How to butterfly a chicken for a quick cook and crisp skin

Rodney Dunn's char-grilled butterflied whole chicken with cumin and lime.
Rodney Dunn's char-grilled butterflied whole chicken with cumin and lime. Photo: William Meppem

Why bother to butterfly a chicken when you can cook it whole? For cooking teacher Rodney Dunn of Tasmanian farm cooking school the Agrarian Kitchen (and new restaurant Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store) it comes down to three simple advantages: a flat bird is quicker to cook, it's easier to marinate and, since it cooks more evenly, the skin is crispier and tastier.

The thinner surface area means the grill heats through the flesh more quickly, and you can marinate several chickens stacked in a tray, rather than needing a big bucket for a single bird. Best of all, "the skin's all on one surface so you can put it under a grill and get that skin crisp all the way across, whereas it's hard to do that with a whole bird", Dunn says.

Sold? Then follow Dunn's step-by-step below.

Step 1

The first step is to pat your chicken dry with paper towel and remove any excess moisture that may have gathered on the skin. "[That's] because you want your butterflied chicken to have nice crisp skin on it," Dunn says.

Pat the chicken dry.

Photo: Cole Bennetts

Step 2

When it comes to cutting, a good pair of kitchen shears is best suited to the job, or you can use a heavy cook's knife, Dunn says. Turn your chicken breast side down on the board then, starting at the tail, run the shears up each side of the spine and cut out the backbone. Don't fret - it's easier than it looks.

Photo: Cole Bennetts

Step 3

Turn the chicken breast side up, then press down in the middle of the breastbone with the base of the palm of your hand. "That should kind of snap the bone – you'll hear it crack, and that should allow the chicken to splay."

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GOOD FOOD: Step-by-step - How to Butterfly a Chicken. Story by Megan Johnston. 11th July 2017. Photo: Cole Bennetts/Fairfax Media.

Photo: Cole Bennetts

Step 4

Tuck the wings underneath the chicken so they don't burn under the grill. You can also turn the legs inwards to face each other if you wish. 

GOOD FOOD: Step-by-step - How to Butterfly a Chicken. Story by Megan Johnston. 11th July 2017. Photo: Cole Bennetts/Fairfax Media

Photo: Cole Bennetts

Step 5

Now your butterflied chicken is ready to cook. 

Dunn suggests a simple marinade or a salt rub made from herbs, lemon rind and coarse salt. A spice mix with paprika, cumin, coriander seed and chilli is equally delicious. "You can really take it in any direction - you can do Indian [flavours] with yoghurt and spices. But I find it hard to beat garlic and thyme and lemon."

Grill or pan-fry for 15 minutes each side, or until the flesh is moist but cooked through, and the skin is golden. 

For an extra even cook, weigh down your chicken with a heavy item where possible (a skillet or brick will do the job) to prevent the edges from springing up.

GOOD FOOD: Step-by-step - How to Butterfly a Chicken. Story by Megan Johnston. 11th July 2017. Photo: Cole Bennetts/Fairfax Media.

Photo: Cole Bennetts