I have a new favorite way to cook chicken. I know. I know. How many "new" ways are there to cook the most commonly-eaten poultry in America? You've had it all, right? From roasted, fried, and sauteed to stewed with dumplings, baked with sauces and turned into soup. But how about slowly cooked on a rotisserie -- at home?
Yes. At home. I'm not talking about buying one of those birds encased in a plastic shield at the grocery store -- the ones that were supposedly cooked on a rotisserie earlier that day -- but really… who knows when they were roasted? I mean preparing a chicken that you cook in your backyard or on a deck -- slowly with the seasonings you like. What I want you to do is take your chicken right off the spit with your own hands and then eat it while it's hot and juicy. Sounds primal but delectable, right?
A couple of years back I gave my husband a rotisserie attachment for our grill and although we've used it a few times, we've amazingly never thought to barbecue chicken with it. But this Labor Day, our poultry world was turned upside down. We were having guests over so we wanted to try something special. My mom was staying with us, but because she's watching her cholesterol we wanted to grill something healthier than the ribs I had been originally contemplating. While Mom and I chatted with my favorite butcher Phil, I caught a glimpse of the beautiful chickens in the refrigerator case -- big and plump organic birds from Sonoma County -- and immediately bought two for our holiday barbecue.
Normally I would bake my chicken, but as Labor Day was one of the only warm days of the summer, I rejected this idea. I wanted to be outside. I suddenly remembered the rotisserie spear hanging in the broom closet (yes, that's where we keep it). I then brined my birds and followed this up with a nice olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and herb marinade. The next day we were ready to go.
Once those chickens roasted on the rotisserie in our grill for an hour and a half, they were perfect. There's something about the rotisserie that is just right for cooking chickens. You get that great caramelized grill flavor, but without the risk of drying out the meat. All that spinning on the rotisserie spit seemed to melt the marinade into the chicken, heightening the flavors and making it succulent and moist. My only regret is that I didn't stick a pan of potatoes underneath to catch those amazingly delicious juices that slowly drip drip drip while the bird cooks. I'll be sure to do this next time.
Following are some general directions for cooking a chicken on a rotisserie spit. These are more guidelines than an actual recipe because using the rotisserie is not an exact science. There is so much that could vary the outcome, from the weight and number of the chickens, to whether you brined the birds or not. But don't panic. If you just check on your chickens after about a half hour, you should easily be able to see when they're cooked through. Just be sure to use an instant read thermometer to double check and then you're good to go.
General Guidelines for Making Rotisserie Chicken
1. Brine and marinate chickens the day before cooking. Use whatever marinade you like best. I am partial to mixing olive oil with lemon zest and juice, crushed garlic and fresh herbs.
2. BEFORE you heat the grill, remove the grates and heating elements from the barbecue so you'll have enough room for the chicken to spin.
3. When ready to cook, heat grill to 350 - 400 degrees. Don't heat it all the way up or it will dry out the chicken.
4. Place marinated chicken onto the rotisserie spit (using the directions that come with the attachment) and place in the grill. Turn motor on and grill for 30-40 minutes.
5. Check on chicken to see how it's doing, but don't leave the cover raised for long. When the chicken is cooked through (about 1 hour for one 4 lb bird or 1 1/2 hours for two chickens), turn off motor and remove chickens from the spit CAREFULLY making sure not to burn yourself.
6. Let chickens sit for about five minutes and then carve.