Roasted chicken has to be one of my favorite foods. It is so simple and so difficult to screw up, yet so few seem to cook it.
Most, including myself, have succumbed to the rotisserie chicken available at almost every grocery store. Try it at home once and you’ll find it hard to settle for anything else. As often as possible I use the grill so that I can add smoke.
Some seem to think that the beer can method is a bit redneck, but it really produces a superior chicken every time. The idea here is that you are steaming the chicken from the inside while roasting in with dry heat from the outside. The result is an incredibly crispy skin, with incredibly moist and tender meat. I like it so much that I actually bought a gee-gaw (so against my kitchen gadget aversion) to hold the can and violated chicken securely upright.
Typically, I’ll fill the can with whatever aromatics I can find laying around the kitchen – garlic cloves, slices of onion, dried chilies, basil, thyme, lime, etc. – then pour beer about 2/3 of the way up the can. The chicken is washed, dried and sprinkled with kosher salt & ground pepper, inside and out. The chicken is unceremoniously mounted on the can and your prep is almost done. The second half of the prep is just as important – the fire.
Again, many schools of thought, but I only use lump charcoal – it burns hotter and cleaner, and I think brings a better taste to the food.
While the coals are starting, you should soak any wood you want to use for smoking in water. Lately, I’ve been using mesquite.
The secret to roasting chicken on the grill is to use indirect heat – I build my fire on opposite ends of the grill and add a drip pan in the middle – the chicken will cook above this. I’ll also add enough unlit coals to keep me from have to screw around tending the fire. The above set up will easily burn for 1.5 – 2 hours (more than enough time).
The chicken is placed on the grill (over the drip pan) and the smoking wood added – I place it on the grill to keep it from catching flame. Close the lid and check every now and then to ensure it’s not burning. If your fire is uneven, or if you can only build a fire to one side of your grill, you’ll need to ocassionally rotate the chicken to allow for even cooking. Depending on the size of the chicken and fire, cooking will take anywhere from 45 minutes up. I suggest using an electronic probe thermometer. You can also test by twisting a drumstick – if it moves easily, your chicken is done. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to settle in the meat.