The aroma of barbecuing chicken is the perfume of summer. Learn how to prepare chicken for grilling, test chicken for doneness, spit roast a whole chicken, make your own barbecue sauce, and brush on a finishing touch before serving.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator just before cooking. Pull off any fat and clean the cavity. Don’t remove the skin; it keeps the meat moist as it cooks. If you wish, remove the skin after cooking to lower the fat content.
Rub the chicken with a lemon and brush it with a thin film of olive oil. Or try some sesame or walnut oil, both of which impart special flavor. Season with salt and pepper and with parsley, rosemary, sage, or tarragon.
Is It Done Yet?
Outside temperature affects the interior heat of a grill. Chicken parts, quarters, and halves require 45 to 60 minutes on the grill on a balmy day and as much as 1 hour 15 minutes on a cold or windy day.
Test halves and quarters with an instant-read thermometer for doneness — 180°F for breast meat; 185°F for dark meat. Or slit a joint or meaty spot with a thin knife. If the juices run clear and the flesh shows no signs of pink, the bird is done. If still pinkish, cook a few minutes longer.
Spit roasting over a fire gives chicken crisp skin and great flavor. To prep the chicken, season it inside and out with salt, pepper, and sauce, if desired. Tie the legs to the tail and wrap cooking twine around the breast to hold the wings in place. Push the spit from the neck through the body and out the tail. Fasten spit forks at the front and back. Engage the spit and turn once to balance.
Push the coals to the back of the grill and set a drip pan below the cooking spot. Lock the spit in place, start the motor, and cook the chicken until the skin blisters and browns lightly. (Raise the spit for a roaster weighing more than six pounds so the drip pan is seven inches from the bird.)
Cook, basting with sauce or equal parts of olive oil and lemon juice every 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer reaches 185°F.
If you like to slather sauce onto chicken while it cooks, the following is a good sauce to choose. It adds punchy flavor but will not cause flare-ups.
In a small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon each olive oil, minced parsley, tarragon, or rosemary, and 1 minced garlic clove. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and, if desired, 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce. Place the pan of sauce at the edge of the grill so it stays warm and is handy for basting the chicken.
A Finishing Touch
For traditional barbecue flavor, brush this sauce on chicken when it is done. In a small saucepan over moderate heat, sauté 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion in 1 tablespoon oil 2 to 3 minutes, add 1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce, and 1/4 cup each of lemon juice and chicken stock. Keep hot at the edge of the grill. This is enough for 4 chicken quarters.