How to Butterfly a Chicken

I often hear people say they’d like to change to a more organic, unprocessed diet, but . . . they think it’s difficult and it’s (always) expensive. I understand why people think this way. In a world where we’re accustomed to buying a package of cheap food, throwing it in the microwave and serving dinner, many people have never learned the basic skills which allow the purchase of whole foods and their preparation without much fuss. It takes resolve to walk past the already-prepared supermarket rotisserie chicken and instead buy a whole chicken and prepare it ourselves.  It takes a little practice to build our skills so preparation time decreases.

I love helping people overcome the obstacles between them and a more healthy diet. I want to dissolve the illusion that it’s too difficult, too time consuming, and too expensive. I spent hundreds of hours with my editors and photographer honing and crafting my cookbook toward that purpose. We think of it as a tool kit full of new, uncomplicated dishes helping you reshape the recipes and flavors you love.

My favorite “quick” meal at home is butterflied chicken with vegetables. I can assemble the chicken and vegetables in less than 10 minutes, throw it in the oven and let it roast away while I tend to the home, kids, phone calls, or whatever comes my way. In about 45 minutes, I pull out a gloriously golden chicken with sweet, caramelized vegetables surrounding it and we all dig in.

I always buy whole chickens. Mainly because they’re much cheaper (usually $5-7 less a pound) than chicken breasts and after the family eats dinner, we usually have some left over for a lunch or two the next day and then I use the carcass for chicken stock. Talk about an economical way to use an organic chicken! Many of my friends look at me funny when I tell them I butterfly my own chickens. Honestly it’s not hard. You need a sharp pair of kitchen shears and your hands (put on some gloves if the raw meat makes you squeal).

Turn the chicken breast side down. Using a sharp pair of kitchen shears cut along both sides of the backbone.

Turn the chicken over and point wings towards legs. (Make sure to reserve the backbone to include in your chicken stock.)

Doesn’t seem so hard, does it? We took these photos when I was at Helen’s home during the photo shoot for my cookbook (thank you Helen!). The butter with herbs is simply divine, so take a peek in your copy for the recipe.

If you’re looking to make a change, but held back my worries about time and money, try this step:  Find a good source for organic pastured whole chickens, roast one, and use the whole bird for several nutritious meals.  You may find it fits into your lifestyle and your budget.

Simple Butterflied Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

Serving Size: Serves 4

Simple Butterflied Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

The vegetable measurements are simply a guide. You can add more, or use different vegetables depending on your taste and what's in season. If you're looking for ideas, you might consider leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. If you've like to serve potatoes or a starchy vegetable along with your roasted chicken then cut them into wedges, toss with butter, salt and pepper and place in a baking dish and bake along-side the chicken.


  • 1 4-5lb. chicken (organic and pastured preferred)

  • 2 cups carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

  • 3 tablespoons ghee or palm shortening, melted
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 450ºF and adjust rack to middle position. Place chicken in a large roasting pan and surround with vegetables. Using a pastry brush, brush chicken with melted ghee and then pour remaining butter over surrounding vegetables. Toss vegetables gently and then season chicken and vegetables generously with salt and pepper.

Roast chicken for 30 minutes and then rotate pan 180 degrees. Continue to roast, about 25 minutes, until crisp and golden brown, and a thermometer reaches 160°F (70°C) when inserted in the thickest part of the breast. Remove from the oven and before serving, let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes to allow juices to redistribute.

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  1. Great helpful tips! Your chicken recipe sounds delish too!

  2. Lovely! So, I did it right!?!?!?! Ha! I just made this on Tuesday… perfect for our snowed/iced- in weather. I had never butterflied a chicken before… you’ve taught me SO much Carrie Vitt! For a gal on a budget and mother of young children – this is truly easy, affordable and so tasty. (So now I need to make me some stock!) Thank you… ~ kim

  3. That’s such an easy way to butterfly a chicken. I have never done that. I think I have to learn how to use a pair of kitchen scissors for doing that. I’m only good with the cleaver 😛 Very nice, clear pictures how to do it. Thanks very much for sharing.

  4. Brooke@foodwoolf

    I can’t believe it, but I have NEVER butterflied a chicken. I mean, I roast at least one chicken a week and still…I’ve never even considered adding this to my toolbox! Thank you for the easy step by step! You’re the best.

  5. A picture really is worth a thousand words. That photo series takes all the questions about of butterflying instructions!

    I agree that in this day and age with all the stress and the hectic nature of modern life it can seem harder to cook for oneself at home. But when I think of how important it is that we put into our bodies healthy and wholesome foods I can’t justify NOT buying organic ingredients whenever I can and doing the cooking at home.

    Funny story… my daughter (she’s 6) went on a playdate this week and came home reporting that her friend’s mother made them popcorn in the microwave! She said, “isn’t that weird mommy?” (I always make it on the stove from the kernels.) It was funny but it also made me feel good that my kids are getting a good start on avoiding convenience in favor of quality, not the other way around.

      • I agree–starting them on healthy food early on is so important! We’ve been getting organic free-range eggs for so long that recently, when one of the eggs was a very very pale {almost white} green {from a young Araucana chicken}, my kids {ages 4 and 5} said, “Mom look–isn’t this white egg so weird?!” Made me smile :)

  6. Sara L

    My question is in the roasting method. When cooking, does the fat on the chicken render and soak the veggies, making them oily? Would you recommend using a rack for the chicken? Thanks

    The pictures are lovely and really show a great step by step way to butterfly the chicken! thanks for the post

    • My family likes the juices that the chicken gives off. It flavors the vegetables even more. You could use a rack but the juices and fat will still fall to the bottom. If you’re using an organic, pastured chicken then you’ll want all those nutrients from the fat (high in omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid!). You can also use the juices and fat to make a delicious gravy.

  7. This looks so easy! Thanks for all the great pictures. I can find organic chickens easy enough, but pastured are hard to come by. Trader Joes has “Free Range” organic chicken, but it looks really different than the pastured birds I’ve gotten before. Any tips on finding a truely pastured bird? Thanks.

  8. I recently bought my first whole chicken–simmered it with veggies for broth, deboned it and have been using the chicken and broth for various recipes for about a week now. While the raw whole chicken grossed me out big time, it was totally worth it! I’m totally sold on buying whole organic chickens now. Not nearly as scary as I’d anticipated, the meat tastes so much better and is so versatile!


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