Friday, June 5, 2009

Spatchcocking a Chicken or How to Crash and Burn


This week's theme for girls night was Grills Gone Wild!  Yes, that's right. My friend Gabi had everyone over, and we grilled out on her rooftop swimming pool deck that overlooks the city. It was beautiful!

I decided to take a brined spatchcocked chicken to grill and checked this month's cookbook club pick (Martha Stewart's Cooking School) for instruction.  Brining sounded difficult but proved to be very simple.  Preparing the chicken (I refuse to say dispatching the cock, which is technically accurate) was also a snap.  Everything went super well until I got to the actual grilling part.  I'm a lousy griller.  I can use my indoor grill pan like a pro, but real grills freak me out, and I never feel confident using them.  In this case I was reminded of why I should not be confident when grilling. 

But...back to brining.  Brining is done to keep the chicken juicy and tender.   A very simple brine can be made of only salt, sugar, and water, and that will work, but what not spice it up a little?  I used the brine suggested by M.S. and was not disappointed.

For brine:
finely grated zest of one orange
finely grated zest of one lemon
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup coarse salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
4 cups water
4 cups ice cubes

Place all ingredients except ice cubes in a large stock pot and heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar and salt have completely dissolved.  Remove from heat, add ice cubes, and stir until completely cooled.  

Not a beautiful picture but that's what it looks like!  Also, it smells pretty great.  If you can handle that then you can brine.  Now you need a spatchcocked chicken.

How to spatchcock a chicken:

Place the chicken on a clean work surface, breast side down.  Use kitchen shears (make sure they're sharp!) to cut along both sides of the backbone and remove it.


Flip the chicken over and press firmly to flatten.  



And...that's it.  So far everything was going really well.  I had brine.  I had a spatchcocked chicken.  Great!  Let's keep going.


As directed, I submerged the chicken in the brine, breast side down.  The chicken should stay in the brine for at least one hour but no more than three.  Any less than an hour and it won't have enough time to do its thing.  Any longer than three and the texture of the chicken can become unpleasant.  I put the brine and the chicken in a portable container and set out for Gabi's beautiful apartment.  Once there we heated up the grill and plopped it on, breast side down.  I then drizzled a citrus glaze (1/4 cup honey, 3 Tbsp orange juice, 3 Tbsp lemon juice beat together) on top.  It smelled great!


A few minutes later I opened the grill to check on it and...


it was sort of on fire.  Bummer.  This picture was taken after we put out the fire and flipped it over.

So, after flipping it we closed the grill top again and waited another 20 minutes.  The grill hissed a little as the glaze dripped off the chicken, but after a few minutes it was silent.  Of course I didn't notice that it wasn't making any sound because I was gabbing with my friends.  The twenty minutes passed, and I checked on the chicken only to discover that the grill was no longer on because somewhere along the line it ran out of fuel.  

I have no idea how to change the gas tank on a grill, and, frankly, I don't care to learn.  Fortunately, there were other people around who do know how to do those sorts of things and ten minutes later we were back in business.  I had no idea how long the grill worked before running out of fuel so I decided to cook the chicken for another ten minutes and call it a day.

After ten minutes I took it off and cut into the brined, glazed, spatchcocked, blackened chicken to make sure it was cooked through.  Of course by now the sun had set and I had only the light of a tea light candle and the warm glow of my iPhone.   It looked like it was probably cooked.  Maybe.  Really, I have no idea.  

The girls discussed and decided it was probably cooked.  We cut it up, passed it around, and everyone marveled at how tender and juicy it was.  Everyone agreed that it had been on the grill for awhile and it was probably fully cooked.  Surely it was so tender because of that wonderful brine!   

It did have a nice flavor, and no one got sick so I must assume I did alright.  Still, not exactly a success story.


There's nothing quite like thinking you might be serving your friends raw chicken.  I really need to work on this grilling-out thing.


  1. One idea is to add the glaze near the end of cooking to avoid that honey from burning.

  2. Good suggestion! Thanks for the tip. :)