As spring in our part of the world finally gives way to summer, cooks start their migration outdoors, turning off ovens and firing up grills. But saying goodbye to your oven for the summer doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to slowly roasted, succulent meat. As reader Rich Freund has pointed out when submitting the following recipe, meals like whole roasted chicken are just as good, if not better, when cooked on a grill. The trick lies in a culinary technique with an extremely technical term.
Ladies and Gentleman, let us introduce you to spatchcocking.
We swear we did not make that term up. Neither did Rich, although he has perfected the technique on his own backyard barbecue. Spatchcocking involves slicing the bird down the backside to remove the backbone before cooking. This makes a chicken more flexible so you can flatten the bird out, insuring that all parts cook evenly. Removing the backbone can be done with a sharp knife, but is easiest with kitchen shears. Some cooks take spatchcocking one step further by also breaking the wishbone (clearly visible once you remove the backbone) and then cutting out the keel bone, which is the dark breastbone in the middle of the chicken. You can watch a tutorial on how to remove the keel bone, but to be honest, we don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Rich’s chicken always cooks evenly when he only removes the backbone and so did ours, so why bother with an extra step?
A spatchcocked (that word is embarrassingly fun to say) chicken can be seasoned or marinated any way you like, but you’re definitely going to want to give Rich’s dry rub a try. More aromatic than spicy, his blend of salt, pepper, sweet paprika, chili powder, garlic and turmeric brings deep color and flavor to the bird. The skin on this grilled chicken, layered with flavors from all the spices and cooked to crispy perfection, just might be our favorite part. Although the incredibly moist meat was a revelation, too. Who knew grilled chicken – even the breast meat – could be so moist?
Spatchcocking the bird (we couldn’t resist saying it one last time) is largely responsible for this, but keeping the grill at a steady heat without any flare-ups is important too. Most grills have a temperature gauge, and you’ll want to keep it between 325-375 degrees Fahrenheit. Rich cooks his chicken over white-hot lump charcoal on the barbecue (sometimes with smoke chips) and roasts the bird near the fire, not right on top of it. We cook our chicken on a gas grill, lowering the heat when needed and moving the chicken away from direct flames, with equal success. The last thing to remember is that the bird should be turned every 15 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Flipping the bird will help the chicken cook evenly and prevent burning. As Rich says, “the challenge is to get the outside nice and crispy!”
A 3-4 pound chicken should take just over an hour, which gives you plenty of time to relax outside with friends in the great outdoors while your chicken roasts to juicy perfection on the grill.
1 tablespoon ground pepper (try a mix of white and black)
1-2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika (or just sweet paprika if you can’t find the smoked variety)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder or dried minced garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
Get the grill started first, so it comes up to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit before you put the bird on.
Mix the dry ingredients together and set the rub aside.
Set the chicken breast-side down and remove anything that’s inside the cavity. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut down each side of the backbone to remove it.
The backbone runs right down the middle of the chicken. When the backbone is removed, the chicken will fold open.
Rub the bird with olive oil then rub the spice mix generously all over the bird.
Cook the chicken with the grill lid on, checking and turning the bird every 15 minutes. Watch out for flare-ups and try to avoid letting the chicken comes in direct contact with flames. Cook until an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit is reached.