Weeknight Cooking

The 30-Minute Roast Chicken You're Not Making Yet

January 26, 2018

I kept going back to the same roast chicken recipes. One, in a preheated cast-iron skillet, a trick I nabbed from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Two, spatchcocked—less flashily known as butterflied—a whole-poultry technique also introduced to me by Bittman, who developed a “45-Minute Roast Turkey” for the New York Times in 2002. People have been spatchcock-crazed ever since.

And yet, it was another trend entirely that gave me the idea to combine the two: sheet-pan suppers. I need not tell you that our love for sheet pans knows no bounds. We use them for sweet potatotes. Tofu. Eggs. And, of course, chicken.

As I read recipe after recipe, I started to wonder: Could sheet pans be the secret to merging my two favorite roast chickens? An experiment was in order. So, grab your poultry shears and the nearest dead chicken. Good? Good! Let’s get started.


Question: Does a spatchcocked chicken on a preheated sheet pan take less time to cook than either original method?

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Observations: A 4-pound chicken roasted at 450° F will take about an hour. Preheating a cast-iron skillet—and using it as the roasting vessel—lowers that time to 50 or so minutes. Spatchcocking the chicken and roasting at the same temperature: 45 or so minutes.

Hypothesis: A 4-pound, spatchcocked chicken roasted at 450° F on a preheated sheet pan will take less than 45 minutes.

Constants: 450° F oven. Rimmed sheet pan. 4-pound chicken—I used air-chilled, which is a little pricier but less waterlogged (read: crispier skin!). 1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for rubbing. 2 teaspoons kosher salt, for seasoning. Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning.

Before we preheat our ovens—a word on spatchcocking: You cut out the spine, flip the bird over, then press it flat. That’s it. The benefits: a flat shape means more even cooking. And faster cooking. And crispier skin. And it’s easier to carve. Spatchcock or bust!

Chicken #1: classic spatchcock. I set the oven to 450° F. While it preheated, I spatchcocked the chicken, patted it dry with paper towels, then rubbed it with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I transferred the chicken onto a room-temperature sheet tray. By this time, the oven had reached temperature. I got the chicken in. It took about 45 minutes to cook (that is, to reach 165º F in the joint between the thigh and body).

Chicken #2: spatchcock on a preheated sheet pan. I set the oven to 450º F and immediately put the sheet tray in. When the oven reached its temperature, I set a 15-minute timer. Meanwhile, I spatchcocked the chicken, patted it dry with paper towels, then rubbed it with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. When the timer went off, I pulled the sheet pan from the oven, quickly added the chicken, then put it back into the oven. It took about 30 minutes to cook.

Dinner tonight: please and thank you. Photo by James Ransom

Conclusion: 30 minutes?! The skin was crispy and varnished and I felt like a weeknight warrior. Some suggestions for other kitchen scientists, like yourself, who wish to yield similar results: Secure a loaf of crusty bread and your favorite wine. Make a just-greens salad with olive oil and a lot of vinegar. After you carve the chicken, add the pieces back to the sheet pan. This is—ta-da!—your serving platter. At the table, tear the bread into hunks and use those to sop up anything and everything on the pan. Your hands will be chickeny and your clothes might get messy. Good.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Brooke B. August 7, 2019
Interesting! Do you place the chicken skin-side down on the preheated sheet pan and flip it after it's gotten a head start crisping or do you place it skin side up? I think I'll try it with a cast iron skillet!
Author Comment
Emma L. August 7, 2019
Hi! I place the chicken skin side-up on the sheet pan and don't flip it. Here's the full recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/75282-30-minute-roast-chicken. And just a heads up: I'm not sure what size your skillet is, but a standard (9- or 10-inch) cast-iron won't be big enough for the spatchcocked chicken to lay completely flat.
Lexy February 7, 2018
So is the chicken better on the preheated sheet pan? Because I’m failing to see how you’re actually saving any time ... 15 minutes of preheating your sheet pan + 30 minuets of cooking your chicken = 45 minutes, no? Wasn’t that the original cooking time for the non-preheated sheet pan? Am I missing something? Or did I misread the article?
Author Comment
Emma L. February 8, 2018
Hi Lexy—the combined prep/cook times are comparable. The question I explored with this experiment was: Can the chicken’s time in the oven be lowered? And, because of the preheated sheet pan, it can. Beyond that, I love the way the bird turned out with this technique, very tender and juicy!
Julie February 1, 2018
I have done a spatchcocked chicken on a very large cast iron skillet (with a foiled preheated brick on top). My next attempt will be preheating the cast iron skillet and the brick! YUM!! I also remove the wishbone for easier carving, as Antonia recommended below (A trick learned from Julia) .
Author Comment
Emma L. February 1, 2018
Hi Julie—do report back!
FWK February 1, 2018
I am assuming that this is NOT in a convected oven.
Author Comment
Emma L. February 1, 2018
This was tested in a conventional oven, not a convection. That said, if you have a convection oven, that feature is fantastic for roasting poultry! (I'd just lower the temp a bit, maybe to 400° F.)
Dave January 28, 2018
A great combo! I'll put this high on my list to try.
How about combining pan-roasted veggies, too?
Do you think 30 minutes at 450° would do the job?
Author Comment
Emma L. January 28, 2018
Hi Dave, yes! Timing will vary on the vegetable type (and how you cut it). But I imagine that halved, small potatoes, quartered onions, chunks of carrots or parsnips, or even wedges of fennel, would all do really well. Toss with a bit of olive oil and salt before adding to the pan.
Dave January 28, 2018
And, they'd help sop up all those delicious chicken drippings!
Glenn January 27, 2018
This is a great recipe! I did try something a little different. I de-boned the chicken altogether. It's not that hard with a little practice. Spatchcocking is much easier but I found that with a good sharp knife I was able to completely de-bone the bird. Start breast side down and cut top to bottom along the length of the backbone just deep enough to start filleting the bird along the bone structure. It works best if the bird is slightly frozen in the breast area.
Once the main skeleton is removed you can bone the thighs and remove the wing tips. You will have 2 leg bones and 6 wing bones when done. It's worth the little bit of time to do this. This is also very good on the grill! Use a fish BBQ basket to secure the boneless bird for easy turning. Flip often!
AntoniaJames January 26, 2018
Also, for easier carving, remove the wishbone before putting the bird in the oven. And it's much easier to flatten the bird if you clip a few inches lengthwise (you don't have to remove entirely) the aptly-named keel bone -- that piece between the two breast halves that looks like the keel of a ship. ;o)