Roasting a chicken usually forces a cook to choose between juicy meat and crispy skin. While most cooking methods render these two outcomes mutually exclusive—high-and-dry heat crisps skin up nicely, but dries out the flesh; steamy heat ensures moist meat but rubbery skin—there’s one technique that will give you both desired results: sandwiching a butterflied chicken between two cast iron skillets. The bottom skillet sears the skin while the top applies enough weight to ensure as much skin-to-pan contact as possible, and traps just enough steam to keep the bird from drying out.
A similar technique calls for one or more bricks to do the work. While a brick does help flatten the chicken, it falls short when it comes to trapping steam. And who has extra bricks lying around, anyway?
Butterflying (or spatchcocking) a chicken is much easier than it sounds; all you have to do is cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it, then flip the chicken over and press down firmly on the breast, which will dislodge the breastbone. If you prefer a visual primer, check out this video from Serious Eats.
We strongly recommend salting your chicken a day ahead (a technique known as dry brining), then refrigerating it, uncovered, until you’re ready to cook. Over time, the salt will penetrate the meat, and the exposed skin will dry out, giving you crispier results. If you’re pressed for time (pun intended!), wait to season the bird just before you begin cooking.
If you’re using a newer cast iron skillet that hasn’t built up a solid base of seasoning yet, add an extra tablespoon or two of oil to prevent any chance of your chicken’s skin from sticking to the pan.
Chicken Under a Skillet
Yield: 4 servings
One 3 to 4-pound whole chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Using kitchen shears or a serrated knife, remove the chicken’s backbone. Place the chicken, skin-side down, on a cutting board and press it down as flat as possible. Generously season the chicken all over with salt (you should use about 1 teaspoon per pound of chicken) and place it on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 hours, and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Heat the oil in a No.10 (11 ⅝”) or No.12 (13 ⅜”) cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and season the top with pepper. Place another No. 10 (or your largest, heaviest cast-iron skillet) on top. Cook the chicken on the stovetop for 5 minutes, then transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove the top skillet and set aside. Using two sets of tongs, carefully flip the chicken over in the pan so it’s skin-side up. Season the skin with pepper and continue roasting, uncovered, until the skin is crispy and well browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165°F, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for a few minutes, then carve and serve.