Don't be chicken: Grill it this way

St. Louis Post-DispatchSeptember 2, 2014 

FOOD GRILL-CHICKEN SL

When cooked whole and then cut into pieces, grilled chicken needs nothing more than salt, pepper and indirect heat.

ROBERT COHEN — MCT

I can't be the only one, can I?

It's too obvious. It's too easy. And just because I haven't heard of anyone else doing it, that doesn't mean there aren't millions and millions of people out there doing it.

Right?

Here is the deal: When I grill a chicken, which I have been doing quite a lot of lately, I grill the chicken. The whole chicken. And nothing but the chicken.

So help me, I don't know anyone else who does this.

Everyone else in my apparently extremely limited circle of acquaintance grills chicken parts. All breasts, maybe, or a whole lot of breasts and a couple of leg quarters. I prefer dark meat, so for me it is usually just the leg quarters.

In the past, even when I bought a whole chicken (it's a lot cheaper per pound) I would cut it up and grill the individual pieces.

And then, one day, my wife said, "Why not just grill the whole thing, like a turkey?"

That might need an explanation. Many years ago, I realized that my favorite way to prepare turkey for Thanksgiving is to grill it over indirect heat. The grill — it has to have a lid large enough to fit the turkey — acts like an oven, only it imparts so much more flavor to the bird because of the burning charcoal and a little bit of smoke. The difference in flavor is astonishing.

It's like hamburgers. Done on the stove, good. Done on the grill? Great.

A chicken is just a smaller version of a turkey, and tastier. So why not give it the same treatment?

I can't be the only one. Can I?

I have done this only with organic chickens, but that cannot be what makes the entire difference. The whole chickens I have grilled have been the juiciest, sweetest and flat-out best chickens I have ever made, and I have cooked a flock of chickens in my time.

Even when I was just grilling chicken parts, I always used indirect heat to avoid the charring that often results from cooking them directly over the flames. So the concept is not unfamiliar to me. But I will admit that, as delicious as they were, those chickens tended to get a little overcooked.

That's not a problem when you grill the whole chicken. I guess that because it is a larger mass with less surface area exposed to the hot air, the effects of the heat are subtly tempered. Maybe.

Here is how easy it is: Take a whole chicken out of the fridge to let it warm up for an hour. Season it with plenty of salt and pepper, inside and out (making sure you have removed the neck and giblets first, of course). Start a fire on one side of the grill. When it is good and hot, place the chicken breast-side-down on the hot grate away from the flames. Close the lid, making sure the vents are over the bird and are open.

Walk away and enjoy a well-deserved snack. I recommend cheese and crackers.

An hour later (for about a 3 to 3½ -pound chicken; larger would take longer), remove the chicken. Carve, serve and enjoy. Try to avoid the temptation to use your hands to pick away at whatever meat is left on the carcass.

And yes, the skin is sublimely crispy and also salty, which is an unbeatable combination, but do leave some of it for your family and friends.

That's all there is to it. Note that you don't even have to turn the chicken while cooking. It's nothing but cheese and crackers for a solid hour.

I'm sure you could marinate the chicken before cooking it this way, and I might even try it someday. But why would you bother when it tastes so incredibly good this way?

I can't be the only one who does this, can I?

Note: I just realized — and I mean just realized — that all I am doing is making beer-can chicken without the beer can. You get the same result and you don't have to waste the beer.

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