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Sweet Tea and Molasses–Brined Spatchcock Chicken

spatchcock chicken by Tanya Holland

Sweet tea finds a delicious new use in this chicken recipe.

Known for her modern take on soul food, Bay Area chef Tanya Holland finds a delicious new application for sweet tea in her cookbook, California Soul. “Sweet tea isn’t just for drinking: Black tea’s herbal and tannic notes, plus the citrus zest and, well, sweetness, create a subtle brine for chicken,” writes Holland. “Molasses adds rich flavor and turns the bird’s skin a stunning mahogany, while the tea brine leaves the meat succulent and falling off the bone.” Mix up an extra batch and fire up the grill.


  • 6 cups water
  • 6 English breakfast teabags
  • 1 lemon, zest removed in thick strips
  • 1 orange, zest removed in thick strips
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 cups ice
  • One 2 1/2- to 3-pound whole chicken
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Tools:large saucepan, kitchen shears, sheet pan, wire rack, half-sheet pan, instant-read thermometer


Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags and lemon and orange zests and steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add the molasses, sugar, and salt, and stir until the molasses and salt are fully dissolved. Add the ice to cool the mixture down.

Spatchcock Your Chicken

Lay your chicken, breast-side down, on a cutting board. Using sharp kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it. (You will be cutting through the rib bones, so this will take a little force.) Discard or save the backbone for making stock or soup. Then flip the bird over and press down hard on the breastbone so the chicken lies flat.

Once your tea mixture has completely cooled, add the chicken, submerging it completely and letting it sit in the brine in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 16 hours. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Place it on a sheet pan or plate and refrigerate it for 2 hours. This will help to dry out the skin.

For Roasting

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a wire rack on a half-sheet pan and spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the chicken breast-side up on the rack. Drizzle with olive oil and rub to coat all the skin. You do not need to salt at this point, as the brine provides all the salt needed.

Roast the chicken until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check the chicken after about 20 minutes and if the skin is getting too dark, loosely tent with aluminum foil. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting it into pieces.

For Grilling

Prepare a grill for indirect grilling (for gas grills, turn one side on high heat and keep the other side off; for charcoal, place the coals on one side of the grill). Carefully oil the grill grates. Place the chicken, breast-side down, on the hot side of the grill and cook just until the skin shows grill marks, about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook the other side just until it is marked as well, another 4 minutes. Move the chicken to the cool side of grill, cover, and cook until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees F, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the grill and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.

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