Basic Butchery,  Chicken,  Cooking,  Food Preparation

Spatchcock and Butterfly Chicken – What’s the Difference?

Many cooking recipes ask for spatchcock chicken and butterfly chicken, but is there a difference between the two?

So how do Spatchcock and butterfly chicken differ? Spatchcock chicken is when a whole chicken is split lengthways down the back and then pressed on the breast to flatten it out. To butterfly, usually means to cut a boneless chicken breast horizontally, almost all the way through, and then open it like to book to double the size but half the thickness.

We will now cover both methods in greater detail.

How to Spatchcock a Whole Chicken

Spatchcocking is a relatively simple process and only requires a pair of poultry kitchen scissors, or a sharp knife.

Now follow these steps:

  • Lie the chicken on the cutting board breast side down with the back of the bird upturned.
  • Cut either side of the backbone of the chicken so that it can be removed.
  • Turn the chicken back over so that the breast is facing upwards and press firmly on the breast to flatten out the bird.

 At this point you can use place skewers through the legs and into the breast meat to hold the shape of the bird, but this is optional.

Why Spatchcock a Chicken

When you spatchcock a chicken, you are basically making the bird lie flatter so that it will cook quicker, and more evenly.

It is for that reaon that spatchcocking is a method used a great deal by people who like to cook on the BBQ grill.

Having the bird flattened out allows the cook much more control the cooking process and speeds up the cooking time.

This is a popular method when cooking for a crowd too, as you only have one piece of meat to turn at a time, as opposed to lots of pieces if the bird has been portioned.

The spatchcock birds also take up less room on the grill and are less likely to dry out during cooking than smaller portioned pieces.

Now some people do also refer to spatchcocking as butterflying a chicken, however, this term is used more when talking about boneless chicken fillets (or other boneless meat!)

Spatchcocking can be done on any bird of any size that you wish to cook quickly and evenly, from as small as a game hen to a 15lb whole turkey.

What is Butterfly Chicken

To butterfly chicken is usually a term used when cooking with boneless chicken breast fillets.

Chicken breast fillets are usually shaped thicker in some areas than others. This can make even cooking a problem when dealing with bigger fillets. By the time the thickest part has cooked, the thinner parts have overcooked and dried out.

To overcome this problem you need to butterfly the breast fillet so that it is an even thickness throughout.

How to Butterfly a Chicken Breast Fillet

Butterflying a chicken breast fillet is a simple process that requires only a sharp knife and steady hand.

  • Place the chicken fillet flat on the cutting board ensuring that you are on a firm surface.
  • Place your non cutting hand on top of the chicken breast to hold it firmly in place.
  • Making sure to keep your fingers out of the way, use the sharp knife to start cut horizontally through the chicken fillet.
  • Stop cutting when you are 3/4 of the way through. DO NOT cut all the way through making 2 pieces.
  • Open the chicken fillet like you would a book and you will have a piece of chicken that looks a bit like a butterfly or love heart.

You can now cook this chicken more evenly as it is, or pound it between 2 pieces of wax paper to make a thinner chicken escalope.

Butterflying Doesn’t Stop With Chicken

Although this article is talking about the differences between spatchcocking and butterflying chicken, the term butterflying is also used with any other kind of boneless meat that needs to be opened up and made more even.

Some other meats where you may find the term used are:

  • leg of lamb
  • Beef Steak
  • Pork Chops
  • Shrimp
  • Duck Breast
  • Sea Bass

Another reason for butterflying a piece of meat or fish, other than to reduce cooking time,  is to open more surface of the meat when marinating. This allows the marinade penetrate much more of the meat and therefore increase more of the flavor to areas that may not have been reached without cutting the meat.

The video below demonstrates how the butterfly technique can be applied to a leg of lamb.

So hopefully this article has explained a little more clearly the differences between spatchcock and butterflying chicken.

Both are used as a way to reduce cooking time and allow for even cooking of the meat throughout, however with the spatchcock chicken the carcass is left intact and with the butterfly it is usually boneless.

Spatchcock Chicken
Butterfly Chicken Breast (