Removing the backbone of a whole chicken allows it to lie flat which significantly speeds up its cooking time. This simple technique is known as ‘spatchcocking’ or butterflying and requires just a pair of kitchen shears or scissors to do. This spatchcock chicken recipe can be prepared on the grill or in your oven. Add our flavorful, sugar-free rub and you’ve got a recipe for smoked spatchcock chicken that you’ll use again and again.
Spatchcock Chicken – faster, evenly-cooked chicken every time!
Spatchcocking a chicken sounds much harder than it really is! We think you’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to do. And since our method uses kitchen shears or scissors rather than a knife, it’s far less intimidating. Once you have one grilled spatchcock chicken under your belt you’ll wonder why you ever made chicken any other way.
While there is nothing wrong with roasting a whole bird in the oven or making a whole chicken in the Instant Pot, this method for making a spatchcock chicken produces an evenly-cooked, ultra-flavorful meal with minimal fuss.
We know that the first time you try anything new in the kitchen that it can be a little intimidating so that’s why we’re breaking it down step-by-step below. But before we jump into the how let’s take a look at what you’ll need.
Ingredients for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
- Whole chicken – Any size chicken will work for this recipe. Smaller chickens will cook faster, while larger ones will require more cooking time. Wondering what all of the terms on the labels mean and how to choose high-quality poultry? Check out this post!
- Avocado oil or olive oil – Both oils are great options so use what you have on hand.
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Smoked paprika – Smoked paprika gives the rub just a bit of smoky flavor without the heat. Regular or sweet paprika may also be used.
- Dried thyme
- Ground cumin
- Fine salt and black pepper
Other tools you’ll need:
- Kitchen shears or scissor
- Cutting board
- Paper towels
- Rimmed baking sheet or large platter
- Instant-read thermometer
- Grill (see recipe for oven directions if you don’t have a grill)
How to Make a Smoked Spatchcock Chicken: Step-by-Step
Start by preheating the grill to 375°F. Our go-to grill is the Traeger Pro 780 wood-fired pellet grill because it’s easy to use, versatile (you can grill, smoke, and even bake on it), and the flavor you get from cooking with wood is incomparable in our opinion. Of course, you can also use a charcoal or gas grill. The key is to use indirect heat so if you’re using charcoal, get those coals good and hot then move to one side so that you’re not cooking over a flame. For a gas grill, light the burners on both sides of the chicken leaving the center burner off to create indirect heat.
Next, you’ll want to prepare the dry rub by combining the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, salt, cumin, and pepper. Set this aside as we’ll be coming back to it soon.
If your chicken came with a bag of giblets, remove those and either discard or reserve them for another use. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen scissors or kitchen shears to cut along one side of the backbone from tail to neck. Holding the tail, or the “Pope’s nose” as it’s sometimes referred to, will make it easier to make the cut.
Rotate the chicken 180 degrees and make another cut along the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and discard it (or reserve it for another use like making soup or bone broth).
Using your hands, separate the two sides of the back and press down firmly with your palms to flatten. You should hear a little ‘pop’ which indicates that you’ve broken the ribs free from the breast bone which allows the chicken to lay flat.
With the breast side facing up, tuck the wing tips up and over themselves to secure them. Drizzle the chicken with oil then use your hands to rub the skin with the oil.
Now grab the rub you made (or use your favorite premade rub) and season the chicken all over.
Place the chicken breast side up on the grill grate over indirect heat. Cook for 45-50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F. Remove chicken to a clean platter or baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Can I use a different spice rub?
You sure can! While we think this homemade rub is pretty amazing we know that sometimes you need a shortcut to get dinner on the table faster. A store-bought rub can help you do just that and with so many great ones to choose from, using a premade rub is a great way to change things up a bit. Especially if this smoked spatchcock chicken makes its way into your regular meal rotation as it has in our homes.
Do I need to have a Traeger to make a grilled spatchcock chicken?
While a wood pellet grill like a Traeger does a spectacular job of infusing the chicken with the most intoxicatingly delicious smoky flavor, it’s not necessary. You can make a grilled spatchcock chicken on a charcoal or gas grill using indirect heat. We use smoked paprika in the rub to give the chicken a little extra smoky flavor but you can use the smokiness by replacing the salt with smoked sea salt or by using a smoker box filled with hardwood chips specially designed for use with a gas grill.
Can I make a spatchcock chicken without a grill?
If you don’t have a grill you can still make a spatchcock chicken using your oven. Prepare the chicken as directed and place it on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.
Can I prep this ahead?
Yes! Make the spice rub and store it in the pantry for up to 1 month. Rub the spatchcocked chicken with oil, sprinkle with the rub then cover, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before cooking.
Got leftovers? Put them to use in these delicious chicken recipes
- Creamy BBQ Chicken Salad
- Chinese-Inspired Chicken Salad
- Curry Chicken Salad
- Strawberry Chicken Poppy Salad
- Mango Chicken Salad with Avocado
- Strawberry Spinach Salad with Chicken
- Avocado Chicken Waldorf Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins
- 4 – 4 ½ pound whole chicken
- 1 ½ teaspoon avocado oil or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat grill to 375°F.
- Prepare the rub by combining the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, salt, cumin, and pepper. Set aside.
- Remove the bag of giblets from the chicken (if included) and discard or reserve for another use. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
- Place the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears or scissors, cut along one side of the backbone from tail to neck. Rotate the chicken 180 degrees and make another cut along the other side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and discard (or reserve for another use like soup or bone broth).
- Using your hands, separate the two sides of the back and press down firmly with your palms to flatten. With the breast side facing up, tuck the wing tips up and over themselves to secure them.
- Rub the skin with the oil then season the entire chicken with the rub.
- Place the chicken breast side up on the grill grate over indirect heat. Cook for 45-50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F. Remove chicken to a clean platter or baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Oven directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare chicken as directed. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 40-45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer or temperature probe inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F. Remove baking sheet from oven. Tent chicken loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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About Jessica Beacom
Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.