Skip to Content

Is it better to spatchcock a chicken or the whole?

Both spatchcocking and roasting a whole chicken have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cooking a chicken. This article will examine the differences between the two methods to help you decide which is best for your needs.

What is Spatchcocking?

Spatchcocking, also known as butterflying, is a method of preparing a chicken for roasting or grilling. It involves removing the backbone and flattening the chicken so it cooks evenly.

To spatchcock a chicken:

  1. Use kitchen shears or sharp scissors to cut out the backbone by cutting along both sides of the backbone from the tail to the neck.
  2. Flip the chicken over and press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten.
  3. You may need to crack the breastbone to fully flatten the chicken.

The result is a flattened chicken that looks like a butterfly, hence the alternate name “butterflying.” Spatchcocking allows the chicken to lie flat so it cooks faster and more evenly.

Benefits of Spatchcocking

Here are some of the main benefits of spatchcocking a chicken:

  • Cooks faster – By flattening the chicken, more surface area is exposed to the heat so it cooks in about half the time of a whole chicken.
  • Cooks more evenly – The thighs and breasts cook at the same rate, preventing the breasts from drying out.
  • Crispier skin – With more surface area exposed, the skin gets crispier all over.
  • Easier to season – Spices and seasoning get distributed over the meat evenly when rubbed over the flattened surface.

The quicker and more even cooking makes spatchcocking ideal for grilling or high heat roasting. The chicken also takes up less room when flattened so you can easily fit multiple spatchcocked chickens on one grill or pan.

Drawbacks of Spatchcocking

There are a couple potential drawbacks to spatchcocking:

  • Messy to prepare – Cutting out the backbone can be messy and lead to released juices and bones.
  • Less presentation value – The flattened chicken is not as visually appealing as a whole roast chicken.

While spatchcocking takes a little more prep work up front, the benefits usually outweigh the couple of drawbacks for most home cooks.

Benefits of Roasting a Whole Chicken

Roasting a chicken whole has its own set of advantages:

  • Easier prep – No cutting or flipping required, just season and throw in the oven.
  • Natural shape retained – The chicken has the quintessential roast chicken shape.
  • Better presentation – Whole chickens look beautiful brought to the table.
  • Can stuff cavity – The intact cavity allows you to stuff aromatics or bread stuffing inside.

The simple prep and beautiful presentation make whole roasted chickens ideal for dinner parties or when you want an impressive main dish. The stuffing adds extra flavor too.

Drawbacks of Roasting Whole

There are a few downsides to roasting a chicken whole:

  • Longer cook time – It can take up to an hour or more to fully cook a whole chicken.
  • Uneven cooking – The breast often dries out before the thighs are done.
  • Only seasons skin side – Any seasoning or herbs on the top don’t permeate into the bottom side.
  • Hard to crisp skin – The skin underneath doesn’t get as crispy.

The longer cook time and potential for uneven cooking make whole roast chickens more challenging. Using a meat thermometer to determine doneness is recommended.

Comparing Cooking Methods

Here is a comparison of spatchcocking versus roasting whole for key factors:

Method Prep Work Cook Time Evenly Cooked Crispy Skin Presentation
Spatchcock More cutting Faster Yes All over Flat
Whole Less Slower No One side Natural shape

As you can see, spatchcocking results in faster and more even cooking, while roasting whole takes less prep but has poorer cooking quality.

Tips for Juicy and Flavorful Chicken

Whichever method you choose, here are some tips to ensure tender, juicy chicken packed with flavor:

  • Brine the chicken in a saltwater solution before cooking – Brining seasons the meat and helps it retain moisture.
  • Pat the skin dry before roasting – This helps the skin get ultra crispy.
  • Coat with oil or butter – Oil promotes even browning and keeps the meat from drying out.
  • Roast at a high temp – 425°F is ideal for crispy skin.
  • Let rest before carving – Letting it rest allows juices to redistribute through the meat.
  • Carve properly – Slicing along the breast before removing leg quarters maintains juiciness.
  • Season under skin – Sliding seasoning and aromatics under the skin flavors the meat.

Best Uses for Spatchcocking vs. Roasting Whole

Here are some recommendations for when to choose each method:

Spatchcock chicken for:

  • Weeknight dinners – Less time fussing with a quicker cook time.
  • Grilling or high heat roasting – More surface area over direct heat.
  • Crispy skin lovers – Skin gets browned and crispy all over.

Roast chicken whole for:

  • Sunday suppers – Low and slow in the oven while you relax.
  • Holiday meals – Beautiful presentation as the centerpiece.
  • Added flavor – Stuff the cavity with aromatics.

Recipes for Both Methods

To experience the differences yourself, try these recipes showcasing each preparation:

Spatchcocked Roast Chicken

This spatchcocked roast chicken recipe crisps the skin beautifully and cooks in just over an hour with a flavorful herb rub.

Spatchcocked Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs

Whole Roasted Chicken

For a classic whole roast chicken, this recipe keeps it simple with only olive oil, salt, and pepper to let the chicken flavor shine.

Simple Whole Roasted Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

Roasting a chicken upright over a can or rack of beer keeps it super moist and infuses beer flavor into the meat.

Beer Can Chicken


Spatchcocking and roasting whole chicken both have their merits. Spatchcocking is ideal when you want evenly cooked chicken with crispy skin quickly. Roasting whole requires less upfront work and presents beautifully for special dinners. Brining, high heat, and resting are key for juicy, flavorful chicken no matter the prep method. Choose the technique that best suits your needs and enjoy delicious homemade chicken.