How to Cut a Chicken in Half and Win the Crispy-Skin Game Every Time

Joe Sevier

By now you've heard of spatchcocking. Maybe you've done it? Maybe you've only giggled at the word "spatchcock" and moved on with your life. To refresh, it's the act of removing the backbone from a chicken or turkey so that the bird will lie flat, allowing the meat to cook more evenly in a shorter amount of time.

To take your spatchcocked clucker one notch further, however, here's an advanced step: halve it.

Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken with Buttery Pine Nuts

Photo by Alex Lau

Halving a chicken enables it to cook in even less time than the spatchcocked version. It also means that portioning meat at the end is a less messy chore, because you've already done a lot of the work.

From a practical cooking standpoint, a halved chicken is better too. "It's easier to fry," says assistant food editor Kat Boytsova, a fan of easy-frying. It's easier to flip on a grill or in a pan on the stove too, as it's smaller than a spatchcocked bird, which can be dangerously clumsy to flip, and quicker than chasing a chicken cut into 8 parts with a pair of tongs. Finally, and, I think, most importantly, a halved chicken looks more elegant than a spatchcocked chicken, which can sometimes appear a bit...I don't know, scandalous.

Here's how to cut a chicken in half:

How and Why to Cut a Chicken in Half - process 1

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Nathaniel James, Food Styling by Laura Rege

1. Spatchcock the Chicken

Sorry, you're still going to have to spatchcock first. The easiest way is to grab a pair of sharp kitchen shears and cut down each side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and stash it in your freezer for stock-making, if you're into that sort of thing.

How and Why to Cut a Chicken in Half process 2

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Nathaniel James, Food Styling by Laura Rege

2. Flatten the Chicken

Now that the back bone has been removed, use a chef's knife to make a score on the center of the underside of the breast bone, and then flip the bird over. Using the heel of your hand, press down like you're giving the bird the Heimlich. You'll hear a snap and the bird will flatten beneath your barbaric weight. Your bird has been spatchcocked.

How and Why to Cut a Chicken in Half process 3

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Nathaniel James, Food Styling by Laura Rege

3. Halve the Chicken

Make sure the chicken skin is evenly distributed across the front of the bird—just adjust it by sliding left or right if necessary. Using your biggest, sharpest knife (or a cleaver), slice through the skin in the center of the breasts from top to bottom to ensure it's evenly divided. Then, place the knife on that line and press down through the meat—you'll have to use a bit of muscle to cut through the bones and cartilage here—until the chicken is cut completely in two. Your chicken is now halved.

How and Why to Cut a Chicken in Half process 4

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Prop Styling by Nathaniel James, Food Styling by Laura Rege

With the skin all on a single side of each half, it's easier to render it exceptionally crisp, as Kat does in her most recent recipe—dill-flecked crispy chicken halves with garlicky potatoes. She first roasts the chicken halves until just about done and then quickly fries the cooked halves in shallot-infused oil until the skin is positively crackling all over—a feat usually unattainable with a chicken left whole.

To serve the dish, Kat cuts each half into two pieces: breast with wing and thigh with drumstick, but if you're working with small-enough chickens, you can also leave the halves whole. A spatchcocked, whole half-chicken: wrap your brain around that.

Crispy Skin Chicken with Dill and Garlic Sauce

Kat Boytsova