In my estimation, if you really want to cook the perfect whole chicken, you need to equip your grill with a rotisserie.
Why is spit-roasting over or next to an open flame such a perfect way to cook chicken? I have a few theories. First, the slow rotation in front of a live fire provides a gentle, even heat that cooks the legs through without drying out the breast meat. Second, as the bird cooks, the fat under the skin melts, basting the meat continuously. Third, the steady, even exposure to the flame crisps the skin without burning it.
Grilling on a Rotisserie
1. Start with a good chicken, preferably grain fed, free range, and organic. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body cavities of the chicken. Remove the package of giblets and set aside for another use. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels.
2. Generously salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. For extra flavor you can put a peeled garlic clove, bay leaf, strip of lemon zest, and/or a sprig of rosemary inside the body and neck cavities. (My editor, Suzanne, inserts slices of garlic under the skin.)
3. Tightly truss the bird, using either butcher’s string and a trussing needle or skewers. Trussing helps the meat cook evenly and it gives the bird an attractive shape for serving.
4. Set up the grill for rotisserie cooking (see page 20). If using charcoal, light 50 to 60 coals and let them burn down until glowing red and covered with a thin coat of ash. Rake one row of coals just in front of the place the chicken will be turning and one row just behind it. Place a drip pan directly under where the chicken will be.
If using a gas grill, turn the front and rear burners on high and leave the middle burner off. Put the drip pan in the center.
5. Place the chicken on the spit according to the rotisserie manufacturer’s directions, then set the spit in place on the grill and turn the rotisserie on. Cook, covered if possible, until the chicken skin is gorgeously browned and the flesh is cooked through, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Every 15 minutes or so, baste the rotating bird with the juices that accumulate in the drip pan. When cooked, the bird’s internal temperature will read 180°F on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the inner muscle of one thigh, not touching the bone. Another test is to pierce the thickest part of the thigh with the tip of a skewer or sharp knife the juices should run clear. Unspit the chicken and transfer it to a cutting board or platter. Let stand for 5 minutes before carving. Remove the trussing strings (or skewers) and get ready for great eating.
Grilling without a Rotisserie
You can also make a delicious chicken using the indirect grilling method. As above, you must start with a good chicken and season and truss it.
1. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan in the center of the grill, under the grate, and preheat to medium. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the hot grate over the drip pan.
2. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through (as determined above), 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Baste the bird with the pan drippings every 20 minutes or so as it cooks. If using a charcoal grill, add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side per hour. Let the chicken stand for 5 minutes before carving and serving.
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