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How To: Butterfly a whole chicken

Posted by Jeanne on April 3, 2010

I love a whole roasted or grilled chicken – it’s easy to do, and the results are delicious.  The whole chicken also becomes much more quick-cooking when you butterfly it – take out the backbone so that it lays flat.  That way instead of a round ball of chicken, you can lay it on the grill (or in your roasting pan) so that more of the surface of the chicken is in contact with the heat at once.  Cooks faster, but you still get that whole bird presentation.

Also, I took as many pictures as I could manage – I did most of this one-handed so I could take quite a few photos.  However, there are some steps that require two hands and that’s why there aren’t action photos of some of the cuts, etc.

To begin – this is a 3.5 lb. whole chicken.  It and chickens of similar size will probably be labeled as a fryer – much bigger and they will be labeled as a roaster.

Chicken guts!  These are the things that come in the little bag inside the chicken – from left to right, liver, neck bone, gizzard, and heart.  Save all but the liver for stock. I’m not sure if it is an old-wives’ tale or not, but I’ve always been told that putting liver in your stock will do terrible things to it so I’ve never added the liver.

Alton Brown makes a pate-type spread out of chicken livers, but I don’t love them and usually I only have one liver anyway so I will just toss it.

Top of the chicken – also known as “breast side up.”

Chicken back (baby got back…).  The weird triangular nubbin… thing at the end near the legs is the tail, also called the pope’s nose for some reason.  I feel bad for whichever pope had a nose that looked like that thing…

Anyway, so you want to start with your chicken back side up.  With a pair of heavy-duty scissors or kitchen shears (we don’t have fancy poultry shears – these are just office scissors that we only use in the kitchen), snip along the side of the backbone from tail to tip.

Your chicken will now look like this:

Post-first-cut – I am holding onto the tail.

The spine is here, along where my finger is laying.

Make the same cut along the other side of the spine, from tail to tip.

This is what it will look like once you have both cuts complete.  Poor spineless creature… the spine is on the plate in the background of the photo.

Things to do with a stray chicken spine:

  1. Save for your next batch of stock; or
  2. Wave it around (carefully so as not to cover your kitchen in raw chicken goo) like that scene from the movie “Predator.”  Then use it for chicken stock.

I can think of no other uses for a lone chicken spine.  Option #2 will make your spouse and any other onlookers think you are crazy.

We usually either grill or roast the butterflied chicken – you can flatten it out quite a bit more than is shown here.  I couldn’t do it with just my left hand, but it’s much easier to do when you’re also not trying to keep one hand chicken-free to work the camera.

To keep the tips of the wings from going up in flames in your oven or on your grill, you will want to tuck them in.  In the picture just above, the one on the right is already tucked.

Pull the wing like so…

And tuck it under the breast.  This will keep the wing tips close to the rest of the bird and not flopping around.  Or again, bursting into flames – they get overdone quickly when they’re sticking out.

Now your chicken is ready to flatten, season, and grill or roast to perfection.  I prefer salt & pepper and lemons in the oven, served with some roasted veggies.  For the grill, I really like to rub it with jerk paste and serve with mashed sweet potatoes.  Just in time for grilling season and everything!


2 Responses to “How To: Butterfly a whole chicken”

  1. […] Source […]

  2. […] now again during Snowmageddon 2011.  No photos, but I butterflied it, rubbed the skin with olive oil, and then rubbed it with salt, pepper, sage, and thyme.  It was […]

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