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Spatchcocking Your Game Birds is the latest in ‘Braising the Wild’

Jack Hennessy explores spatchcocking game birds this week in Braising the Wild.

Spatchcocking game birds.
Jack Hennessy

Spatchcocking is a word fun to say and type. (Yes, sometimes I am a child.). It also happens to be timely, not just for hunters headed to deer camp next week, but also for those considering other Thanksgiving options.

As always, you learn something from Jack Hennessy in “Braising the Wild.”

Here is this week’s technique or recipe:


The technique of spatchcocking game birds is something I first started experimenting with several years ago and is what I might classify as a “partial-game-changer.” Nothing that will blow your mind but definitely worth trying. What it is, basically: Cutting out the spine of a bird and flattening the bird so the legs, wings, and breasts are basically level with one another.

The easiest way to do this is to use a pair of kitchen shears and cut close to the spine. Cut from down both sides, from neck to tail, until you can toss out the spine and open the bird like a book. I usually end of cracking the rib cage as I flatten the bird.

I use this technique most often on upland birds such as pheasant or grouse, but it can be used on any bird.

What spatchcocking does:

​With all main parts of a bird pressed against a hot skillet or grill, the skin sears evenly. When finished, skin is crispy and flavorful.

A spatchcocked bird—as opposed to a trussed, roasted bird—cooks faster, which means the meat stays moister too.

Generally speaking, the legs of a spatchcocked bird reaches a desired temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit around the same time the breast reaches a finished temperature of 160 degrees.

Some spatchcocking tips and ideas:

Consider using a grill weight or even a brick covered in aluminum foil to place atop the bird as it sits breast-side-down on the grill or in the skillet, as this will help the meat sear evenly.

If you enjoy barbecue sauce, once the breast side is crispy, you can flip and apply sauce, and continue to cook the bird until the breasts read 160 and legs 180 (if an upland bird).

Spatchcocking ducks is tricky, as breasts can overcook while waiting for legs to reach 180. Consider bringing duck to room temp prior to cooking but placing ice packs on breasts of duck and leaving them there until cooking.

Obviously, don’t forget to flip the bird once the breast side is crispy so not to burn and to continue cooking the bird.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured this was a technique worth sharing, but also because many hunters are heading afield and setting up camps where they’re cooking game they shot just hours beforehand. In those scenarios, spatchcocking birds is a great option to cook birds to feed hungry hunters as quickly as possible. As always, if you have any questions, never hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook: @BraisingTheWild.