What, Why, How: Spatchcock a bird

Spatchcocked birds cook faster!

When it comes to smoking a bird, you may of heard some people mention spatchcock. It’s a funny word for sure, but what is it exactly mean? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to explain the what, why, and how of spatchcocking.

What? Simply put, spatchcock is the method of flattening the bird by removing the backbone (some also remove the sternum).

Why? Flattening the bird helps it cook faster and for smoking reasons can help get that smoke flavor to the inside meat better.

How? To effectively remove the backbone of the bird, you’ll want to lay the bird chest side down (NOTE: make sure you have at least brined the bird before putting on the grill).

The bird is face down on the board (can it still be face down if it no longer has a face?).

Next, you’ll want to grab a chef’s knife or whichever knife you feel is sturdy enough to cut through bone (while I do own a Japanese-style Santoku knife, I refrain from using it to cut bone because the blade is so thin and this style has been known to chip when cutting harder objects). You will want to feel for the backbone by rubbing your fingers down the middle of the back and cut close to the left and right of the spine, respectively.

Using a sharp, sturdy knife (like this chef’s knife) sure is helpful.

If you’re having a hard time finding the spine, you can always look in the cavity of the bird to help guide you. Not only do you want a decent sharpness to the blade, but you’ll need to apply some pressure on the blunt part of the blade to help crack those bones so you can cut through completely (NOTE: if you’re like me and have a spouse who cringes at the sound of breaking bones of a dead bird, then you may want to give a warning. Not that I speak from experience or anything).

Spatchcocked and ready to flip over for smoking! Notice the backbone is removed.

Dispose of the backbone and you are now ready to prep your bird however you like and put on the smoker!

Spatchcocked bird getting some pecan smoke!

Smoked Chicken Wings

 

Smoked chicken wings...and drumsticks!
Smoked chicken wings…and drumsticks!

I’ve been looking for an excuse to smoke chicken wings because my family isn’t big on eating them. Wings always remind me of watching sports with friends and family and I figured the best time to make these is when we gather for a big game. But it’s March and being a baseball and college football fan, neither of my favorite sports are in season.  Fortunately, the NCAA basketball tournament came to the rescue! Since most of us who fill out brackets pay little attention to college hoops and suddenly think we’re experts and tune in once March Madness begins, this would be a great time to have people over and cook up some wings. I had those intentions, but life’s been a little crazy ever since my wife and I welcomed our newborn twins into this world earlier this month. After a little bit of effort, I convinced the Mrs. to let me do a food experiment with them. I’m sure it had nothing to do with her being exhausted at all. I followed a chicken wing recipe of Jeff Phillips at www.smoking-meat.com and deviated just a little from it.

Meat: 3.5 lbs. Chicken wings (and drumsticks)

Ingredients (marinade): 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup rub

Ingredients (glaze): 1/2 cup BBQ sauce, 1/2 cup ginger ale, 2 Tablespoons of honey

Wood: Pecan

Smoke Temp.: 240°F/115.6°C

Time: 2 hours

Broiler (optional): 2-3 minutes each side

Finish Temp.: 170°F/76.6°C

When looking for chicken wings, I just went to my local grocery store and picked up a package of Tyson brand, although any brand should do. I like the meat on drumsticks and they are easier for me to eat, so I picked up a pack of those, as well. All in all, I have about 3.5 pounds of meat.

As long as they're not expired, any brand of wings will do.
As long as they’re not expired, any brand of wings will do.

I brought these home and tossed them in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, which fit all the meat with room to spare. Next, I tossed about 1/3 C olive oil and 1/2 C of rub, which I did a mix of both Plowboys Yardbird Rub and Loot N’ Booty Gold Star Chicken Rub because…well, because I can. I zipped up the bag and put it in the fridge overnight.

These wings are in the bag.
These wings are in the bag.

Next, I went out to the smoker, heated up some coals, threw on some pecan wood, got it to about 240°F, and put the wings in.

Ain't no thing but a chicken wing.
Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.

At about the 90-minute mark, I made a glaze that was a simple mix of BBQ sauce, honey, and ginger ale.

Here are the three amigos I used for the glaze.
Here are the three amigos I used for the glaze.

Thirty minutes later (two hours total), and moving them a little closer to the firebox, the wings got to the temp I was looking for, which is between 170-180°F. This is a little warmer than the 165°F that poultry is considered done at, but heating it up to the 170-180°F range gives it more of a fall-off-the-bone chew to it. Even though these are now technically done, I pull them off the smoker and put them in the broiler to get more of a crispy skin that wings usually have.

On the tanning bed ready to get a little crispy.
On the tanning bed ready to get a little crispy.

I put them in for a couple of minutes on each side to get more crisp. However, it didn’t seem to do much. I’ve come to learn that smoked wings won’t get the same crisp that good old-fashioned wings do, but the flavor of your favorite wood infused into your chicken will more than make up for it. I chose pecan because I love that mild, tasty flavor it brings. Feel free to use your favorite, but I do recommend at least trying the pecan.

Smoked chicken wings...and drumsticks!
The finished product tasted just as good as it looked!

Give it a shot and feel free to share what you think!