Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Grill Chicken with Moist Meat and Crispy Skin.

Chicken leg quarter with french bread and white bean salad
         Grilling a whole chicken on the barbecue is a daunting task for most backyard cooks. I am a little late for the Fourth of July, but there is still plenty of grilling days left in the summer. I remember my grandfather's grilled chicken, if you were to bite into a leg the bone would chatter into carbon dust. The dryness of the bird was compensated with by a bucket of BBQ sauce and pitcher of sun tea. That was what chicken tasted like for most of my childhood. If that is what you like don't let me get in your way, but if you want to get yourself a moist bird with crispy skin I have a decent method for you.  

Spatchcocked chicken after two days in the fridge

         I start by treating the chicken like another bird I like crispy, duck. I start by spatchcocking the bird, which is not only fun to say but a great way to flatten the bird out and keep you from overcooking the legs and wings. To spatchcock a chicken you have to remove the spine by cutting it out, slice the keel bone down the center or remove it completely, and tuck the wings and legs into slits you make in the skin to help hold the bird out flat. Spatchcock!

My egg-like Charbroiler
           I use kosher salt to coat the inside
(underside) and skin (topside) of the bird to draw moisture out of the skin separating the layer of fat so it can render out for crispy skin. The salt also lightly cures the bird, adding flavor and moisture. Use a lot of salt because believe it or not this is what kosher salt was made for, and it will produce a juicer bird. Some folks say it is because the salt breaks down proteins in the meat, but however it works it works. After two days in the fridge on a rack over a sheet pan the skin looks a little papery and thin in spots but this means it is ready to go.

Burning like a jet engine
       I use real charcoal because it is cheap, burns for longer, and makes everything just taste better. A bag of mesquite chunk charcoal is pretty reasonable at $3-4 for a 15lb bag. A little newspaper in my charcoal starter means I can quickly prepare the coals and don't have any lighter fluid taste in my food. Once the lumps are ashy looking they are good to go. Just keep an eye on them, because with all the oxygen they get in the starter the coal burns a lot faster than it does in your grill.
Spatchcocked bird on the heat


     I let the chicken sit at room temperature for an hour or so to help reduce the cook time. If you throw chicken straight out of the fridge on the grill chances are you will burn the outside and have raw chicken on the inside. The grill is at about 400 f and I put down the lid to speed up the cooking time. Once it firms up a bit, five to ten minutes, I flip the chicken breast side down directly over the flame for a few minutes.

Look at the skin crisping up

      After a about five minutes the skin is crisp and I flip it back over facing the breast towards the heat. This is where you have to keep and eye on it. I was aiming for a cook internal temperature of 160f, but 155f works just as well. Once it started looking ready I used my instant-read thermometer to check the breast and thighs. The nice thing about butterflying the bird like this is the bones help protect and cook the meat evenly. I brush a little sauce on the thick parts of the bird for a little char, because a little char can be a good thing. Once the temp is at 160 ferinheight your bird is done. I like to slather mine in BBQ sauce but the choice is yours.  

The final product
         You would think the kosher salt all over the bird for two days would make it salty, but it works out to be just about right. The meat was tender and moist, but the skin was the star of the meal. Crispy and full of fatty flavor, what else could you ask for from a chicken? The backs and innards went into a ziplock bag in the freezer to be used later for stock or for crab bait so they won't go to waste. Most of the prep is done by the salt while the bird rests in the fridge so I can say the prep time is easily under thirty minutes if you do not count the time in the fridge or the time getting up to room temperature before you cook it.

Thanks for reading,




  1. Daniel
    Awesome looking meal, I enjoy eating anything that is grilled, not to mention the health wise aspect of it. I will have to give this a try. thanks for sharing

    1. Let me know how it turns out. :D

  2. I have to admit that I cheat when I BBQ. We use a propane grill because I'm short on patience waiting for charcoal to get hot. The one thing I do is to put an aluminum cookie sheet on the bottom rack and cook on the bun rack. That saves all the grease from the chicken falling onto the fire and torching the chicken. If I do a whole chicken, I put it in the smoker.

  3. Just got back from the store with a bird and I'm about to get my spatchcock on. Thanks for the idea, Danny.


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