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How to Spatchcock a Chicken & The Art of Indoor Grilling

There's been an awful lot of feels up in here as of late.  I think we're overdue for a serious food post.  Let's get real while we spatchcock a chicken shall we?   Fourth of July is just around the corner and what kind of food blog would this be if I didn't give you something to cook up for the occasion?  It's summer in San Francisco which means it's basically freezing outside.  Indoor grilling is just the ticket.  The rest of you have permission to keep this in your back pocket until another time.  Grab your kitchen shears because our first step is to cut out it's backbone like the somewhat heartless b@#! we were once told we can be on occasion.  I suppose once for a lifetime isn't bad but the pending treatment of this chicken probably isn't helping my case.  I mean whatever.  A girls gotta eat.    

Like any classy lady, I tend to pass over things that are either a) heavy or b) dirty.  Food styling routinely pushes me up and out of my kitchen comfort zone though.  Take indoor grilling for example.  It happens pretty regularly on shoots but it's probably not something that I would think to take on on a random Tuesday night in my little studio apartment.  Is cast iron heavy?  Obnoxiously so.  Is grilling a hot mess from beginning to end?  Pretty much, yea.  But do I feel like a total queen in the moment commanding a screaming hot grill with my scepter (aka tongs) in hand?  Absolutely.  And the beauty of grilling is that it's fast and pretty much a one pan wonder, even indoors.  So like I said, I'm thankful for a job that regularly pushes me out of my own culinary airplane.  Perhaps it's just you, your appetite, and your sense of adventure propelling you forward.  Which is why you're here in the first place.  I so highly commend you for it and it'll really pay off on this one, I promise. 

I think we can all agree that at first thought, grilling tends to be more of a "guy thing" or at the very least, a suburban thing.  I'm not a feminist and I have nothing against the 'burbs but we're breaking all the rules today and these saucy hens are worth any and all backlash.  Get thee to your nearest reputable grocer and pick up a couple of whole organic birds, game hens to be exact, which are basically just ultra-tender little chickens.  Then fire up your stovetop.  Are you terrified?  Excited?   Perfect.  Learning to cook is something you'll be doing for your whole life and it's more or less one part foundation, one part common sense, and one part reckless abandon to the learning process.  I need one of those quotes right now about how it's all about the journey and not the destination.  We're working on a foundation here and doing our best to stick with simplicity.   Still, cooking is trial and error, mess and chaos, and burnt bits just as often as it's beautifully baked masterpieces.   So don't fear the kitchen.  You'll never come up empty handed and a good sauce covers all manner of sins.  


The Art of Indoor Grilling

The secret to the secret is that there is no secret.  Aren't you relieved?  If you live in little city cracker box studio like I do or in an apartment with commune of roommates, doesn't mean you can't grill with the best of your suburbanite friends.  You need two things:  a cast iron grill pan and a wide open window.  Will it be a little smoky?  Yes.  But it's art.  Sometimes you gotta throw caution to the wind and make a bit of a mess.  Preheat the pan on medium-high.  Once it just begins to smoke, grab hold of a paper towel using a pair of tongs.  Dip the paper towel in vegetable oil and rub along the grates of the pan.  You're now prepped and ready to grill.  


Spatchcocking a bird (equally fun and awkward to say) is little more than cutting out the backbone in order to lay it flat for cooking.  It'll cook faster and more evenly and it's even easier to break down once it's done.  You basically just pull it apart.   Looks like this is a viable Tuesday night option after all.  Small chickens will work if you can't find game hens but depending on the size of your grill pan, they may be too big.  If all else fails, individual chicken pieces will do just fine.  

If you don't already own one you can get yourself a cast iron grill pan at any local kitchen store.  Bed, Bath & Beyond sells them for $20, no joke.  A ten inch Lodge Logic (my favorite brand) sells at Sur La Table for $30.  It's pre-seasoned and ready to go right out of the box.  Please do NOT get a nonstick grill pan.  I know what your little inner "I don't cook" voice is telling you.  Ignore it. There's no substitute for cast iron here.         


Ask Your Butcher

What's that you say?  You don't have a butcher?  Wouldn't you feel so fancy if I told you that you actually DO.  You don't necessarily need an artisanal shop with a french speaking staff as your go-to (although those places are worth seeking out and are great to have in your back pocket for sure.)  I love my Whole Foods guys around the block and the team at the local grocery store in the next neighborhood over.  I'm constantly asking questions about different cuts and how to cook them.  Believe me, they're stoked to share what they love so make it a point to ask.  You'll get hooked up with some of the best stuff as a result.


I don't mean to be all uppity or whatever but the quality of your chicken matters here.  It matters all the time but it realllly matters here.  So spring for one that was fed well and spent it's life frolicking happily in a field somewhere (i.e. something organic and/or pastured.)   It probably seems like a stretch but quality of life legitimately translates to quality of flavor.  And if you're looking for that corn recipe, it's coming up next.  


BBQ Spatchcocked Game Hens

Game hens are basically just little chickens.  If you can't find them in store just use the smallest whole chicken you can find.  If it's still too big for your grill pan it's perfectly fine to use an assortment of chicken legs, thighs, and bone-in breasts (skin on, please.)  Your new friend the butcher can break down that whole chicken for you if you need.  

Ingredients

2 whole game hens, spatchcocked (or whatever variation of bird you're going with)
Canola oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
2 cups BBQ sauce (store bought is fine, making a note now to give you a recipe for a homemade one)
1 bunch green onions, spring onions, green garlic, or ramps coarsely chopped
 

 

Equipment

Cast iron grill pan
2 sheet pans
Aluminum foil
Kitchen shears
Tongs
Regular cast iron pan or other heavy pot
Pastry or basting brush

 

 

Method

Preheat your grill pan as directed above and your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a sheet tray with aluminum foil and lightly coat with nonstick spray.  Using your kitchen shears, cut along each side of the backbone to remove.  Now flip the bird over and push down hard in between the breasts to flatten.  Congratulations you've just spatchcocked a chicken.  Well done.

Brush the chicken with oil and season on all sides with salt and pepper.   Once your grill pan is preheated and prepped add the first chicken, breast-side down.  Place the second sheet tray on top of the chicken and the cast iron pan on top of the sheet tray to weight it down.  You're going for maximum contact with the grill pan.  Let the chicken cook undisturbed for 5-6 minutes.  Put on an oven mitt and remove the sheet tray (careful it's hot), flip the chicken over, and repeat allowing the chicken to cook for another 5-6 minutes under the weight of the pan.  

Remove the sheet tray and baste the chicken generously with the barbecue sauce.  Flip it over so the sauced side is now down and grill for 4-5 minutes.  Repeat for the other side.  

Transfer the chicken to the foil lined sheet tray and repeat that whole process with the second chicken.  Baste both chickens with the bbq sauce once more from top to bottom and sprinkle with chopped onions.  Transfer the chickens to the preheated oven and roast until a thermometer reads 160 degrees where the leg meets the thigh, 10-15 minutes.  Serve with extra bbq sauce.

A NOTE ON CLEANUP:  Cast iron cleanup is a snap but you have to do it while the pan is still hot.  Once you've transferred the chicken to the oven, put an oven mitt on one hand and a dish glove on the other.  Turn on the water on low and carefully slip the pan into the sink.  Give the steam a second to subside and wipe the pan with a sponge (no soap needed) to loosen the bits.  You'll be surprised at how quickly and easily it wipes clean.  To season, place the pan back on medium-high heat.  Once it begins to smoke, rub it down with an oiled paper towel, turn off the heat and set it aside to cool.  By definition you've just seasoned the pan and it's good to go for next time.