Tip #1 – If you can leave the chicken whole, do so. Whether cooking it on a rotisserie or with a can of beer up its butt, leaving the chicken whole means leaving the skin intact:
That skin is full of fat. Glorious, delicious fat. That fat will baste the chicken as it grills and it will hold in the moisture better than if cut into pieces. This is a post about grilling great chicken. If you want great, healthy chicken, this ain’t the place.
Tip #2 – Brine, brine, brine. No matter if the chicken is being grilled whole, spatchcocked, in halves, quarters or in individual pieces, brine the chicken. A simple brine involves soaking the bird in salt water with a ratio of one gallon of liquid to one cup of salt. This will cause the chicken to be more tender (the salt breaks down connective tissues) and more juicy as the salt water pushes moisture into the chicken. If apple juice or cider is substituted for the water, or root beer, regular beer, wine, etc, then the liquid that is pushed into the meat will also bring flavor with it. My go to brine is 1 quart apple cider, 1/4 cup salt, couple cloves of minced garlic, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a tsp of black pepper. I generally brine about 12 hours.
Don’t believe me about brining? Grill up two birds, one brined and one not. Prepare them the exact same way. Then come in here and apologize for not trusting me and heap praises on me to bolster my ego. Go ahead. Do the side by side. I can wait. And all you need is a cooler or even a bucket and a bag of ice:
Tip #3 – Spatchcock your chicken. Some of you are thinking, “Whatever you do behind closed doors is your business. I’ll move on to tip #4.” I said spatchcock your chicken, not choke it. Spatchcocking a chicken is really only butterflying the bird. It involves removing the spine and then breaking what are essentially the collar bones to get the bird to lay flat:
Spatchcocked birds cook really evenly and hold in much of the moisture as the skin is almost entirely intact (see item #1). So if you haven’t spatchcocked your chicken yet, man are you missing out! How good does that look?
Tip #4 – When grilling chicken, avoid placing the meat over the hot coals. This is a recipe for a forest fire, not great chicken. Unless you have the local fire department standing by to hose down the flare ups you’re asking for trouble:
Even if you do have an efficient means to put out those fires, the chicken will be a mess. Some pieces will be cinders on the outside and raw in the middle. Others will have a nice coating of ash from the water used to put the fires out that kicks up that grey dust. And nothing tastes better on chicken than some nice, dry, gritty charcoal ash.
Indirect the chicken by putting coals on one side and the meat on the other so none of the fat drips into the fire:
For a kamado grill like the Grill Dome, put a plate or place setter between the fire and the chicken. If at the point when the chicken is almost done, you want to put it over the fire to crisp up the skin, this is perfectly acceptable and recommended. Most of the fat should be rendered out at this point.
Tip #5 – When placing pieces of chicken on the grill, do not place them on all at once or by size order. Doing this will result in dried out breasts and undercooked thighs. Place the thighs on first and close the lid for about 10 minutes. The thighs have the highest fat content, which means they take the longest to cook. Then place on the drummies. Again, close the lid for about 10 minutes. Finally put on the breasts and the wings and this time you can put them on in size order with the wings the farthest from the fire. Close the lid and the chicken parts should all be done around the same time when they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Bonus tip – When I got done editing this post, I realized I forgot a really cool trick for making uber juicy chicken. That trick involves slathering the chicken with mayonnaise. I know that sounds disgusting to the mayo haters out there, but it doesn’t actually make the chicken taste like the white glop. The mayo will melt away long before the chicken is done, but much like the chicken skin, the mayonnaise will baste the chicken as it melts away.
Dad has a great primer on how to make mayo magic chicken.