Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Spaceship Chicken" (aka BBQ Whole Chicken)

One day a few months ago, my husband and I were discussing what to make for dinner.  We had a whole chicken waiting to be cooked.  But how?

We love to barbecue, so he decided he'd like to try to barbecue the chicken.  He had been served "beer can chicken" cooked on a barbecue before, so we knew it could be done.

However, we'd never personally tried to cook an entire chicken, whole, on the barbecue.  Nor did he see the technique his friend had used.

Our original plan was to simply attempt to stand it up, straddling a can of beer.  This sounded like a great way to get burned by hot liquid, so I went shopping at lunch to see if I could find an actual stand to use.

I bought a rack to put the chicken on.  Unfortunately, I don't recall the exact name of the one purchased.  However, there are many different types, and this one is very close to ours.  Charcoal Companion Non-Stick Vertical Poultry Roasting Wok

When I got home, we quickly realized we had a problem.  You see, although we barbecue almost every Sunday and more often during the Summer, we have a very small Smokey Joe grill. (Weber 10020 Smokey Joe Silver Charcoal Grill, Black.

The clearance between the chicken, standing up on the rack, and the lid of our grill was not adequate.

So we had to improvise! 

After discussing our options, some of which were downright dodgy, we came up with something that has worked.  Our solution?  We made an alternate "lid" for our barbecue using aluminum foil wrapped around a metal tomato cage.  Which was set, inverted, over our barbecue.

                                             Photo credit: Rob Hargraves Photography
The above model was affectionately deemed version one.  For subsequent meals, we have since only wrapped the first two larger tiers of the tomato cage, which we believe works better.

We have now cooked whole chickens on our barbecue several times.  Since it has a longer cooking time (approximately an hour and a half, for a five pound chicken), it allows us time to hang out with our guests and talk, without anyone needing to fuss much with the grill.

I'll give our general cooking instructions at the end of this post.  Since the heat of the coals and the size of the bird can vary.

For our first chicken, we weren't really sure how we wanted to season it.  We opted for just beer in the marinade holder and rubbed the skin of the chicken with butter and crushed garlic.

                                              Photo credit: Rob Hargraves Photography
Here's a photo of the results:

                                         Photo credit: Rob Hargraves Photography
Although the bird looks a bit burned, it was cooked perfectly.  The skin tends to get pretty charred up, and we discard it before serving.

We weren't thrilled with the flavor of this bird, so we've experimented since with different flavors.

We have since opted not to use beer as our liquid.  Our marinades have used basically this mix: 1/4 cup of barbecue sauce, 1/4 lemon juice, 1/2 cup worchestershire sauce.  To the liquid, we have added crushed garlic, dried rosemary and dried cilantro. 

Dry Rubs
On our second chicken, I had the bright idea to use Chinese Five Spice only as the rub.  Although I enjoyed the black licorice smell permeating the house, the flavor of the bird was lacking and not quite right for our tastebuds.

For the other chickens we have made, we have used varying combinations of the following ingredients: paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Unfortunately, we have not kept details on this as we just eye it out and hope for the best :)  So far we've been very lucky, too.

General cooking directions

***We never leave our grill unattended, but especially when cooking Spaceship Chicken. Most people would not recognize this as a barbeque/smoker/heat source and we would not want someone to wander upon it unawares.

Before cooking the bird, the coals are set off to one side to allow space for a drip pan made of aluminum foil to be placed next to the coals, under the side where the bird is placed. This drip pan was created by folding  up the edges of the foil in a rectangle shape.  I'll add a photo the next time we prepare another chicken.

The bird is placed on the grill, on the side with the drip pan, with the breast side facing the coals.  Not directly placed over the coals.

After the bird has cooked for about 40 minutes, we turn it around and cook it for another 30 minutes.  Then we regularly (every five minutes or so) check for doneness using a meat thermometer.

At the point when we turn the chicken, we also begin to keep a sharper eye on the coals.  Sometimes we have to add more coals, and sometimes we do not.  If we do, we use a charcoal starter to start more coals.  Such as, a Lodge Charcoal Chimney Starter

Once the chicken is fully cooked, we bring the chicken inside.  With due care, we twist the chicken off of the rack and place it on a platter to rest for twenty minutes.  This allows the juices to distribute evenly.

Keep in mind that any remaining marinade in the holder will be hot!  So carry your bird into the house and remove it from the rack with care.

With our particular rack, our marinade holder will come off if we twist the bird in the wrong direction.  Please be sure to twist your bird in the direction which locks your holder in place.  This will keep the holder on the rack, rather than lifting up with your chicken.

Here is a picture of the results from another evening of cooking Spaceship Chicken.

                                                      Photo credit: Rob Hargraves Photography
If you give this a try, or have cooked chicken this way before, we'd love any suggestions you have on different ways to season and/or marinade the chicken.

The next time we make Spaceship Chicken, I am going to try brining the chicken overnight first.  I'll let you know how it comes out!

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