Spatchcocking is is a simple and effective method for cooking game birds. Getting the skin crispy can be tricky, but if you do it right it’s one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy upland birds.
The term spatchcock is thought to derive from the phrase “to dispatch the cock,” that is, to butcher a rooster. It’s a method for breaking down a whole bird by cutting out the spine and flattening the carcass. With a strong pair of scissors, you can quickly get through a lot of birds. By doing this, you allow the meat to cook more quickly and consistently since there’s no hollow cavity blocking heat.
When making this recipe, use a pheasant that is in good shape. A shot-up bird might result in some fragmented bones, which aren’t a fun surprise when biting into the meat.
I like to add two skewers across the bird’s back to help stabilize the meat on the grill. It keeps the legs from flopping around and the skin from tearing.
Using a dry rub helps crisp the skin, keep the meat juicy and add flavor. Serve it with a side of mojo, a Cuban condiment that combines sour lime and orange juice, cilantro and a whole lot of garlic. If you didn’t keep the skin on, you can marinate the whole bird with the mojo sauce.
- 2 whole pheasants, plucked
- Fat for grilling (duck fat or oil)
- 4 skewers (2 per bird)
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 lime, zested
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 1 jalapeño (with or without seeds)
- Salt and pepper to taste
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- Make the dry rub by mixing the above listed ingredients in a bowl. The spice mix should be plenty for two whole birds. Save the leftover rub for seasoning other meats, potatoes, vegetables, etc.
- Using heavy-duty scissors, cut along each side of the spine. It helps to move the thigh and find where the joint connects to avoid cutting through any meat. Remove the backbone, pull the legs out and flip the bird over so that the breasts are facing up. Flatten out the bird by pressing down firmly on the breastplate with your hands. You might hear a crack on each side of the wishbone.
- Pat the pheasant as dry as you can with paper towels. Season generously with the dry rub. If you kept the skin on, be sure to rub the spice mix under the skin so it covers the meat, being careful not to tear it.
- For best results, I highly recommend setting your birds uncovered, skin side up on a baking rack or in a sheet pan inside a refrigerator. This will allow plenty of airflow. Let the pheasants rest and dry out for several hours or overnight in the fridge. The drier the skin is, the crispier it will be once grilled.
- Prepare the Mojo sauce by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth and store in the fridge until ready to use.
- Remove the pheasant from the fridge about an hour before grilling and let it come to room temperature.
- Rub the birds down with about 2 teaspoons of fat/oil per bird. Use skewers to help stabilize by piercing through the top of the breast and crossing over through the thigh meat on both sides to create an “X.” If you use bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling.
- Heat the grill over medium-high heat. Grill the pheasant skin side down for about 5 minutes, or until the skin begins to crisp and char. Flip the pheasant and then move it to the side of the grill over indirect heat. Turn the burners down to low and close the lid. Cook for an additional 25 minutes, or until the breast meat registers about 155 degrees.
- Remove the pheasant and serve with the mojo sauce.