How To: Butterfly and Grill a Whole Chicken

by Beth @ Tasty Yummies

Since we’ve found Sojourner Farms and have bought a bunch of fresh pasture raised whole chickens direct from the farm, we have really been enjoying butterflied grilled chickens. This is such an effortless and delicious summer meal, perfect for those warm summer nights where you just want to relax on the patio with a cocktail and grill out. By butterflying the chicken, it takes less time to cook and you certainly don’t have to worry about it rolling off the grill or falling off of that sticky beer can. We usually get at least two meals from each chicken and once you’ve done the simple work of butterflying you can just sit back and enjoy the evening while it cooks.

I know I have already said this before about everything we have bought from Sojourner, but nothing can describe the taste of the food we are buying from them. Their chickens taste better than any chicken we have ever eaten before. It is unreal. I really cannot recommend enough buying your meats directly from a farm that raises their animals on pasture and without all the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. You really can taste the extra love and care.

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Start with a whole broiler/fryer chicken weighing approximately 4 pounds. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity, then trim away any excess fat from around the cavity opening. Position the chicken so the breast side is down and the drumsticks are pointing towards you.

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Using a pair of kitchen shears (you can use a sharp knife, but I really recommend the shears), cut all the way down one side of the backbone from the tail to the neck. You’re just cutting through the small rib bones, not through the center of the backbone itself. Cut close to the backbone so you don’t lose too much meat.

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Next, cut all the way down the other side of the backbone, removing it completely.

I have read that some people like to cut down only one side of the backbone, leaving it intact. We remove the backbone completely, since we aren’t going to eat it. Reserve the backbone for making stock, if you’re so inclined.

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Flip the chicken over, breast side up and simply press firmly to full open the carcass, break the breastbone and flatten out the chicken. We prefer to leave the breastbone intact for less fuss and less steps. We could probably get ours even flatter, but it cooked wonderfully so we have no complaints.

Many people prefer to actually cut the breastbone out for better presentation, we don’t mess with the extra steps. If you wish to do that, after you remove the backbone, keep the chicken breast side down, position it with drumsticks pointing away from you (turned 180 degrees from where you started). Use a paring knife make a small cut in the white cartilage that conceals the top of the breastbone. Bend both halves of the carcass backward at the cut to expose the breastbone. It should pop right up through the cut.

Run your thumbs or index fingers down both sides of the breastbone to separate it from the meat, then pull the bone out. If the breastbone breaks into two pieces when you are removing it, it could just mean you haven’t separated it well enough from the meat, just remove both pieces and you are good.

Now you are ready to grill!!

Preheat your grill by turning both sides all the way to high. Pull the hood down and allow the grill to get to a very high heat, this takes about 5-10 minutes, or use your temperature gauge if you have one on your grill.

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Brush both sides of the chicken with olive oil and season generously with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. You can definitely use other seasonings, add lemon or use butter instead of olive oil, we just prefer to keep it simple and not overwhelm it with tons of different flavors. You could also add chips to your grill to get a smoked flavor. Feel free to experiment with different things.

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Once your grill gets to a high heat, turn one side off and leave the other on high. Place the chicken breast side up on the off heat side. Allow it to cook for 45 minutes, leave the hood down, don’t play around with it.

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After 45 minutes, as long as you kept the hood down and the heat of the grill stayed at high, your skin should have already started to brown and crisp up. Turn the direct heat side down to a low flame and move the chicken over to the flame side, breast side down. Close the hood and continue to grill about 15 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast registers 160°F. Transfer chicken, skin side up, to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Carve the chicken by removing the wings, legs, thighs and breasts from the bird. If it is a bigger bird, you can cut each breast in half.

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All done. YUM!

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There she is again, Derby was especially loving this photo session.

Dinner. Grilled chicken, pasta salad, grilled veggies
Dinner is served.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David May 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Beth, Just wanted to thank you for this most helpful page. I rebuilt my natural gas grill last summer and now with the weather really warming up, I’ve decided anything I can do in the kitchen oven I can do on the grill, use it just like an oven without heating up the house. So I now know how to butterfly a chicken and the results were excellent. You’ve been very helpful, Congrats!

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2 Glenn June 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this great recipe and technique! Was a definite crowd pleaser with our friends… I just need to get a bigger BBQ now to satisfy em all as I didn’t cook enough (3 birds for 8 folks)…

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3 tastyyummies July 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Glenn so glad to hear it worked out so well. We haven’t made one this summer as our grill decided to take a bit of a vacation and it hasn’t been very reliable. I have been totally craving this though! Glad you and your guests enjoyed it.

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4 Tiina July 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm

This turned out absolutely delicious. Basted it with our favourite BBQ sauce right at the end of cooking. Sliced leftovers made excellent club house sandwiches the next day (so juicy, even the breast). I used to roast chicken this way in the oven—I used to call it “Roadkill Chicken” because it was all flattened out!

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5 tastyyummies July 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Tiina I am so glad to hear it came out so well for you! “Roadkill Chicken” is hysterical and quite accurate. I am gonna have to try it in the oven soon since our grill isn’t very reliable right now! Thanks for reading :)

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6 Dean Peters December 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Thank you for this outstanding tutorial w/plenty of excellent tips & tidbits on techniques to a tasty grilled whole chicken.

I employed it successfully tonight, along with a few tricks of my own:

1st, I used metal skewers as it was very cold out, this insured heating of the meat through-n-through.
2nd, I rubbed-on mustard instead of olive oil, so along with cutting calories & fat, I got no flare ups.
3rd, After the mustard & salt & pepper, I also used a Lebanese “7-spice.”
4th, After the spices, I covered the top of the bird w/strips of turkey bacon to keep it moist while grilling.
5th, I rotated (not flipped, rotated) the bird half-way into the process to insure an even cook.

My wife and daughter, along with myself I might add, couldn’t get enough!

Still, we managed to leave enough for another meal. Not bad for a $4.35 fryer we got on sale at .89 cents a pound!

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7 Chris May 20, 2013 at 8:59 am

I’ve tried a lot of grilled chicken recipes, but this one – and the method – is the best! I have this bookmarked, printed and saved on my computer! Thanks…

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8 Roy September 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

Used your recipe last night. I’ve cooked whole chickens on the grill before both with and without a beer can. But this was by far the best. Cooked perfectly – and much quicker – with a nice crispy skin. Just finished eating some leftovers for lunch today. This will be my go-to method from now on.

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9 eliza July 17, 2014 at 3:36 pm

This is the most greatest, easiest, yummiest recipe for chicken since sliced bread!
Thank you :)

p.s. I’ve been using Trader Joe’s BBQ rub and it is delish
http://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/bbq-seasoning-with-coffee-garlic

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