Picture a man on his deck with a brand new kettle-style charcoal grill trying to get the domed top to go down over a chicken sitting on a can. I'm sure you can imagine how that scene plays out. I had a front-row seat.
If you're one who enjoys a little drama at your backyard picnics, you might like the idea of balancing a whole chicken on a beer can as it roasts in a hot grill. The method of cooking a chicken over a can of liquid to infuse moisture and flavor into the meat has been around for years. When the chicken stays propped up on the grill and the grill top actually fits tightly over the standing chicken, the results can be very good.
But if you just want to eat the most succulent and flavorful grilled chicken of your life, without the can or the drama, Outdoor Grill-Roasted Chicken is here for you.
There are a couple of things I do to create an amazing grill-roasted chicken.
First, a rub made of garlic, herbs and spices blended with olive oil is rubbed not just on the skin of the chicken, but also under the skin. Flavors on the skin have a hard time getting through to the meat itself, but massage those seasonings into the flesh beneath the skin and the meat soaks up the flavors as it cooks.
Trying to position a chicken on a 12-ounce aluminum can in a fashion that will keep it standing up straight on the grill can be frustrating and tricky. A shallow pan of liquid placed directly under the grilling bird is an alternate method for producing a roasted-on-the-grill chicken that oozes with juiciness when poked with a fork.
Of course, the chicken you choose to roast also will be a determining factor on the flavor of your finished product. When possible, I like to use locally grown chickens. At this time of year, you can often find local chickens sold in a frozen state at your farmers market. When chickens have spent some peaceful time in fresh air and sunshine at an area farm, eating grass, weeds and insects, they naturally taste better and offer more nutritional benefits.
The meat of naturally raised chickens offers an abundance of omega-3 oils. Omega-3 is one of the two essential fatty acids (EFAs) that cannot be produced by the body, but are required for good health. An omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid is found in green leafy vegetables and grasses. An omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid is found in grains, such as soybeans and corn. While both of these EFAs are essential for our health, the American diet has become overloaded with omega-6 because the meat we eat is raised almost exclusively on grains. When we eat chickens that have foraged for some of their food outside in the fresh air, we help bring our entire diet back into balance.
Be sure to ask your local farmer how the chickens were raised and how and where they were processed to satisfy your expectations for high standards of the health and safety of your food.
When you do not have access to local, naturally raised chickens, look for chickens in the grocery store that are free of synthetic hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants.
Outdoor Grill-Roasted Chicken will delight the entire family. Any meat that is left over can be used in a variety of ways. Save the carcass to make rich chicken broth that you can freeze until you're ready to make some soup on a cool fall day.
A grill, a chicken and some seasonings will create an Outdoor Grill-Roasted Chicken that will bring theatrical ooohhs and aaahhs from your diners. That's all the drama I need.
Outdoor Grill-Roasted Chicken
1 whole frying chicken, 4 to 4 1/4 pounds
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or lemon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, quartered
1 short rib of celery with leaves
1 small carrot, sliced thick
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Remove giblets and neck from chicken. Reserve for another use. Rinse chicken thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Set aside while mixing rub.
Place garlic cloves, salt and thyme leaves in a mini-food processor or blender. Whirl until mixture is pureed.
Grind peppercorns and bay leaves in an electric coffee grinder or use a heavy pestle to smash them in a mortar. Add ground peppercorns and bay leaves to the pureed garlic mixture along with the red pepper flakes and paprika. Process to combine. Add olive oil and blend.
Gently lift skin of chicken breasts and massage some of the olive oil rub into the flesh. Use the remaining mixture to season the cavity and all of the skin.
Place onion, celery, carrot, a sprig of thyme and one or two lemon slices inside the cavity. Slide a couple of lemon slices under the skin of each breast along with a sprig of thyme.
Tie ends of legs together with string.
Fill an 8-inch aluminum pan with lemon juice and water. Add a sprig of thyme and a lemon slice.
Place pan of water and lemon juice on the floor of the grill in the area that is prepared for indirect cooking. Preheat grill, either gas or charcoal. When grill is hot, place prepared chicken right on the grill rack over the pan. Grill, covered with grill lid, until breast meat reaches 170 degrees. This should take about 1 1/2 hours. Remove chicken from grill and allow to rest on cutting board for 10 minutes before carving. Generously serves 4.
Tips from the cook
--One teaspoon of dried thyme leaves can be used if you do not have fresh thyme in your garden.
--I have an inexpensive electric coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices and flax seeds.
--Lemon juice can be replaced with wine or beer in the water under the roasting chicken.
--Grinding your own peppercorns imparts the deepest flavor, but as an alternative to the whole peppercorns, use 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (and just crush the bay leaves).