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Spit-roasted Wood-grilled Rotisserie Chicken

Nothing is better than a perfectly cooked spit-roasted wood-grilled rotisserie chicken – except maybe two wood-grilled rotisserie chickens! Recently, I’ve been on a rotisserie grilling kick and I’ve been making succulent, self-basted, perfectly browned little birds that really taste much better than any roasted chicken from the oven. With grilling season fast approaching now is the time to try this great grilling technique.

It can be a little bit tricky to rotisserie grill – there is a risk of flame ups and fire on the grill – so I’m gonna give you some tips that will help you achieve rotisserie grilled chicken perfection. After just one try, I promise you you’ll never pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store ever again.

First, about the equipment:

Tip 1: Purchase the rotisserie kit that fits your specific brand and model propane gas grill – one size doe not fit all – with an electric motor box, the rotisserie spit rod and 2 of those big pronged forks that attach to the rod. For the most part, rotisserie kits are brand specific, so buy the rotisserie kit that fits your grill.

Tip 2: Use a smokerbox when rotisserie grilling with gas. Any decent propane gas grill should have a smokerbox drawer built into the grill or will have a separate smokerbox that rests inside the grill, directly on the heating elements. When I’m grilling with gas, I want to get some of that good, smoky wood flavor in my chicken – so I set up my smokerbox right inside my gas grill, off to one side, directly on or above one of the heating elements.

Tip 3: When using the smokerbox, loose the cover. I find the cover just gets in the way when I need to add more wood chips and charcoal – so I keep it off as I’m spit-roasting on my gas grill.

Tip 4: Set up your gas grill for indirect-heat grilling, with a drip pan in the middle. For rotisserie grilling, you don’t need super high heat; just a good medium to medium-high heat around the chicken, using the gas grill like a big, smoky convection oven. Indirect-heat grilling gives you more control than grilling with direct-heat. Yes, it’s slower than direct-heat grilling, but it’s much easier to regulate the heat – especially with gas – and cook your bird through without burning it to hell.

Here’s what you do: While the grill is still cold, take out the center grill grate and put a drip pan in the middle of the grill – something to catch the chicken fat and all those chicken juices that baste the bird – and fall off into the pan during the cooking. Add some water to the drip pan – to avoid flare ups and the fat catching on fire. I use a metal baking pan or a disposable aluminum pan under the chicken to catch all those lovely juices, and keep an eye on it during the cooking.

Tip 5: Get a good spray bottle and have it handy at your grill. I use a spray bottle to spritz some water on the coals and the wood chips just in case they ignite and catch on fire. A good working spray bottle filled with water is an essential grilling tool – great to have around whenever you’re grilling, especially when rotisserie grilling and using a smokerbox.

Equipment

A decent gas grill

A smokerbox

A few handfuls of hardwood smoking chips, soaked in a bucket of water

A few mesquite charcoal chunks

A chimney started, newspaper and a lighter

The rotisserie kit for your gas grill

A metal baking pan or a disposable aluminum pan

A spray bottle filled with water

Butcher’s twine (or silicon trussing bands), for trussing the bird

A sharp little knife

A cutting board

A small bowl

Spring-loaded tongs

Oven mitts

Ingredients

1 3 ½ – 4 lb. chicken – not too big, not too small, preferably organic and/or hormone free

5 rosemary sprigs

5 thyme sprigs

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Before getting the bird on the grill, prepare the chicken for spit roasting:

Step 1: Trim off the little wing tips, which are kind of useless anyway and have a tendency to burn.

Step 2: Take out the wishbone. It’s pretty easy to get out –just follow the wishbone with the tip of a sharp little knife, get behind it without doing too much damage to the breast meat and the skin, cut upwards to free it from the breast bone and push it down so it’s easy to cut out and pull away. I know this seems like an extra step, but I find this helps when I’m carving the bird and serving it later on.

Step 3: To season the chicken, make a simple rub with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and fresh “hard herbs” from the garden – here I use rosemary and thyme (dried herbs de Provence mixed with a salt and pepper is also very nice) mixed together in a small bowl. Save the woody herb stems for adding to the smokerbox. Sprinkle some herb rub inside the bird’s cavity, get a little under the skin on the breasts and rub the rest all over the chicken.

Step 4: Truss the bird. Before you thread the chicken on the rotisserie rod, truss the bird with some butcher’s twine – or use some of those new heat-proof silicone rubber bands. Trussing the bird keeps the chicken together in a nice little package on the spit rod and keeps the legs and wings from flopping around as the bird turns on the spit.

With the chicken seasoned, rubbed and trussed, I thread the rotisserie rod through the chicken and secure it in place with those big pronged rotisserie forks, making sure the set screws are nice and tight and the chicken won’t budge.

Step 5: Time to grill.

Grilled Chicken! image for chef willie

Method

1. With the chicken in place on the grill, add 2 or 3 hot charcoal chunks and a few woodchips to the smokerbox. Fire up your gas grill on medium-high and turn on the motor – making sure the chicken turns properly. Grab a beer and close the grill cover.

Spit-roast the chicken on medium to medium-high indirect heat, at 350-375 degrees, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the skin is browned, the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees and/or the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a knife. Replenish the coals and woodchips and herb stems every 20 minutes or so to maintain a good, constant smoke, and use your spray bottle to control flare ups in the smokerbox.

2. When the chicken is done, use oven mitts and transfer the spit rod to your cutting board and let it rest 10 minutes before dismounting the chicken (the rod will be hot, and so will those pronged forks!).

Bring the whole chicken to the table on the cutting board and carve this beautiful chicken in front of your guests, or break the chicken down into pieces and arrange them on a serving platter.

One more tip: Another thing that’s nice about this rotisserie grilling technique: I can use the hot grill grates off to the sides on the grill for grilling other things while the gas is on – like some veggies or grilled bread. I can even add little fingerling potatoes to the drip pan under the chicken during the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking, so they cook in that lovely combination of chicken fat, water and chicken juices, taking advantage of the fire and the smoke, both the direct and the indirect heat – and using every available grill space simultaneously.