Check out this quick guide for 5 foolproof tips on learning and mastering a whole grilled spatchcock style chicken that the whole family will love.
Whether you’re new to grilling or not, it can sometimes seem intimidating to cook a whole (large) bird on your charcoal or gas grill. If you haven’t yet read my 7 tips for grilled chicken, then check this out first to have a better understanding of general preparation and cooking methods for chicken on the grill.
Over the last three years, I have made more grilled chicken recipes than any other protein because it’s quick, easy, feeds a lot of people (or makes great leftovers), and is really versatile with flavor profiles. While I love a good classic, oven roasted weeknight chicken recipe, there is something extra special of digging into a bird straight off the grill.
Here are my 5 favorite foolproof tips to guide you through the process of a perfect roast chicken style recipe that you can use on any gas or charcoal grill. Let’s dive in!
Rather try your hand at a grilled rotisserie chicken instead? Check out my 5 tips and recipe on how to make a grilled rotisserie chicken too.
Tip 1: Remove Moisture, Promote Browning
Whether you’re grilling chicken, a steak, or any other protein, moisture is your enemy! Natural juices from poultry packaging or any excess water encourages the meat to steam and impacts your ability to get that brown, crispy, iconic skin that looks as beautiful as it tastes.
Promote browning by creating a Maillard reaction. This is food nerd speak for allowing the natural breakdown of the proteins and sugars in the meat that allows for browning to actually occur. The brown bits are also what gives us all the flavor too, so we want to encourage this when cooking.
Therefore, you should start every recipe before grilling by patting the whole chicken dry with paper towels at the bare minimum. On my in-depth chicken wing guide, I also mention how I use baking powder to soak up excess liquid. This works best if you coat the skin lightly and leave it uncovered in the fridge for a few hours too.
Tip 2: Retaining Natural Juices
While we may have a goal of removing excess moisture, no one wants to eat a dried out piece of chicken. Now that being said, grilling a whole chicken is already going to be juicer than cooking a regular, skinless chicken breast for instance because that skin is going to provide protection from loosing too much natural juice during the cooking process.
Other methods for keeping chicken juicy are through wet or dry brining. This is a process where you allow a simple kosher salt water solution to absorb into the meat of the chicken prior to cooking. Both methods are outlined in my 7 tips for the best grilled chicken post if you want a more in-depth explanation.
Tip 3: Even Cooking
Even cooking is crucial for grilling. Why? Because you will likely overcook the thinner portions of the bird (wing tips for instance) before the center of the chicken is fully cooked. I solve this issue by butterflying or spatchcocking the whole chicken for grilling.
What is spatchcock chicken?
It’s the process of removing the backbone from a whole chicken and laying it completely flat to cook. This is the only way (outside of rotisserie) I will ever cook a chicken on the grill because it’s that good! In fact, I even made a champagne brined spatchcock turkey for thanksgiving too.
To spatchcock a whole bird, place the whole bird chicken breast side down and with sharp poultry shears (or a chef’s knife) start but cutting on each side of the backbone. You will have to cut through the ribs which is the thickest part, which is why I like using a good kitchen scissor to do most of the work.
Once you remove the backbone on both sides, flip the bird back over and place it on a baking sheet. You’ll notice the breast bones aren’t quite laying flat, to get them to fully open crack the breast bone and press down on the top of it to encourage it to fully open.
Pro Tip: Line a baking sheet with foil (or use a disposable foil pan) and place a cooling rack over the top. Place your spatchcock chicken on this rack and the gap underneath the rack will help collect rendered fat and encourage heat to pass through at the same time.
Tip 4: Heat Control
So, how do you cook a whole chicken on a charcoal grill? What about gas grilling?
No matter which grill you use, you can make a perfectly roasted chicken. While I’m partial to charcoal grills (for the added flavor) they tend to fluctuate more, so keep that in mind if you’re newer to grilling. I’ve used gas and charcoal however and both work very well.
Because a whole chicken needs a decent amount of time to cook, using an indirect cooking method is best.
What is indirect heat?
Its where you are heating the grill so only one side is very hot, while the other remains cooler. This method is done a little differently depending on the grill you use. If you are using a standard charcoal grill like a Weber, place the coals around the outside in a ring, and the chicken in the center away from the coals.
For a Kamado style ceramic grill (like my Big Green Egg), I use the heat deflector plates. This prevents direct flames from hitting the chicken and encourages the grill to heat more like an oven would for example. For gas grills, I heat usually the right burner and center burner and place the chicken on the far left, away from the direct heat of the gas.
Whichever grill you use, you want to cook your chicken on medium heat (Like 425-450 F). This works best if you’re cooking with a bird under 4 lbs. A larger bird will do better around the 375 F. mark. Cooking time will vary, but roughly takes around an a minimum of 60 minutes and depending on the size of your bird, another 30 or 45 minutes give or take.
Pro Tip: Always use a meat thermometer when cooking any protein. This is so important for food safety and I absolutely love this Thermoworks thermometer .Worth every penny!
Tip 5: Resting & Slicing
When the thickest part of the chicken reads and internal temperature of 165 F., then you can remove it from the grill. Allow it to rest on a the pan you placed it on, tented with foil for at least 15 minutes to rest before slicing.
There are a few ways to serve and breakdown a whole bird. Here is a cool visual guide you can use to help you as well. I like to serve my whole, spatchcock style chickens family style (pictured below).
How To Grill A Whole Chicken
- 1, Whole Chicken 3-4 lbs.
- 3 tbsp. All Purpose BBQ Seasoning or you favorite seasoning of choice
- 1 tbsp. Salt
- 2 tbsp. Baking Powder optional, see notes in post above
- Any additional marinades sauces, etc. as desired.
- Start by removing your chicken from the packaging and pat the chicken dry with paper towels. If you want extra crispy skin you can leave it uncovered overnight in the fridge or for a quicker option mix the 2 tbsp. of baking powder in with your dry rub and let it set for just 1-2 hours in the fridge (also uncovered) to help dry out the skin.
- Seasoning you chicken with whichever rub or seasoning blend you desire. If marinating your chicken, allow it to rest in the marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Spatchcock the chicken so it lays flat (see more detailed notes in the post above for help). Flip the chicken over, breast side down and with sharp kitchen shears or a shark knife, cut along both sides of the back bone and remove it from the chicken. I usually remove the kidneys or any other organ meats if they are still inside the chicken cavity as well at this point.
- Next, flip your chicken oven, breast side up and with both hands on the front of the chicken push down and crack the breast bone slightly so the chicken completely opens up and lays flat.
- To prep your gas or charcoal grill, you will want to set you grill for indirect heat and hold a temperature of around 425 F. If your bird is larger than 4 lbs. then heat to 375 F instead.
- For easier transportation on and off the grill, line a baking sheet with foil (or use a foil pan) and place a cooling rack over the top. Place your uncooked, spatchcock chicken over the rack so it lays flat.
- Place the seasoned chicken on the cooler (indirect) side of your grill as needed and cook for 60 minutes. Around the 60 minute mark, check it every 15 minutes of so with a thermometer until the thickest part reaches 165 F.
- Remove the chicken from the grill carefully (if you don’t use the cooling rack, the chicken is so juicy and tender a leg may literally fall off). Let it rest, lightly tented with foil to allow the juices to settle a before slicing. Slice into servable pieces and enjoy.