Q. I was looking through some old cookbooks. What does it mean when a recipe asks you to "spatchcock" a whole chicken?
A. The first references to "spatchcocking" appear in 18th-century Irish cookbooks. It's been said that "spatchcock" is an abbreviation of "dispatch the cock." In other words, to kill the chicken.
However, spatchcocking actually refers to a specific way of preparing the chicken so it can be flattened to cook quickly by grilling, roasting, or broiling, or over an open fire.
To spatchcock a chicken, you need a sturdy pair of kitchen shears. Place the chicken, breast-side-down, on a cutting board. Using the shears, cut away the backbone and discard it. Then, flip over the bird and press down to flatten it.
You can spatchcock any type of poultry, though this method is usually reserved for chickens, quails, and other small birds whose bones aren't too difficult to cut through. A butcher can also spatchcock your poultry.
The main advantage to spatchcocking is the fast cooking time, whether grilling or oven-roasting. To keep spatchcocked birds from drying out too quickly over a grill or under a broiler, marinate them first.