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Back to Basics – Perfect Rotisserie Chicken


Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

There’s something so seductive about a whole chicken rotating slowly on a spit, its skin browning to crisp perfection, its rich-tasting fat basting the meat as it roasts over the flavor-boosting powers of wood smoke.

Yes, spit-roasting—also known as rotisserie cooking—is the best way we know to cook a whole bird.* (See interesting facts below.) One of the rotisserie kits is produced by Weber; it fits on their popular 22-1/2 inch kettle grill and includes a 6-inch metal collar to raise the height of the lid. It works beautifully, in our experience. Some gas grills come equipped with rotisseries as well, though they can also be after-market purchases. Of course, you can spit-roast over a campfire as our ancestors did. If you don’t have a rotisserie set-up, no worries: indirect grill the chicken.


Can you buy rotisserie chicken at your local big box store or supermarket? Of course. (Costco sells over 170 million per year.) But why would you, when a chicken seasoned and smoke-roasted at home is easy, versatile, and so satisfying? This cooking technique not only ensures even cooking, but also imparts a delightful crispy skin and succulent meat. Follow these simple steps, found in Steven’s book, Project Smoke, and you’ll be a rotisserie chicken master in no time.

Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

  • Select a chicken in the 3-1/2 to 4-pound range. Remove any giblets and/or extra lumps of fat from the main and neck cavities. Arrange the bird on a rimmed sheet pan. Fold the wing tips under the body and tie the legs together with butcher’s string. (This prevents the appendages from flopping around as the spit turns.) Slather with olive oil or melted butter and season generously with salt and pepper or your favorite rub (see three suggestions below).
  • Soak 1 1/2 cups of smoking wood chips (fruitwoods are good with chicken) in water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain. Alternatively, use 1 to 2 smoking chunks (no need to soak). Set up your grill for spit-roasting and heat to 375 degrees F. Slip the first pronged fork on the spit. Run the spit through the chicken, pushing the prongs from the fork into the bird. (Steven prefers side to side, but you can do it the conventional way—end to end.) Slip the second rotisserie fork on the spit. Make sure the bird is secure and centered on the spit, then tighten the nuts on the rotisserie forks.

Roast Chicken

  • Affix the spit with the chicken on the rotisserie. Place an aluminum foil drip pan under the bird to catch the drippings. Toss half the drained wood chips on the coals, or arrange the wood chunks right over the burners if using a gas grill. Turn on the rotisserie motor. Cover the grill.
  • Smoke-roast the chicken until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the meat in the thigh reaches 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, replenishing the smoking chips and fuel as needed. Carefully remove the chicken from the spit. Let the bird rest for 10 minutes, then carve with a sharp knife.

Brandy Brined Rotisserie Chicken

And the rub recipes I promised? Here they are.

  • Mediterranean: Combine 2 tablespoons each sea salt, dried rosemary, and dried oregano. Add 2 teaspoons cracked black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon granulated garlic.
  • West Indian: Combine 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons sea salt, and 1 teaspoon each onion powder, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder; 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Scotch bonnet or habanero chili powder; and 1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, and ground cinnamon.
  • Moroccan: Mix 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon each cracked black pepper, ground coriander, and cumin; and 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, and garlic powder. Add hot pepper flakes to taste.
  • *And we’re in good company: Though dressed as a peasant to avoid capture by his enemies, legend has it that King Richard the Lionheart was outed when he insisted on a meal of spit-roasted chicken, an indulgence usually enjoyed only by noblemen at that time; Napoleon was so fond of the dish that he demanded it be served to him at a moment’s notice, meaning the palace likely smelled deliciously of roast chicken at all hours.

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