This simple recipe rescues cooks from dry and boring chicken and fills the kitchen with a lovely garlicky-lemony-thyme smell that entices visitors before dinner is served. I have tried at least one hundred chicken recipes and have yet to find a moister and tastier way to grill our feathered friends. Spatchcocking makes it easier to grill whole chickens and the presentation is exquisite to boot. Last night, I drizzled slices of a country bread loaf with olive oil and toasted them on the grill after I removed the chickens. A bit messy, but I loved watching my kids and two guests from Zimbabwe dip the bread into the pan to sop up the extra chicken juices—pass the paper towels! This is a chicken for any season. In summer, I serve with simple greens dressed with a classic French mustard based vinaigrette. In winter, a pile of once a year mashed potatoes (okay four times a year at our house) and roasted carrots and parsnips. Last fall, we feasted on eight of these grilled birds outside near a roaring fire pit and enjoyed one last outdoor meal before the first snowfall. Pass wool blankets and bottles of Chardonnay. I promise everyone will have a new appreciation for serving chicken as the main course of a gathering of friends. 

Kitchen Notes
Air chilled chickens, rather than water chilled, are better quality. Spatchcock chicken may sound fancy, but this is a simple dish to prepare. If you need a visual to see how to prepare the chicken, view here


  • 2 (3 pound) chickens, spatchcocked

  • 3/4 cup olive oil

  • Zest of 6 unwaxed lemons

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • 10 cloves of garlic, grated or minced

  • 1 whole bunch of lemon thyme (regular thyme fine), leaves taken off of woody stems

  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 whole large sprigs of rosemary


1. To spatchcock the hens, put the chicken on a cutting board, and starting at front end, use kitchen shears to cut along one side of the backbone. You will feel the bone against your scissors. Repeat on the other side of the backbone (reserve and freeze bones for stock). Trim excess fat and remove any additional small bones. Flip the chicken over and press down firmly to flatten out. If it still doesn't lay flat, flip over again and use kitchen shears to make a 1/2 inch-1 inch notch in the backbone and press down again until chicken lays flat.  Set aside. 

2. For the marinade, mix all the other ingredients except rosemary in a bowl and divide the marinade between two one-gallon plastic bags. Add one chicken and 2 sprigs of rosemary to each bag, close, and massage the marinade to cover all parts of the spatchcocked hens. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to 24 hours. 

3. Fire up the outdoor grill. When ready to cook the chicken, turn the grill heat down to medium.

4. Remove chickens from the marinade (reserve the marinade) and place chickens on a half sheet pan. Carefully place the chickens on the grill, breast side up, and cook with grill cover closed for 15 minutes. Flip the chickens with a large spatula (the meat is tender so the pieces will break away if not done with a large spatula) and cook 10-12 minutes more.

5. As soon as the skin begins to look cooked but not black, carefully lift the chickens and place on the baking tray. Pour one bag on the reserved marinade over the chickens and place the tray back on the grill. Cover grill and cook until the thigh juices run clear, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the chickens.

6. Transfer the chickens to a serving platter and pour the pan juices around the chickens (avoid pouring on skin to preserve its crispy texture). At the table, the chicken may be carved into pieces. The chicken will be so tender that the pieces will break away easily. Cut each side of the breast into two pieces and leave the thigh and leg together as a piece. Pass a large spoon for the pan juices.

SERVES 6 to 8