How good is a whole chicken, rotating over hot coals and being licked by red hot flames, all while offering that spectacular aroma of lemon and fresh herbs… it pretty much drives everyone in the vicinity mad with delicious anticipation.
So on that note, we have this showstopping rotisserie chicken recipe to talk about today and I promise I am not lying when I say, it’s the solution to any (and all) Sunday roast woes.
Now I know a roasted whole chicken is nothing new, but when a whole bird is cooked over charcoal, it becomes something just a little bit special. And if you happen to have a coal rotisserie in your barbecue arsenal, then this is an easy recipe that really anyone could pull off like a gourmet chef (all while getting outside and enjoying a few sneaky wines in the sunshine in the process).
When preparing this recipe, I like to give the whole bird a bit of consideration from the inside out, with my eye on the true prize; which is to finish with a chicken that is crispy-skinned, tender-fleshed and all kinds of delicious. I always start by giving the whole bird, including the cavity, a good rinse with cold running water (I have an aversion to raw chicken, so I wash it as the first step of preparation all the time).
From there (and after a good dry brine overnight in the fridge to dry out the skin), I cut a whole fresh lemon in half, placing both sides inside the bird, and for a little bit of extra pop, I throw in a couple of cloves of peeled garlic and a sprig of rosemary. This goes further than just infusing the meat with flavour – it also helps to hold the rod sturdily in place when assembling the rotisserie… having it slip-sliding around will get you nowhere fast. The lemons will plump up amazing and release loads of beautiful, warm juice while rotating. This will baste your chicken from the inside out , providing super moist meat with a mind-blowingly tangy flavour.
Once the rod and claws of the rotisserie have been assembled and the bird is nice and secure, I then truss it. This isn’t a process that needs to be overly complicated – I just tie the legs up nice and securely with kitchen twine. It helps keep everything in place, nice and neat, which allows for even and consistent cooking. That pesky poultry ain’t going nowhere!
So now that we have the interior sorted, let’s talk about skin. Those of us who have had the pleasure of sampling perfectly cooked, bite-through, crispy, charcoal-tinged chicken skin will know that there aren’t too many things greater in this world. The secret? Well, aside from the all-important overnight dry brine I mentioned earlier, the secret is butter. Lots of real, salted deliciously hedonistic butter. Infuse it with garlic and rosemary, spread it liberally over the chicken before and during cooking, and your taste experience is pretty well complete…. Welcome to Yumtown.
So as I said, a whole roasted chicken is almost always a showstopper, but the extra element of theatre (and flavour) that comes with cooking with fire just takes it to another level. There is something about its rustic, golden appearance and warming aroma that is just so welcoming and it just makes me genuinely warm and happy. This version is just so simple and full of that leomy, garlicky, rosemary favour that is fresh, moreish and hard for anybody you serve it to to get enough of. And when that skin roasts up so crisp and buttery-salty, there is just nothing else like it.
Pair it with sides like roasted potatoes (duck fat? yessss…), fresh green salads or beans and crusty bread, then get excited all over again when (if) you find you have leftovers, as they are perfect for easy salads, dinners, sandwiches and wraps throughout the week. This chicken truly is the warm gift that just keeps giving.
Lemon and Rosemary Charcoal Chicken
A whole roasted chicken is almost always a showstopper, so give this Lemon and Rosemary Charcoal Chicken a 'spin' for your next Sunday roast and let the theatre (and flavour) that comes with cooking with fire take it to the next level.
- 3-4kg whole chicken
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
- zest and juice of 2 lemons
- salt and pepper
- For the cavity stuffing:
- 1 whole lemon, halved
- 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 sprig rosemary
- salt and pepper
The evening before cooking, wash the chicken inside and out with cold running water. Pat dry with paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper, including inside the cavity. Place on a wire rack over a baking tray and set in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready to cook, stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon, garlic cloves and rosemary sprig.
Run the spit through the cavity of the bird, centre it and secure well with rotisserie claws. Tuck the wings underneath the chicken and truss legs together with kitchen twine. Ensure the bird is sturdy on the spit, tying in sections if required to hold it in place. Utilise a counter weight if necessary to ensure even weight on each side.
In a bowl, combine the softened butter, minced garlic, chopped rosemary, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Rub half of the mixture liberally over the exterior of the chicken.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. Once charcoal is fully lit and covered with grey ash, pour and arrange in the bed of your pit. Repeat. *see note
Place the spit on the rotisserie and switch on. Work your coals/fire to maintain a temperature of around 220C (425 – 450F) and allow the chicken to cook until the skin has browned and an instant read thermometer shows 70C (155F-160F) in the thickest part of the breast (approximately 45 minutes per kg of poultry).
During cooking, baste with a squeeze of lemon juice and a portion of the remaining butter mixture every 20-30 minutes.
Once cooked, remove the pit from the rotisserie and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Remove claws and spit and serve, carved with your chosen sides.
Many barbecue cooks will advise to cook your chicken over indirect heat by separating the coals directly underneath the bird and placing a tray in their place to catch drippings. I have found that this doesn't produce enough heat to cook the chicken timely, nor does it allow for crispy skin. As such, I allow the fat to drip directly on to the coals which creates flares that gently lick at the skin, creating that dark, flavourful, smoky flavoured skin that bites right through. Just be mindful of the flames whilst basting!