“Spit-roasting is one of the world’s most ancient and universal forms of grilling, and there’s nothing like it for producing exceptionally moist meat with a crackling crisp crust.” – Steven Raichlen
I like chicken just about any way it can be prepared, but for the juiciest, most flavorful bird, I’ll hang my hat on rotisserie grilling, even more so now with the grill accessories that are available. This even-heating, self-basting method ensures a perfectly cooked bird, with crispy skin all around. Using a grill (with a rotisserie burner) is especially convenient when cooking for parties or holiday get-togethers, as it frees up the oven and stove-top, and you don’t even have to remember to flip or baste your entrée!
Start with a good dry rub, end with proper treatment of the finished fowl, and you’ll have a winner chicken dinner that folks are going to remember!
Plus, rotisserie cooking is thought to be the oldest cooking technique known to man… so that’s pretty cool, too.
Here are 5 things to remember when grilling a chicken rotisserie style:
Dry rub 8-24 hours in advance
A dry rub is a combination of salt, spices, herbs, and sometimes sugars, that’s used to flavor meat in advance of cooking. Unlike a marinade or brine, a dry rub forms a crust on the outside of the meat when cooked.
The salt draws out the juices in the meat, making it more moist and tender, while the sugars caramelize and form a seal that traps in flavor and juices.
You can add just about anything you want to a rub (and you should experiment with some of your own favorite flavors) but here’s my go-to dry rub for chicken: 2 Tbsp. sea salt + 1 Tbsp. each: dark brown sugar, coarse black pepper, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, onion powder, and Italian seasonings. Combine all in an airtight container and mix until completely blended.
Once you’ve sprinkled, then rubbed the spices into (and under) the skin, and trussed it, wrap the whole bird in plastic wrap and refrigerate until 1-2 hours before you plan to start cooking it. Be sure to sprinkle some of your seasonings into the body cavity of the chicken or turkey, as well.
Truss the bird
Trussing (tying up) a whole bird before cooking is always a good idea as it helps keep it moist and promotes even cooking (and a prettier presentation), but for rotisserie grilling it’s absolutely essential. A non-trussed bird will loosen up on the bar, legs and wings floppin’ ever which-a-way, and start burning at the extremities long before the rest of the chicken is cooked through to the bone.
Trussing isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take some practice to perfect. Google “How to truss a chicken” for any number of excellent videos and step-by-step guides to trussing.
Watch the heat
I like to preheat my grill (burners on full, lid down) before putting the pre-loaded spit (the rod that holds the meat) in place. Watch the bird closely, checking every few minutes at first, and adjust your flame as needed to avoid hot spots or burning the skin.
Cook to the right temp
Figure about 25 minutes per pound to cook a chicken on a rotisserie, but what you’re really looking for in an internal temp in the thickest part of the thigh of 175 °F. A lot of variables can affect the number of minutes it takes a bird to cook to the bone, including starting temp of the meat, the heat of your grill, and the weather while cooking, but 175 °F is done regardless of outside influences.
Give it a rest
Once your chicken is removed from the heat, it’s vital that it be allowed to “rest” for 15-20 minutes, tented loosely in foil.
Resting allows the meat to relax and reabsorb its own juices back into the muscle fibers as they cool. The reason for tenting in foil is to keep the surface temperature from dropping much faster than the internal temp, which can lead to drying.
Once the chicken has rested go ahead and snip away the trussing (I use a pair of kitchen shears for this), cut the bird up as you see fit, and serve.
Oh, and be sure to save those lovely roasted bones and extra bits for making stock or flavoring soups or gravies. It’s gold!