Monday, June 23, 2008

Grilled Chicken

I recently discovered the magnificent flavor of grilled whole chicken, butterflied. I'd just been wondering, too, if there was a way to grill chicken without drying it out, but I never considered throwing an entire bird on there until I read about it in Cook's Illustrated's Summer Grilling & Entertaining publication from last summer (which, incidently, I didn't use once last summer but have used twice this month).

With rotisserie chickens available at any store nearly any hour of the day, I'd nearly stopped buying whole chickens to roast at home. (Our favorite, by the way, is Costco's version.) It's been a bit of a letdown for me, actually, since I really like working with whole chickens. It somehow makes me feel like a cook. So I'm thrilled to have this new recipe, and I'll definitely be using this frequently over the summer and into fall.

The beauty of this chicken is that it's so tender, even leftover 3 days. (How it managed to last 3 days I don't know.) It's smoky and delicious, and is probably my favorite way to eat chicken right now. It's wonderful served just the way it is or with a great sauce (I'll be posting one in the next few days), and leftovers are great on sandwiches or as tacos or in soup. I won't pretend it's the easiest item on the menu, but it is worth more than the small effort you'll need to supply. So, if you're thinking of grilling anytime soon, think chicken.

Grilled Butterflied Chicken
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Summer Grilling & Entertaining

1 whole chicken, about 5 lbs. (you can go smaller, but why? leftovers will be treasured!)
1/2 c. Kosher salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 lemon

About five hours before you want to grill, prepare the chicken. To do this, you'll need to remove the backbone. With the tail of the chicken facing you, use poultry shears, kitchen shears, or a strong knife (carefully!) to cut completely down one side of the backbone. Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side of the backbone. (You'll probably still have quite a few bones in the area, but that's fine. These are irrelevant in the cooking.)

Turn the spineless chicken over and flatten it a bit with the heel of your hands. Then cut one small slit on each breast about an inch up and in from the tail. Tuck the drumstick tips in the slits (you can see in the picture above that one leg has stayed in and one has come out). And now for the fun part: use a smooth mallet to pound the chicken to a fairly even thickness. It doesn't need to be thin, just even enough that it will cook evenly.

Dissolve the salt and sugar in a medium to large container (bucket) with a few cups of water. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice in, add the lemons, and add an additional 1 1/2 gallons of cold water and lots of ice. Add the butterflied chicken and let it brine until you're ready to grill it. Make sure you check it frequently to add and be sure there's still ice in there; this will ensure that the chicken is being kept at a safe temperature. (I actually thawed my chicken in the brine, because I didn't really plan on doing this until the day of, and then I butterflied it after it had brined.)

To grill, you'll need a medium fire, which means you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grate for 5-6 seconds before it's too hot. If your fire is hotter than this, it will be difficult to cook the chicken thoroughly without burning it. Remove the chicken from the brine and air dry for a couple of minutes. When the grill is ready and the rack is hot, place the chicken, bone side down, on the rack. Press the chicken by topping it with a baking sheet that has been topped with a couple of large bricks, or several smaller ones. After 15 minutes (12 if your bird is closer to 3 lbs.), remove the press and turn the chicken over.

The chicken no longer needs the press at this point, as it has been smashed as far as it will go and will just lose juice if pressed further. Cook for about 15 minutes on this side, until the temperature of the breast meat is 165˚ and the thigh is 185˚. Remove to a platter, cover with foil, and rest for 10 minutes. Serve.

And yes, this chicken does look like it's got excessively large legs. They've just been turned from their original grilling position, though, and were really quite normal.

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