Ina Garten's Tip To Grilling Whole Chicken Perfectly Every Time

The taste of juicy, succulent pieces of chicken fresh from the grill is unbeatable. But if you're grilling a whole chicken, you can often find that it cooks unevenly, with the outside beginning to burn while the thicker parts remain undercooked. The leaner breast meat can also become drier than the fattier leg meat. Luckily, Ina Garten has a quick and easy solution to help it cook perfectly evenly: She flattens the bird before cooking it.

For her grilled Tuscan lemon chicken, the Barefoot Contessa uses a technique known as spatchcocking, which is similar to butterflying but is used for a whole chicken rather than just the breasts. You could ask your butcher to do this for you, but it's simple enough to do at home. It essentially involves removing the backbone from the bird and then flattening it before it's cooked.

The spatchcock method means a full chicken cooks more evenly than when it's left whole and intact, as the meat has a similar thickness throughout. Don't throw the backbone away; it can be used to create a flavorful jus or gravy to accompany the grilled poultry, or else kept in the freezer for a tasty stock or broth in the future.

Ina Garten spatchcocks a chicken so it cooks evenly

Ina Garten uses a sharp kitchen knife to remove the backbone from her chicken, running it first down the length of one side of the bone before repeating on the other side. If you find it easier, you could use a sharp pair of kitchen scissors or poultry shears instead.

When you've made the cuts, it's simple to lift the entire backbone out, before flipping the chicken over and flattening it using your hands. You'll hear a crack as the wishbone breaks, and you can also remove this bone too if you prefer. Once grilled, the chicken becomes both crisp and juicy thanks to the flatter shape, and it means the breasts and legs cook more evenly with less risk of the breast meat becoming dry and tough.

A flattened chicken is also faster to cook and will reach the recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in less time than a whole bird would take (per the USDA). Garten's chicken takes about 12 to 15 minutes on either side to cook on the grill. If you're roasting the chicken in the oven — which is the simplest dish in the world to make, according to Ina Garten — then you can expect it to cook around a quarter of an hour less than an intact bird.

More tips for grilling a whole spatchcock chicken

Spatchcocking a bird has other advantages as well as the speed and evenness of cooking, too. It makes it easier to apply a marinade or spice rub all over the meat, rather than just around the outside of a whole chicken. It also means you get a larger amount of crispy skin once the poultry is grilled or roasted since the flattened bird has more of the skin exposed, making it an especially delicious way of cooking.

Ina Garten uses a marinade of fresh lemon juice and zest, olive oil, chopped garlic, and fresh rosemary to give her flattened chicken heaps of flavor. But you could easily tailor the marinade to your tastes — whether you prefer spicy grilled tandoori chicken or fragrant grilled lemongrass chicken.

Leaving the grill lid open is usually one thing you should never do when grilling chicken, as you'll get a more tender result if it cooks in an enclosed space. But Garten has another top tip to get perfectly charred and juicy meat. She uses a heavy dish, such as the one she marinated the chicken in, to weigh down the chicken on each side as it cooks — which is similar to what Bobby Flay does for extra-crispy grilled chicken skin.