As you might already know, we raise backyard chickens in order to have fresh eggs and because, quite frankly, I enjoy having chickens in the yard. Its also old news that most of the poultry we consume comes from birds we’ve raised ourselves, including chickens, turkeys and surplus roosters which are quite tasty when made into rooster nuggets.
Several years ago I raised 100 chickens at a neighboring farm in an (successful!) effort to raise some money to buy my first sheep. This spring, as our big freezer started to look a little bare, I began to plan our summer meat plans and purchases. For the past few years, we’ve bought pork and beef in bulk – either by the whole or half, or as part of a buying club – from the numerous awesome farmers we are lucky to live near, including West Wind Acres, KFF, M&A Farm and Foster Farm. The first three of these four also sell chicken, if you’re looking for a great local source!
As the freezer emptied, I began to think about another meat-poultry project on a smaller scale-enough to stock up just our own freezer for a bit. Ironically, around the same time I heard that a friend & neighbor, Allison, had ordered some meat-type chicks and was looking to unload a few. Before long, I had 10 peeping chicks loaded up in a cardboard box heading home for about 12 weeks of hanging out in the grass and growing before they made it to the freezer. (More detail on that process here.) That same week, though, my mom hatched 12 of our own fertile eggs (from our laying flock) AND my son’s preschool teacher asked me to take home their classroom hatched chicks. Needless to say, I was up to my neck in baby chicks! After some flock and coop shuffling, and the construction of a transitional coop from a recycled dog house for some of the growing chicks, the meat flock actually ended up in my parents backyard in the City of Troy, while I kept both my parent’s as well as my own older girls (laying hens) and a few of the laying chicks.
Before long, the meat birds were ready. When I raised the flock of 100 meat birds, we had commercial farm standard “broilers“; white feathered, heavy birds that matured in just over 6 weeks. They ended up being quite tasty, but the way they grew so fast that they had trouble carrying their weight on their young legs was a bit disconcerting. I was excited that Allison’s chicks were rainbow rangers, a less common meat breed that grow a bit slower. As I hoped, they seemed to be stronger on their legs and more interested in foraging in my parents lawn for grass and bugs (diversity in their diet = healthier and tastier meat!).
We have our poultry minimally processed, meaning we get whole chickens as opposed to cut up parts, or boneless parts. I have found that this isn’t limiting but lets me make the choice with each bird – cooked whole, cut up, bone in or out, etc. Generally I roast or stew the chickens whole, but with the heat we’ve had so far this summer I haven’t been much interested in turning on the oven more that I need to, or having a steaming pot on the stove all day. So, I decided to try a new method of cooking a whole chicken on the grill which required I try a new technique – spatchcocking. A spatchcocked chicken cooks in one whole piece, but in much less time than a whole, intact chicken. We had my parents for supper that night, as it was the first chicken to be cooked from our joint poultry farming efforts and was a bit of a celebration! Spatchcocking the bird was a bit intimidating, but with a sharp pair of kitchen shears and a little determination, we had a delicious home-raised, home-cooked meal.
METHOD: SPATCHCOCKED GRILLED CHICKEN
First, place the bird bottom up & breast down on a big, washable work surface. I used a baking sheet. A wood cutting board would probably not be a good choice for this or any other raw meat. Using heavy-duty kitchen shears, cut along each side of the backbone from neck to tail. The section to be cut out ends up being about 1-1.5″ in diameter, if that helps for reference. You can also save the backbone to make chicken stock. I froze mine, as my chicken was fresh and not previously frozen. Next time I make stock, I’ll throw this in with whatever other bones I am using.
Spread the chicken open a bit and will see a long, flat bone with a slight point towards the tail (see photo above). This is the breastbone. Carefully cut around this bone and pry it out. This took some experimenting for me. The edges of this bone also cut easily, so I had to make a few second cuts to the adjacent meat to make sure I got all the small pieces out. When this bone is out, the chicken should flatten easily.
Flip the chicken over and press to flatten as much as possible.
Now, the chicken is ready to season. You can use whatever spice rub or marinade you choose. I decided to look to my garden for inspiration and ended up using a handful of garlic scapes, a few sprigs if dill and baby oregano (all from the yard) blended with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a few cracks of fresh ground pepper.
The resulting rough paste was rubbed all over the chicken, on both sides, and I covered and refrigerated the chicken for about an hour.
When grilling time came, the chicken went skin-side down onto a preheated grill at medium-high heat. After 15 minutes, I flipped the chicken and cooked it for another 15 minutes. I was also caught up in some conversation with my mom during this step, as I apparently forgot to take a photo of the grilling. Sorry!
When the chicken was done, I covered with foil and let it rest for about 5 minutes, as we do with most grilled meats. I think this step contributes to the texture and juiciness of the meat. Then, with freshly washed kitchen shears, we cut the chicken into parts and served! The skin was pretty crispy and blackened in some parts which worried me – it ended up only being an aesthetic issue, as the meat was absolutely delicious.
This is definitely a poultry method I will use again – it was fast and easy to prep and cook, didn’t make my house hotter, and tasted great. The best part, as with all whole-bird cooking, was the leftovers, which I used for a quick salad (also with my garden greens!) the next day for lunch.