Newsletter Up In Smoke

Get Raichlen's Burgers! plus weekly recipes and tips straight from Steven Raichlen!



How To Roast A Perfect Chicken On The Grill

Back in the Dark Ages when I was attending cooking school in Paris, one of the most difficult things to cook perfectly was a roast chicken.

If you mastered the perfect roast chicken, it was assumed you could cook anything.

Truth be told, I don’t do much oven-roasting of chicken these days, but I’ve cooked the equivalent of a whole flock on my grill over the years. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to cook “yard birds,” as they’re called on the competition barbecue circuit, is rotisseried on the grill over a wood fire or a fire that’s enhanced with wood chunks or smoking chips. The slow, gentle rotation promotes even cooking and bastes the bird with its own juices, both inside and out. Plus, roasting chickens at higher heat ensures crisp—not rubbery—skin.

Rotisserie chickens have become incredibly popular in the U.S. over the last decade. Some 900 million rotisserie chickens were sold in 2018, reports Nation’s Restaurant News. They are often a loss leader for big box stores, selling for less than their cost, or utilize birds that are bumping up against their sell-by dates.

I’d argue whole birds are so much better when prepared at home, especially when wood smoke is added to the equation. The flavor is more complex and satisfying. I like to roast an extra bird to use in sandwiches, salads, quesadillas, tortilla soup, etc.

Here are the four techniques I use to roast the perfect bird:

    1. Select a good bird, preferably organically-raised from a small local farm.

      The term “organic” means the birds are free range and have been raised on a diet of organically-grown food, meaning no genetically-modified grains (GMOs), chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. (Click here to learn more about demystifying labels on chicken. 

    2. Apply your favorite poultry-friendly rub; I’m partial to my Project Smoke line of rubs.

      On chicken, the Kansas City Smoke Rub and Greek Island Herb Rub are especially good. Or you can use your favorite. Place the bird (or birds) on a rimmed sheet pan and sprinkle them with the rub from a height of about 12 inches for even distribution. You can also apply a thin coating of extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, or other fat either before or after seasoning them. Truss with butcher’s string if desired.

    3. Set up your grill for rotisserie grilling and preheat to medium-high (400 degrees).

      Secure the chicken (or chickens) to the spit. (Be sure to affix the first fork before sliding the bird on the spit.) Affix the second fork; make sure the bird is secure. Attach the spit to the motor and turn it on. Adjust the counterweight, if necessary. (Some rotisseries don’t come equipped with them.) I prefer to work over a wood fire or a charcoal fire supplemented with a couple of wood chunks or two handfuls of soaked, drained wood chips. The bird should be roasted in 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I look for an internal temperature in the thigh of 170 degrees as read on an instant-read meat thermometer.
      If you don’t own a rotisserie you can get excellent results by setting up your grill for indirect grilling. Arrange the bird over a drip pan between two piles of coals and roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the heat of your fire and the size of the bird.

    4. Carefully remove the bird from the spit and let it rest,

      uncovered, for 10 minutes before carving.