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Smoked Spatchcock Chicken is incredible juicy and moist with a faster cooking time and lots of great smoke flavor thanks to more surface area of the chicken that is exposed to the smoke! The low, slow heat and wood smoke make the most mouthwatering, gorgeous chicken you have ever seen!

Looking for more ways to use a whole chicken? Try my Whole Roasted Mexican Chicken or see my tutorial for how to cut up a whole chicken.

An overheat image of a butterflied smoked whole chicken on parchment paper on a cutting board.

We love buying whole chickens for a couple of reasons. It’s usually quite a bit cheaper to buy a whole chicken than to buy cut up pieces. Also, in our family, some people like the leg and thigh meat while others prefer the breast. Cooking a whole chicken means everybody gets some of what they like best!

Another nice thing is that when I cook a whole chicken, we usually have enough meat leftover for something like chicken spaghetti casserole, a half batch of chicken salad, or cheesy chicken quesadillas the next night. I’m all about repurposing leftovers into something new!

What is spatchcock chicken

A whole butterflied chicken with a slice cut out of the breast meat.

A spatchcock chicken is just a funny name for a chicken that has its backbone removed so the chicken can be opened up and lay flat on a grill, smoker, or baking sheet while it cooks. It’s also known as butterflying a chickn. This technique results in the most evenly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth chicken that is super tender and juicy! And it also helps cut down on the cooking time when smoking or roasting a whole chicken.

One of the common problems with smoking a whole chicken is that the breasts sometimes dry out before the rest of the meat is done, but that hasn’t been my experience with a spatchcock chicken.

Spatchcock chicken is our new favorite way to smoke chicken on our Traeger, thanks to Nicole from the blog Or Whatever You Do. We are participating in a fun blog swap where a group of blogging friends are secretly assigned one another’s blogs and asked to remake one of their recipes. The Summer Freaky Friday edition is hosted by Michaela from An Affair from the Heart.

freaky friday summer 2020

I chose to make Nicole’s Traeger Smoked Spatchcock Chicken and went ahead and used her DIY BBQ seasoning mix as well since we didn’t have any Traeger chicken rub on hand.

Nicole has a TON of Traeger recipes on her site. Her logo even has a smoker in it! And since we just upgraded to a brand new Traeger, I knew that’s the route I was going to go. If you are new to using your pellet grill, they have created an excellent resource with their ultimate guide to Traeger wood-pellet grills.

I was also very tempted by their smoked Italian meatballs and smoked spicy Asian pork ribs. But if you don’t have a smoker, they have lots of other great recipe ideas as well!

Things you need for smoked spatchcock chicken

  • a whole chicken
  • large cutting board
  • kitchen shears
  • smoker or grill set up for indirect heat
  • hardwood or wood pellets (apple, hickory, maple, cherry, and pecan are our favorite wood flavors for smoked chicken)
A spatchcock smoked chicken resting on parchment paper.

How to spatchcock a chicken

Spatchcocking a chicken is actually super easy! I used to be intimidated by this technique, but it takes less than a minute to do. All you need is a pair of kitchen shears or other sharp scissors.

Start with a whole chicken and remove anything from within the cavity of the bird. Place it on a large cutting board and flip it breast side down. The whole chicken in the image below is breast side up. If this is what yours looks like, just flip it over.

A whole chicken on a cutting board.

Make sure your surrounding area is clear for easier cleanup and disinfecting afterwards.

Starting on one side of the backbone, use sharp kitchen shears to cut right down the length of the chicken from neck to tail. You should be able to easily cut right through the skin and bones.

Repeat the process by cutting down the other side of the backbone, then lift the whole piece out. I usually turn the cutting board around and cut back up the other side since I’m right-handed and that’s easiest for me, but it doesn’t really matter which direction you go, tail-to-neck or neck-to-tail.

You can stick the backbone in a freezer-safe zip tight bag and freeze for making chicken broth later.

Open up the chicken and use a sharp knife to make a cut right in the middle of the breastbone where there is a piece of cartilage. Just a small slit in that tough bit of cartilage helps flatten out the chicken really easily.

Flip the chicken over and use the heel of your palm to press right between the breasts to flatten out the chicken all the way. It should lay nice and flat with the legs spread out to the sides.

Tuck the wingtips under the breasts for the best presentation and most even cooking, then you can rub the whole chicken front and back with a little olive oil and your favorite rub or the one I’m including in the recipe below. The olive oil just helps the rub stick really well.

You could actually brine your bird for 12 to 24 hours if you want. I don’t always do it because it requires extra planning, but brining poultry really does give it wonderful texture and flavor.

How long does it take to smoke a spatchcock chicken?

The answer to this question really depends on you and whether you are choosing to spatchcock the chicken fore a quicker cook (totally valid reason) or more smoke penetration (also a totally valid reason). To some extent, you can think of your smoker like a slow cooker where you choose to either cook things on low or on high. For most things, you usually aren’t wrong either way, and that’s the case with smoking spatchcock chicken.

Faster approach: high heat (about 1 hour)

One great thing about this spatchcock chicken recipe is how quickly it cooks compared to a whole chicken that hasn’t been spatchcocked and flattened out. You can cook the chicken at a higher temperature and it takes a relatively short amount of time.

Start a Traeger grill on high heat and cook for 30 minutes, then drop the temperature to 325 degrees F and your chicken should be done within another 15-30 minutes. About an hour of cook time isn’t bad at all for smoked chicken!

Slow approach: low heat (about 3-4 hours)

But for ultimate smoke penetration, I recommend smoking the chicken at a lower temperature between 225 and 275 degrees F. A three- to four-pound chicken smoked at this temperature will likely take around 3-4 hours to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

If you don’t have a good digital meat thermometer (affiliate link), I highly recommend investing in one if you enjoying smoking or grilling meat. It’s more important to smoke the meat according to the correct internal temperature than for a specific amount of time. Factors like the size of your chicken and the temperature of the chicken when you started the smoke can all play a part in how long it ultimately takes to smoke the meat.

I get asked this a lot, but as long as you have enough space in your smoker for the meat, you can smoke more than one spatchcock chicken at a time without increasing the overall cooking time.

Be sure to let the chicken rest for 10 minutes after removing it from the smoker or grill so that the juices can redistribute before slicing the chicken and serving.

How to make BBQ dry rub

Two plates with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and spices for making a BBQ dry rub.

When making barbecue, I really love a brown sugar based rub. Not only does it add sweetness that balances the other spices, but it also caramelizes beautifully on the smoker or grill. You can use this same rub on pork or veggies (like the sweet potatoes I served with this spatchcock chicken) and it would be delicious.

Just combine brown sugar with garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, and onion salt in a medium bowl. Stir until everything is evenly distributed, then sprinkle it generously over the meat you want to cook and rub it in.

You can actually use this same approach with a spatchcock turkey using turkey seasoning for a delicious and different approach to your Thanksgiving meal!

To sauce or not to sauce: that is the question

I love a good BBQ sauce, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the flavor of the chicken and rub without any sauce that sometimes tries to upstage the experience of a good smoked chicken all on its own.

If you want to sauce the chicken, watch for the internal temperature to reach around 150 degrees F on a digital meat thermometer (affiliate link) in both the breast and thigh meat. Brush the chicken liberally with your favorite bbq sauce (I HIGHLY recommend my Alabama white BBQ sauce), then continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, usually another 15-20 minutes after adding the bbq sauce.

A spatchcock chicken on a Traeger pellet grill with zucchini and sweet potatoes.

Grilled spatchcock chicken with a gas or charcoal grill

We are one of those families that has a smoker, a gas grill, AND a charcoal grill. Not just because I’m a food blogger and I test recipes on all three, but because we love each of them for different reasons. Although I used our Traeger smoker to make this chicken, you can use a gas grill or charcoal grill and still get great results!

Preheat your grill and set it up for an indirect heat zone, which is where the chicken won’t be directly over the flames. You can soak hardwood chips to use your grill as a smoker, or just go with the natural charcoal flavor for the meat. Then grill the chicken over indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

What to serve with smoked chicken

Smoked or grilled chicken goes well with any classic BBQ side dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, or baked beans. This time around I tossed some sliced sweet potato discs in olive oil, then rubbed them with a BBQ seasoning and smoked them with the chicken, then served it all with grilled zucchini.

A butterflied, smoked chicken on a cutting board next to a bowl of BBQ sweet potatoes and grilled zucchini.

More great chicken recipes

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An overheat image of a butterflied smoked whole chicken on parchment paper on a cutting board.
Yield: 4 servings

Smoked Spatchcock Chicken

Smoked Spatchcock Chicken is incredible juicy and moist with a faster cooking time and lots of great smoke flavor thanks to more surface area of the chicken that is exposed to the smoke! The low, slow heat and wood smoke make the most mouthwatering, gorgeous chicken you have ever seen!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-4 pound) whole chicken
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Dry Rub

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Instructions

To spatchcock the chicken

  1. Place the bird breast-side down with the legs pointing toward you. Use kitchen shears to cut down both sides of the backbone through the ribs to remove the spine.
  2. Open up the chicken and use a sharp knife to cut a slit through the cartilage in the center of the chicken near the breastbone. Flip the chicken over and press in the middle to lay it out flat.
  3. Rub the chicken all over with the oil. Combine the dry rub ingredients and rub a liberal amount all over both sides of the chicken.

Fast Method: High Heat (around 1 hour)

  1. Preheat Traeger grill to high heat of around 400 degrees F. Place the chicken breast side up on the grill, spreading out the legs so it lays flat. Grill on high for 30 minutes, then turn temperature down to 325 degrees F for the remaining time it takes for the chicken to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  2. Remove from grill and let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Slow Method: Low Heat (around 3-4 hours)

  1. Preheat Traeger grill to between 225 and 275 degrees F. Place the chicken breast side up on the grill, spreading out the legs so it lays flat. Smoke for 3-4 hours until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  2. Remove from grill and let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Take a look at all of our 2020 Freaky Friday Summer Edition Recipes:

  1. An Affair from the Heart – Blueberry Banana Bundt Cake
  2. Aunt Bee’s Recipes –  The Best Ever Chicken Gyros
  3. Bowl Me Over – Alabama White BBQ Sauce
  4. Hostess at Heart – Old Fashioned Lemon Icebox Pie
  5. House of Nash Eats – Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
  6. Lemoine Family Kitchen – Lemon Cream Cheese Blueberry Kolaches
  7. Lemon Blossoms – Lemon Poke Cake
  8. Life, Love & Good Food – Healthy Greek Coleslaw
  9. Or Whatever You Do – French Onion Risotto
  10. Sugar Dish Me – Coconut Macadamia Nut Ice Cream
  11. Take Two Tapas –  Cherry Cupcakes with Mint
  12. The Speckled Palate – Pepperoni Pizza Dip
  13. West Via Midwest – Buffalo Cheese Dip: Easy Party Dip