chicken can lay flat on the baking sheet and cook in a shorter time than a whole bird.
There are so many advantages to cooking a chicken in this way:
- Faster cooking time – spatchcocking a chicken results in an average time saving of 25% compared to cooking a whole chicken.
- Crispy skin – flattening out the chicken exposes more of the skin to the heat resulting in crispy and evenly browned skin.
- Even cooking – spatchcocking ensures that the chicken cooks evenly since the bird is flattened out and there are no thick or thin parts that could potentially under or over-cook.
- More flavour – because you can easily rub the marinade on both the inside and outside of a spatchcocked chicken, you end up with juicier and more flavourful flesh.
- Easy carving – a spatchcocked chicken is flattened out and because there are no awkward angles to deal with, carving the chicken is a breeze.
In South Africa, a spatchcocked chicken is called a ‘flattie’ and is sold in supermarkets everywhere, normally in a spicy peri peri or lemon and herb marinade, and ready to pop on the barbeque (or braai as they call it).
I can’t wait for summer to make its brief appearance in the northern hemisphere so I can get a flattie on the BBQ. In the meantime, I’m doing the best I can with my oven!
Let me show you how easy it is to spatchcock a chicken.
What you will need
To remove the backbone from the chicken you will need a pair of kitchen shears. If you don’t have kitchen shears, you can make do with a heavy-duty pair of sharp scissors. They do the job just as well.
You will also need something to cook the chicken in. You can use a standard roasting tray large enough to hold the flattened chicken, or if you are going to be putting the chicken on the barbeque you will need a barbeque grilling basket. Amazon shows this one as being suitable for fish, but it will easily hold a flattened chicken.
Depending on the size, one spatchcock chicken will feed between 4 and 6 people. I bought an extra small one (just over 1 kg or 2 pounds) and it fed hubby and me for 2 meals. Chicken goes a long way 🙂 .
**You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making a spatchcock chicken with a honey, garlic and chilli marinade on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
For my recipe, I used my favourite honey, garlic and chilli marinade. I’ve given a few more marinade ideas further down this post.
Chicken – you will need a whole chicken. The weight of the chicken will depend on the number of people you are feeding. I used a 1.1 kg (slightly less than 2.5 pounds) chicken for 2 people and we got 2 meals out of it. Adjust the weight accordingly according to the number of people you are serving and their appetite.
The marinade is made by combining the ingredients in a small bowl.
This is sufficient for a small chicken, approximately the size I made. If you are cooking a very large chicken, then you should adjust the ingredients given in the recipe card accordingly.
- Garlic paste – you can use freshly minced garlic if you prefer.
- Ginger paste – once again, if you have fresh ginger you can use this – you will need approximately one thumb-sized piece, peeled and minced.
- Dried chilli flakes – to your own taste – I used half a teaspoon.
- Dark soy sauce
- Honey – cuts through the heat of the chilli and adds a delicious sweetness to the marinade.
- Salt – to your own taste – I find that half a teaspoon is sufficient
- Sunflower oil – adding sunflower oil to the marinade means you don’t have to add extra oil when you put the chicken in the oven.
What to do
Spatchcock the chicken
Place the chicken breast-side down on a chopping board. Using kitchen shears (or heavy-duty scissors) cut through the chicken along one side of the backbone. Keep the scissors as close to the backbone as possible and cut through the ribs that are attached to the backbone.
Cut along the other side of the backbone to remove it. You can discard the backbone or use it to make chicken stock.
Place the chicken breast-side up on a firm surface and press down firmly with the heel of your hand between the chicken breasts to break the breastbone. You should feel it snap as it breaks. I also like to snip off the wing tips, but you can leave them on if you prefer.
For those of you with a less squeamish disposition, this is what the underside of the chicken should look like.
Bake the chicken
I’ve made this chicken in two ways:
- The first one is with my special garlic, honey and chilli marinade
- The second one is with a bottle of Nandos peri peri marinade (I used medium strength), but if you’re not as much of a wimp as I am, you could use hot.
Honey, garlic and chilli
Combine all the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and rub them all over the chicken, taking care to cover the chicken completely.
Place the chicken, breast-side up, in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinade in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
During this time, spoon the marinade over the chicken occasionally.
Nandos peri peri
If you prefer to use a bottle of peri-peri sauce (I used a bottle of Nandos medium peri peri) you can rub that over the chicken instead. I’m showing you this picture so you can see how to lay the chicken on a rack in the roasting tin instead of letting it sit in the marinade.
Either way gives you deliciously juicy chicken!
Bake the chicken
Place the chicken into a preheated oven (190C/380F) for 35 to 45 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken.
The chicken should be browned and golden. You may get a few overbrowned patches on the chicken skin from the honey. If the skin browns too much or too quickly lay a sheet of tin foil loosely over the chicken.
And the results of the chicken coated with Nandos peri peri sauce.
Once again the marinade tends to ‘catch’ and brown so you can cover it with tinfoil towards the end of the cooking process.
If you would like to BBQ the chicken outside, coat it in your favourite marinade and then enclose the chicken in a foldable barbeque grill and place it over the coals for 35 to 45 minutes, turning frequently until the skin is brown and crispy and the juices run clear when you pierce the chicken with a skewer.
In all cases, the internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken should register 165F/75C on a digital thermometer.
How to carve a spatchcocked chicken
Carving a spatchcocked chicken is easy.
Lay the chicken flat on a board and cut it in half along the breastbone.
If you want to serve quarter chickens (similar to what you would get at Nandos) cut each piece in half again, this time between the thigh and the breast. Each side will give you 2 pieces of chicken – one piece of thigh and drumstick, and another piece of breast and wing.
To make smaller pieces, simply divide each piece in half again. Cut through the joint between the thigh and the drumstick, and then remove the wing from the breast. You could also slice the breast into smaller pieces if you prefer.
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Other marinade ideas
I’m sure you have your own favourite chicken marinade, but you may like to try one of these.
To make any of these marinades, combine the ingredients in a small bowl then rub the marinade onto the chicken and leave the chicken in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking.
Lemon and herb
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves finely minced garlic
- Half teaspoon dried basil
- Half teaspoon dried rosemary or thyme
- Half teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Half teaspoon black pepper
- Half cup /120 ml passata
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- Quarter cup / 50 grams brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons fruit chutney
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Half cup / 120 ml unflavoured Greek yoghurt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons garam marsala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes OR cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- Half teaspoon ginger paste
- Half teaspoon salt
Spatchcock chicken tips and FAQ
Yes, you can freeze a spatchcocked chicken once you have rubbed it with the marinade. Place the chicken in a large freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
Allow the chicken to defrost in the refrigerator before cooking.
In summer I like to prepare three or four spatchcocks in different marinades and freeze them so I always have one to hand when I am ready for a barbeque.
When you butterfly a chicken you are simply cutting partway through the breasts so that they can be opened and flattened out. When you spatchcock a chicken you are removing the backbone so that the entire chicken can be flattened.
If you are planning on cooking the chicken the next day, you can leave the marinated spatchcocked chicken in a covered container overnight (or for 24 hours). Personally, I wouldn’t leave it longer than that.
If you are going to be storing the uncooked chicken in the refrigerator, store it on the lowest shelf so there is no danger of any chicken juices dripping onto other food.
Save for later
If you would like to make this spatchcock chicken, why not save the recipe to one of your Pinterest boards so you can find it easily? Just click on the image below.
Alternatively, you can save the recipe by clicking on the floating heart icon on the right-hand side of the screen.
If you enjoyed this recipe, perhaps you might like to try some of these other easy chicken recipes:
- Barbeque chicken South African style – tender chicken drumsticks precooked in a tangy marinade and barbequed over hot coals.
- Crispy chicken wings with a barbeque sauce – crispy chicken wings, oven-baked for extra crunch, and smothered in a delicious barbeque sauce.
- Oven-baked peri peri chicken – succulent chicken thighs, oven-baked in a homemade peri peri sauce.
How to spatchcock a chicken
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- 1 medium chicken 1½ kg / 3½ pounds
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste
- ½ teaspoon ginger paste
- ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes or to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
To spatchcock the chicken
- Place the chicken breast-side down on a chopping board. Using kitchen shears (or heavy-duty scissors) cut through the chicken along one side of the backbone. Keep the scissors as close to the backbone as possible and cut through the ribs that are attached to the backbone.1 medium chicken
- Cut along the other side of the backbone to remove it. You can discard the backbone or use it to make chicken stock.
- Place the chicken breast-side up on a firm surface and press down firmly with the heel of your hand between the chicken breasts to break the breastbone. You should feel it snap as it breaks. I also like to snip off the wing tips, but you can leave them on if you prefer.
Honey, garlic, chilli marinade
- Combine all the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and rub them all over the chicken, taking care to cover the chicken completely.1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 1 teaspoon garlic paste, ½ teaspoon ginger paste, ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes, 1 teaspoon salt
- Place the chicken, breast-side up, in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinade in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.During this time, spoon the marinade over the chicken occasionally.
Bake the chicken
- Preheat the oven to 190°C / 380°F
- Remove the plastic wrap from the chicken and place the chicken in the preheated oven.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken.
- The chicken will be cooked when the juices run clear if you pierce the thickest piece of chicken with a skewer.
- If you have a digital probe thermometer, this should register 70C / 165°F.
- Remove the chicken from the oven, cover loosely with a tent of tinfoil and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
- Serve the chicken with salads and crusty bread, or with vegetables and roast potatoes.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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