Spatchcock Chicken

Spatchcocked and ready to cook

I received a very generous Christmas present from my sister in law, a voucher for Nisbets, kitchen equipment suppliers. Never, ever, buy stuff again from chi chi little "kitchen shops". Nisbets will sell you professional quality stuff at keen prices. (But if you are perusing their price list, remember that you have to add VAT.) They have always had a mail order business. I've added the link below.

I replaced a skanky amateur frying pan with a gleaming all metal job. And there was change! Now, as you can imagine, the Johnston batterie de cuisine lacks for little. Any additions are therefore down to want, not need. Thus it was that I became the proud possessor of a pair of poultry shears. You can of course spatchcock a bird using a knife or kitchen scissors, but these beauties make the job much easier. Spatchcock, I hear you cry? Well, let's get back to basics.Poultry Shears 2

What does spatchcock mean?

This is an 18th century term. It may derive from the word spitchcock, an earlier word for prepared eel, or it may come from the phrase dispatch cock, meaning to grill a bird. What you are doing is removing the back bone and flattening the bird out, thus reducing the cooking time. You can treat any bird this way. Often held in place with skewers, you can grill or barbecue it. I'm looking at chicken today. I am extremely nervous about chicken on a barbie, so I'm going to stick to oven cooking and marinading. With a shorter time required, your marinade won't disappear to a frazzle, but you keep the succulence of cooking on the bone.

Figure 1

How do you spatchcock a chicken?

Relatively few people have cleaned and prepared any type of bird these days, so forgive me if I'm stating the bleedin' obvious. When you see a classic roast chicken in a tray, the uppermost bone is the breast bone. To remove the backbone, place the bird on a board and turn it over. Have the cavity at the leg end facing you. This is where you find the so called parson's nose. The back bone is in the middle. Take your shears and cut up along one side, then repeat on the other, as per figure 1. Remove the back bone, as per figure 2. (This can be used for stock.) Turn over. Press hard on the breast bone (you will hear a crack) until the bird is flattened. It should look like the picture at the top. If you plan to grill or BBQ, hold it in place with two skewers fixed diagonally, each through the leg and breast.

Figure 2

Cooking time

Depends on the size of your bird! People will tell you that it can reduce the cooking time by half. I think it needs a little more. Roast at your usual 200˚C/Mark 6.

For a bird which would normally need 90 minutes, about 50 will be about right. But apply some science. These days the "cook until the juices run clear" test is generally regarded as a test which will result in overcooking the bird. Invest in a thermo probe. The safe temperature, taken from the thickest part of the thigh - NOT touching the bone - is 74˚C/165˚F. Or just cut into it. You're a cook, not a chef, one whose principal duty is to avoid poisoning one's family and friends.

Spatchcock Chicken with BBQ sauce

Most of us have our preferred barbecue sauce. Given that it's so easy to make your own, I would advise against ready bottled stuff.  This is one of my favourites. Make more than you think you will need. In addition to marinading, it's good to have extra to brush on during the cooking process.

BBQ Sauce


2 small onions, very finely chopped; 6 cloves garlic, crushed; 2 tbsp brown sugar; 2 tsp smoked paprika; 2 tbsp cider vinegar; 2 tbsp Worcester Sauce; 3 – 4 tbsp tomato ketchup;  2 tsp Tabasco; olive oil; salt and pepper.


Cook the onion and garlic gently in a little olive oil until the onion is soft. Season with s & p. Sprinkle with the sugar. Increase the heat and cook for a few minutes till the mixture is beginning to caramelise. Stir in the paprika, then add the vinegar, Worcester sauce, Tabasco and tomato ketchup. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes till the sauce is the desired consistency. Allow to cool.

Prepare the chicken as above. Marinade the chicken with a good layer of the sauce. Cover, and leave for at least two hours, or in the fridge overnight. If refrigerating, bring back to room temperature before cooking. Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Put the marinaded chicken in and cook until done (see above). Half way through, brush with another layer of the marinade.

Middle Eastern Style Spatchcock Chicken

You will need

Olive oil, garlic; za'tar (which failing dried thyme and oregano); sumac, lemons; salt and pepper; fresh herbs for garnish (optional) pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional); salt. Oh, and a chicken (non optional).

For the marinade, pour at least 4 tbsp good olive oil into a bowl. Mix with 3 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbsp za'tar (which failing equal quantities of dried thyme and oregano, 1 tbsp sumac, juice of half a lemon and some salt. Brush over the chicken (leaving a little for basting and leave for two hours.


Pre heat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6.  Slice two lemons into rounds and place in a roasting tin to make a bed for the chicken. Place the chicken on top of the lemons and roast as above. basting with the remaining marinade half way through. Before serving, sprinkle with fresh herbs, mint, parsley, or whatever takes your fancy. A few pomegranate seeds look nice too, but definitely optional.

Nisbets Catering Equipment Suppliers have stores in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and deliver UK wide. Find their website at

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