Time needed: 3 hours.
Rotisserie chicken is not only a popular fast food from your local deli counter, but it’s also a great way to cook a chicken. There are two things not commonly known about rotisserie chicken. One, it is fresh and delicious 10 minutes off the grill, not having spent hours under a warming lamp. Two, rotisserie chickens are quite easy to prepare. Using a grill (charcoal or gas), a rotisserie kit, and a chicken, you can achieve a much tastier meal at home than anything found in a grocery store.
To begin: set up the rotisserie kit on the grill. Don’t worry; this is a smooth operation that requires 10 minutes and a screwdriver. Keep in mind that different grills and rotisserie kits have different arrangements, so it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Next comes the preparation of the chicken. Remove the contents from the inside and cut off any excess skin. To increase tenderness and moisture, I recommend that you brine the chicken, but this step is not mandatory. It is also helpful to truss the chicken to hold it together better on the rotisserie.
What You’ll Need:
A rotisserie kit
Fuel for the grill to run for 2 to 3 hours
Hot pads or fireproof gloves
Reliable meat thermometer
One large lemon (or apple, onion, or orange)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon salt (unless brining)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
A disposable aluminum pan
- Preparing the Rotisserie Rod
The first problem with putting a chicken on the rotisserie is that a chicken is hollow in the center. This won’t give the rotisserie rod much to hold onto. The chicken will move too much as it spins and likely come loose. The rotisserie forks are there to hold onto the bird, but I find that placing something in the cavity of the chicken helps to secure it. I recommend using a whole lemon for this purpose. Just thread the lemon onto the rotisserie rod where the chicken will be. Make sure that you have one fork on the rod on the handle side. Place it pointing towards the middle on the handle end of the rod.
The lemon will fill up the cavity of the chicken and help hold it in place. As the chicken cooks, it will shrink a little, securing it even more. If you don’t like the lemon flavor on your chicken, you can use something else. Pick something that will fill the cavity sufficiently like an apple, onion, or anything of this size.
Remove the cooking grates from the grill. Place the rod on the grill and adjust the placement of the lemon (or whatever you are using) to the location between the burners you will be using. This chicken is cooked indirectly, so you don’t want a fire directly underneath. Place your aluminum pan under the place where the chicken is going to be to catch all the drippings and prevent flare-ups. It also keeps your grill clean.
- Securing the Chicken
You must get the chicken as secured to the rotisserie rod as possible. This can be the most challenging step in the process, but if you do it right, you won’t have any more trouble with it. Since a chicken has many loose parts, you need to secure not just the bird, but the legs and the wings. For this reason, I recommend trussing the chicken.
But before you truss or place the chicken on the rotisserie rod, it needs to be seasoned. For the purposes of this article, I will leave the flavoring to you. You can use a simple spice rub, marinade, flavored butter, or anything else. Just remember to do the seasoning while you still have easy access to the bird.
Place the chicken on a platter or cutting board, then run the rod (with the lemon), through the bottom of the chicken, and out through the neck. Now the lemon is safely inside. Place the second fork on the rod, pointing towards the chicken, and bring it through. It might seem like you don’t have enough hands for this operation but be patient. You need to make sure that the whole chicken is tight in the forks before proceeding. Press the forks together, gathering up the legs and wings in the forks so that they are held in place. If you have a dangling wing, it will flop around and likely burn.
Once you have the bird secured, tighten the screws on the fork. I suggest you roll it around a little to make sure that the legs and wings hold. Don’t worry about the balance; we will get to that in a minute.
If you look at the picture above, you will see that I have pulled the wings through the forks so they can’t move. This is how to position the chicken.
- Set the Counterbalance
If your rotisserie does not have a counterbalance, skip to the next step.
Balancing the chicken on the rotisserie makes sure it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn out the rotisserie motor. If the rotisserie kit has a counterbalance, then there should be no trouble getting it balanced. If not, there isn’t too much you can do about it. Chickens are heavier on the back than on the breast side.
To balance the chicken, remove the motor from the bracket and place the rotisserie rod with the chicken on the grill so that it moves freely. The heavy side will drop towards the bottom. Pull the counterbalance straight up and tighten. It won’t balance perfectly, but you will offset the weight enough to allow the motor to handle the load easily.
Now attach the motor and turn it on. Make sure that the chicken doesn’t move on the rod and that it turns smoothly. Once you have determined that it will stay put, you can start the grill.
Rotisserie chicken is grilled indirectly, which means that the burners directly underneath the chicken are off and, the other burners provide the heat. If the burners under the chicken are on, you will get flare-ups.
Adjust the heat on your grill until the temperature reaches around 350 degrees F. It is not a good idea to wander away too long. It is best to keep an eye on the chicken for the first few minutes to make sure that everything is working right.
- Baste the Chicken
You have probably noticed that we haven’t done much to flavor the chicken. Now is the time to start adding flavor, and we will do this by basting the outside of the bird. I like chicken, so I tend to keep the seasoning simple, which enhances the bird without overpowering it. You can add whatever you’d prefer, but I am going to stick with the lemon and a little rosemary. A good baste needs to have flavor and oil. The oil (which can be any fat like butter or olive oil) helps hold in the moisture and browns the surface of the chicken. For this baste, I am using:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
Break up the rosemary leaves a little with a rolling pin to get the oils out. Add them to the olive oil and lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice will bring out the rosemary flavor and blend it with the olive oil.
Start basting the chicken after it’s been on the rotisserie for 20 minutes. Continue basting every 20 minutes until the chicken is nearly done.
- Check the Temperature
At a cooking temperature between 300 and 350 degrees F, it takes a chicken about 20 to 30 minutes per pound to cook. A 4-pound chicken should take nearly 2 hours. When the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 in the breast and 175 to 180 degrees F in the thigh area, it is time to take it off the heat. As the chicken cooks, you may notice that it tends to plump up. When it’s close to being done, the plumping effect goes away. Also, the skin of the chicken will be a dark, golden brown. These are clues that it is time to start checking the temperature.
To test the internal temperature, use a meat thermometer, and take a reading in at least two different places. Test the center of the chicken breast and in the thigh right above the drumstick. These are the densest parts of the chicken and the slowest to cook. When both of these places read 165 and 175 degrees F (as listed above), the chicken is safe to remove from the grill. You may, however, keep the chicken cooking longer if desired.
- Removing the Chicken
Once the rotisserie chicken has reached the right temperature, it is time to pull it off the grill. Have a hot pad or fireproof gloves and a large heat resistant cutting board ready near the grill. Remember that the metal rod of the rotisserie is going to be about 300 degrees F when you grab it. It is easy to burn yourself, so be careful. When taking the rotisserie rod and chicken off the grill, start by turning off the burners and rotisserie motor. I find it is usually easier to lift up and pull off the motor first to get it out of the way. Grab hold of the rod on both ends and place the chicken on the cutting board. I’ve seen many a bird fall to the ground, so keep a good hold of it.
- Removing the Rod
Using your hot pad or glove, loosen the screw on the fork opposite from the handle and slide it off. Now the chicken is free to move. Holding the chicken on the cutting board, slowly pull the rod from the chicken. The lemon we put inside will stay with the chicken, and you can remove it before carving. Let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes allowing the juices to flow back into the meat. Once this time is up, carve the chicken as usual.
Afterward, remove the drip pan from your grill and replace the cooking grates.