Recently a coworker asked me what I thought was the best way to grill a whole chicken. I had to think for a few moments because it’s not something I’ve done for quite a while. After I described my technique, I went home and checked the freezer. As I expected, I found the roasting chicken that I had placed there last year safe in its cryogenic coma. This particular chicken was sad and lonely as it was missing its twin. A few dollars can be saved by buying them in a twin pack at the local Costco, so that’s what we do.
It was time to grill a chicken. So, last Friday, Good Friday, vacation day Friday, became the perfect opportunity to grill up the perfect early season chicken.
There are two things you need to properly grill a chicken. Smoke and steam. The smoke is the easy part; a well seasoned (read dirty) gas grill will provide plenty of that, and steam is as easy as heating water.
To begin, you will need the following:
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp thyme
You will also need a chicken stand or beer can and a foil pan. Before you do anything else, go set up your grill. My grill isn’t the biggest you’ve ever seen, but I like it that way, it uses less gas than those fancy big ones. But because it is a bit smaller, I need to modify it slightly for doing chicken. I pull off the top two grates, turn one sideways and put it directly on top of the lava rock. On top of this I put a foil pan with about 1 ½ inches of water in the bottom. Light the grill, set it to medium high and close the lid.
Inside, open a beer (today it’s Sam Adams Black Lager), cut the lemon in half and collect the juice, saving one half of it for later. Add the olive oil to the juice and press the garlic into the liquid. In a separate vessel, make a rub by combining the dry ingredients.
Rinse the chicken and remove any organs and necks that were included. Pat dry with a paper towel and move to a cutting board or large plate. I like to use rubber gloves for this but that’s up to you. Rub the chicken with as much of the oil/lemon mixture as it will hold. Then coat the entire bird with the rub, turning it to ensure full coverage.
Here is where you can go a few different ways. I’m sure you’ve heard of “beer butt chicken”, well I’ve tried that many times, and I really think that it is a gimmick. It sounds funny, but in the end, it’s just a waste of a sub par beer. Nevertheless, for this technique, we will need to stand the chicken upright, so any beer/soda can will do the job. I found a chicken stand on sale at my local hardware store for a few dollars and I find that it is much more stable than giving the chicken a rectal exam with a Leinenkugel’s, but work with what you have.
So, stand up your chicken by inserting the can/stand into the main cavity, plug the neck with the reserved half lemon, and go check your grill. If the water is boiling, it’s time to put the bird on. Stand the chicken up right in the middle of the pan of water, turn the burners down to medium and close the lid.
Now this is going to take a while, so find something else to do, maybe some yard work, or go in and make some side dishes. Whatever it is, you have about 35 minutes or so. When this time period has elapsed, fetch a large glass of water and head out to the grill. Spin the chicken halfway around to account for any uneven heating in the grill, add water to the pan to make up for evaporation losses, and close the grill. We are shooting for an internal temperature of 190 F in the thigh. It should take another 40 minutes to get there but as always, your grill set up, external temperature and size of chicken will have a major impact on the actual cooking time.
Once your bird reaches the critical temperature you can turn off the grill and close the lid. The chicken will have a perfectly crisp golden brown skin thanks to the olive oil. Let it rest for 10 or so minutes while you finish up any final arrangements.
When you are ready, bring in the finished chicken, still upright on a plate. I love serving it this way because I really dislike having half the chicken swimming in its own grease. Dividing a chicken up among the O6 is a very dynamic process. Right now, Kiwi prefers wings, as does Kola Nut. Kumquat can be placated with a drumstick. I am a sucker for a leg/thigh combo, and I always save a breast for Shaina. The rest is divvied up for seconds.
If you are patient, this simple combination of smoke and steam will produce the tastiest, crispiest, juiciest and most tender chicken that you’ve ever made. I can’t wait to use the leftovers for chicken salad.