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Recently I tried to butterfly a chicken before roasting it (in the oven) and I totally liked it. It cooks faster, browns more evenly and is easier to carve. It's slightly more difficult to move the chicken from the pan and I can't put aromatics (like lemon) inside it. These are the only disadvantages I can imagine and they don't look as very important.

So my question is: why mess with a whole chicken if you can butterfly it? What advantages (and disadvantages of butterflying) am I missing?

And second question, related to the first: why even stop at butterflying if I can separate a chicken into parts before roasting? No need to carve at all and it solves the problem when breasts cooks faster than other parts (I can remove them earlier). What are the cons here?

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    The only benefit of roasting the bird whole is in the presentation. You can place your aromatics and other flavorants under the butterflied bird if you wish. There are many methods to avoid overcooked breast meat (most involve par cooking the legs on the stove top first or elaborate foil tenting rituals.) – Mr. Mascaro Jan 20 '15 at 14:30
  • ... because you'd have a whole chicken to eat! – SaturnsEye Jan 21 '15 at 9:15
  • Or you can just cook it upside down and it cooks perfectly without any faffing around. – JamesRyan Jan 21 '15 at 10:33
20

The reasons people still roast whole birds are:

  • Roasting a whole chicken is easier than butterflying it. While it's not tough to butterfly a chicken many people don't know how, or don't want the cleanup
  • It's less prep time to roast a whole chicken. If you are busy you can have it from the fridge to the oven in less than a minute, while butterflying or jointing it isn't super-quick
  • Aesthetics: some people like the look of a whole chicken on the table
  • Also it keeps in the juices and stops it from going dry. – JamesRyan Jan 21 '15 at 10:36
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    I would disagree with that @JamesRyan, the reason that chicken gets dry is overcooking, plain and simple. Butterflying a chicken generally helps to cook a chicken more evenly, therefore is better for moist chicken. – GdD Jan 21 '15 at 10:41
  • It makes it easier not to cook it badly however it doesn't cook it better than the whole chicken method done well. Otherwise it would just be the standard way of cooking chicken, which it isn't. – JamesRyan Jan 21 '15 at 11:08
9

If your goal is to cook your chicken relatively quickly, the only reason to keep it whole is for presentation/appearance and to avoid cutting it up. (For example, I know some people who simply hate handling raw meat, and I imagine for them that the task of butterflying is not only laborious but distressing.) From my perspective, you can save so much roasting time by investing a couple minutes in cutting it up -- and it really only takes a couple minutes once you know how -- and get better evenness and get better crispness. Why not butterfly or cut directly into quarters or pieces?

However, sometimes the goal is not saving the greatest amount of time. The question mentions aromatics and elements placed inside the cavity: those will have greater impact when roasting for a longer time at lower heat. But the even greater advantages for the whole bird come when you lower the temp even more and take a "low and slow" approach, as some people do. While the USDA doesn't approve this, many people roast their chickens (and other birds) at 250F or 225F or even 200F, for anywhere from a few hours to 8 hours or more. With extended roasting time, the meat and connective tissue softens, the fat renders beautifully, and you get an extremely tender and succulent texture, while any aromatics have time to be absorbed more fully.

If you cut up your chicken into parts or butterflied it before such a long roast, it could dry out, and you wouldn't have the moderating influence of the large structure to keep the interior relatively balanced. It's like the difference between cooking a steak and large roast of beef. Use the same logic for large hunks of poultry: If cooking fast and quick, cut up is better. If cooking low and slow, there are flavor, texture, and moisture benefits to keeping it whole.

  • It's quite commonplace to cook a whole chicken in a slow cooker here in the UK - and that not going to be above 100°C. I'm not sure why the USDA don't like it - I doubt it can be salmonella (though we have a lot less of that over here) as it's killed well below boiling point. The only downside is no browning. – Chris H Jan 20 '15 at 21:35
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    @ChrisH - The USDA and FDA have a bunch of relatively inconsistent food safety recommendations. Slow cookers (properly functioning) are generally okay for them, as is smoking for long times at a low temperature. But for whatever reason, in a standard oven they generally recommend 325-350F (about 160-175C) as a minimum roasting temperature for poultry (and most meats, actually), regardless of the size of the bird. Since we seem duty-bound to convey recommendations of official food safety organizations on this site, I included that disclaimer. – Athanasius Jan 21 '15 at 13:48
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    @ChrisH It is worth keeping in mind that food safety advice may not be cross-border compatible. There are many different approaches to food safety. In general, Europe focuses more on keeping the live poultry salmonella free (with occasional contamination), whereas America takes the line that contamination should be assumed and shifts the safety burden onto the food handler. Both approaches have merit. The European approach is generally safer, but encourages potentially unsafe practices. The American approach is initially less safe, encouraging safer practices. c.f. refrigerating eggs. – DeveloperInDevelopment Jan 22 '15 at 3:42
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    @imsotiredicantsleep re: eggs, this isn't just a different practice. In the US the natural protective coating is washed off during processing so they MUST be refrigerated, in Europe it is not so refrigeration is not required. – JamesRyan Jan 22 '15 at 10:18
  • @imsotiredicantsleep The eggs are a particularly strong example as JamesRyan said, but in the case of chicken the system in the UK is more "minimise contamination and assume it's contaminated" (campylobacter figures are ridiculously high). On the plus side here, combined with different practices in similar countries, questions attract a wider range of answers – Chris H Jan 22 '15 at 17:57
4

Additionally to the other answers, you cannot rotisserie a flat bird, which to me, is a great way to cook chicken.

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    You could, but you'd need a special rack. (see this video: youtube.com/watch?v=z7pihZB9Iiw) – Max Jan 20 '15 at 15:45
  • OK not without special equipment – Neil Meyer Jan 20 '15 at 16:09
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    A rotisserie would fall under "special equipment" for me regardless. – logophobe Jan 20 '15 at 16:22
3

One word.

Stuffing.

You can make stuffing balls, or cook it in a ramekin - but it picks up the meat juice from the bird, and can also flavor the meat from the inside.

  • Stuffing is good, it tends to dry the bird out though. – GdD Jan 20 '15 at 17:02
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    You can also still make "stuffing" without the well um... "stuffing". Just put a layer down at the bottom of the pan and place your butterflied chicken on top. tada! – talon8 Jan 20 '15 at 18:56
  • @talon8, that's my favorite way for stuffing! Cook's Illustrated has a good recipe for this, and it cooks a bit faster and has less chance of undercooking the stuffing. – Alan Shutko Jan 21 '15 at 16:33
  • I could care less about stuffing, but I have inlaws who love it. I'm more concerned that to get the stuffing to a safe temperature, you absolutely MUST overcook your poultry. – talon8 Jan 21 '15 at 17:00
  • @talon8 - no, you don't. Unless you have very delicate hands, lack spoons, etc., entirely, or are otherwise unable to stuff the bird with hot dressing. – Stan Rogers Jan 22 '15 at 0:36
1

Cooking meats whole and on the bone gives a deeper flavour and thus I would rather cook poultry whole, including chicken.

Obviously it depends on the exact recipe you are using the meat in, but if you plan to serve the meat as-is, accompanied by side dishes and a sauce, you will definitely get a better flavour by roasting the bird whole and then carving off the meat. If you use the meat as filling for a pasta sauce or curry, don't bother and just use carved up fillets.

As for the cooking time argument: I find that things taste better when cooked for a longer time, slowly. Your meat becomes more infused with your spicing and due to thickness retains its moisture better.

The problem with the breasts cooking before the legs on a roast chicken has been solved a long time ago and does not require a lot of extra effort. I'm sure the process is described somewhere on this site, but have not yet looked for it.

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    I didn't -1, but it could be that the bone=flavour link is widely considered a myth, see seriouseats.com/2013/03/… – March Ho Jan 20 '15 at 19:20
  • Interesting read. I was quite convinced that this was different for the bones of birds. Obviously our dear voters can't bothered to actually provide any feedback :) – Richard ten Brink Jan 20 '15 at 22:27
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    Butterflying the chicken still leaves it cooking on the bone while cooking, so this isn't an advantage to either way. – Alan Shutko Jan 21 '15 at 16:34

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