Grilling chicken is just as easy as roasting, but you’ll get great barbecue flavor without the hassle of having to stand at the grill turning drumsticks and breasts to keep them from burning. Expand your grilling repertoire and impress your guests by learning how to grill a whole chicken.
Don't Forget to Preheat
As with steaks or burgers, preheating your grill is the first step in perfecting your grilling technique. If possible, use a gas grill; they have the best indirect heat for grilling a whole chicken. If using a charcoal grill, you can manipulate the charcoal once the coals are hot to have hotter and cooler sections on the grate.
Season the Bird
Get the chicken ready for the grill by rinsing it with cool water. Don’t forget to take that bag of gizzards out of the cavity!
Rub the chicken inside and out with olive oil, sea salt, and coarse pepper. You can also stuff the cavity with fresh herbs like sage or tarragon and maybe a couple of lemon wedges, but don't go overboard and stuff it with breadcrumbs or the like. This will just slow down cooking time and may make the bird cook unevenly. A few herbs for flavor are enough.
Grilling to Perfection
Now that your chicken is seasoned and the grill is hot, the rest of this process comes down to timing, temperature and grill placement. Brush a little vegetable oil on the grill before placing the bird on the coolest side of the grill, breast up. Close the lid. If you’re using charcoal, make sure you have a cooler spot to set the chicken on.
What you’re doing here is creating a kind of oven with your barbecue. You don't want direct flames firing up on your chicken because it’s going to need to cook for upwards of 90 minutes. Direct heat for that long will fry the outside of the chicken way before the inside gets a chance to cook, so let’s avoid that.
Keep your eye on the clock, but don’t keep lifting the lid to check on your chicken. It’s doing just fine and not going anywhere! Every time you lift the lid, you bring the temperature of your “oven” way down, lengthening the cooking process. You do want to rotate your chicken about halfway through, maybe after 40 minutes or so.
When you hit the 80-minute mark, go ahead and take the temperature of the bird, just to see where you’re at. Poke the thermometer probe into the breast, the thickest part of the meat, and check the gauge. Chicken needs to cook to 165 degrees in order to be eaten safely, but you actually want to pull it out when it hits 155 or 160 and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
The meat will still cook in its own heat after it leaves the grill, allowing it to come to proper temperature. The resting period also lets the juices redistribute to the surface of the meat, giving you a nice, tender bite and making it easier to carve.
One More Thing
When turning the chicken, or any piece of meat for that matter, never stab it with a big barbecue fork to flip it. Always use tongs. Piercing the meat with that fork just lets the juices run into the fire, drying out your meat. So even though it may be fun to turn the chicken around that way, don’t do it.
In fact, get rid of that barbecue fork all together or relegate it to a little roasting tool for jalapenos or marshmallows. Your meat will be the better for it!