100 Techniques

Technique #55: Butterfly a Chicken to Roast It Over the Rest of the Meal

Make the most of schmaltzy chicken flavor in this easy one-pan format.

Published Sept. 7, 2023.

This is Technique #55 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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One-pot meals conjure up visions of stews, casseroles, and stir-fries, and these are all great options.

But here’s a way to take one-pot dinners to a whole new level: roasting a butterflied chicken in a skillet right over the rest of the meal—such as seasoned bread or stuffing, or sliced potatoes or other sturdy vegetables.

Snip the Backbone and Lie the Chicken Flat

It takes just a few minutes and a good pair of kitchen shears to butterfly a chicken by snipping out the backbone and then pressing down on its breastbone to help the bird lie flat. Opening the chicken like a book promotes more even cooking of the breast and thigh meat. And a butterflied chicken cooks considerably faster than an unbutterflied whole bird, allowing you to roast it at a high temperature to achieve mahogany skin and a succulent interior.

Don’t Trim the Fat

Many of our chicken recipes call for trimming away any excess fat and skin. But when using this technique, it’s often beneficial to leave them on the bird, since those elements produce hugely flavorful drippings for the ingredients underneath the chicken to absorb during roasting. The bed of bread or vegetables will become saturated with savory chicken juices on the top side and turn deeply golden and crispy on the bottom where they make contact with the pan. We prefer a skillet to a roasting pan for this technique, since a skillet’s smaller surface area allows everything to cook through and turn golden without risk of scorching.

Butterflied whole chicken
A butterflied whole chicken cooks faster.

Be Sure to Season

A trick we often use when roasting whole chicken is salting the bird underneath the skin and letting it rest in the refrigerator before cooking, and we do that with butterflied whole chicken as well. The salt draws moisture from the flesh, forming a concentrated brine that is eventually reabsorbed, seasoning the meat and keeping it juicy. Meanwhile, the skin dries, so it browns and crisps in the oven more readily.

Carve and Serve

Serving a roasted butterflied chicken is simple: Cut the leg quarters at the joint to separate them from the breast. Cut each leg quarter to separate into drumstick and thigh. Remove each breast by cutting along the rib cage. Separate the wings from the breast by cutting through the joint. Last, halve each breast crosswise.

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Watch ATK host Bridget Lancaster butterfly a whole chicken in this video.

Step-by-Step: How To Butterfly a Chicken to Roast It Over the Rest of the Meal

Butterflying a whole chicken may seem intimidating at first, but the benefits of roasting it on top of veggies is well worth the effort. Allowing flavorful drippings to meld with the vegetables as the chicken cooks is an easy and time-saving technique, and you can follow the steps below to learn how.

Step 1: Snip the Backbone 

To butterfly chicken, first cut through bones on either side of backbone using kitchen shears. If directed, trim any excess fat and skin around neck.

Step 2: Flatten the Chicken 

Use heel of your hand to flatten breastbone so chicken will lie flat. If directed, pound breasts to same thickness as legs and thighs.

Step 3: Season 

Insert your fingers between meat and skin and gently loosen skin, being careful not to tear it. Gently spread seasoning under skin, directly on meat. Lay skin back over meat.

Step 4: Prep the Chicken 

Tuck wingtips behind back and rotate legs so drumsticks face inward toward breasts. Refrigerate if directed.

Step 5: Roast 

Roast chicken atop croutons or vegetables until skin is deep golden brown and chicken is cooked through.

Step 6: Continue to Cook Other Ingredients 

Transfer chicken to carving board; proceed with other ingredients as directed. If vegetables are not yet tender, return to oven to finish cooking.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you know how to boost the flavor of your veggies while cooking a whole butterflied chicken, you can use your newfound knowledge in the recipe below.


The Chicken Bible

Say Goodbye to Boring Chicken with 570+ Recipes for Easy Dinners, Braises, Wings, Stir-Fries, and So Much More

Roast Chicken with Warm Bread Salad

San Francisco's Zuni Café serves perfect roast chicken with a chewy-crisp, warm bread salad that has a cultlike following. We pay homage to the dish with a streamlined take.
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