How to Grill a Whole Chicken for the best, juiciest, most succulent chicken you’ll ever eat! I’ll show you how to spatchcock (or butterfly) a fryer chicken for the barbecue so it cooks quickly and evenly.
Why would you want to grill a whole chicken?
Grilling the whole bird makes sense whether you’re cooking chicken for another recipe, or feeding a cookout crowd. Try it once and you’ll never go back to skinless boneless again.
- Whole chickens are substantially cheaper than pre-cut, and have been processed less.
- Whole chickens are fresher, and stay fresh longer than packages of cut meat.
- When you roast the whole chicken it doesn’t dry out on the grill, and remains juicier. The complete covering of skin acts as an insulator and keeps all the flavor in.
- You can use the carcass for making amazing stock, so that chicken will keep on giving.
- It makes a great presentation, everybody will oooh and aaah.
How to choose a whole chicken for the grill
You’ll want to look for a ‘broiler’ or ‘fryer’ chicken, they’re about 3-4 pounds. Their smaller size is perfect for grilling.
Look for the organic and antibiotic free on the label whenever possible. Even better, buy a local, truly free range bird. Try your farmers market, or this handy guide to local poultry in your area.
Steps for cooking a whole chicken on the grill ~
Once you’ve got your grill heated up and ready to go, there are a few simple steps to cooking a whole chicken on the barbecue.
- First, spatchcock (or ‘butterfly’) your chicken so that it lays as flat as possible. Don’t worry, I go over how to do this below. This allows everything to cook evenly and more quickly.
- Set up your grill with the coals arranged so there’s a hot side and a cooler side.
- Place your chicken on the cooler side of the grill, skin side up. Place your chicken so that the legs are closer to the hotter side of the grill, since they take longer to cook. Cover the grill, and cook it until it’s almost done, about an hour or so.
- Finally, baste your chicken with barbecue sauce (if using) and flip the chicken over onto the hotter side of the grill, skin side down for a few more minutes to let the skin crisp up to allow the chicken to get up to temperature (75c/165F)
How to spatchcock a chicken
Spatchcocking is a fancy word for cutting a whole chicken open so it lies flat, in one piece, for cooking. If you’re squeamish about cutting or deboning chicken (that’s me) then this is a good starting point because it’s super quick and easy. You’ll need a pair of kitchen shears, or poultry shears to do the job neatly and quickly.
Step one: Put your chicken breast side down on your work surface.
Step two: Use kitchen or poultry shears to cut along the backbone, on one side. Then cut down the other side to remove the bone entirely. (This can be frozen and used for stock later.)
Step three: Flip the chicken over and open it out. Press down firmly on the breast to get it flat. It’s now ready to cook.
Tip: Your butcher or meat counter person will gladly spatchcock a chicken for you.
The secret to better grilled chicken
It’s super simple: an instant read meat thermometer. The biggest problem people have when they grill chicken is they don’t cook it to the right temperature; they either under do it, or over do it.
- An instant read thermometer like this one can be inserted into the joint between the leg and thigh.
- A temperature probe style thermometer like this one is great because you can program it to beep when your chicken reaches the desired temperature.
You’re looking for an internal temperature of 75c/165F
The best barbecue sauce is your favorite barbecue sauce~
I’m not above using store-bought barbecue sauce for my summer grilling, there are lots of great options out there (I’m partial to Stubbs), but if you want to have a go at making your own, I say go for it! Here are some tasty suggestions:
- A Classic BBQ sauce recipe from Add a Pinch.
- Southern spiked sauce from food.com.
- My friend Mary from Barefeet in the Kitchen makes a mean spicy barbecue sauce.
- And Jamie Oliver makes a fruity Bourbon sauce that’s to die for.
Sides to go with barbecued chicken ~
- Sour Cream and Onion Potato Salad
- Mediterranean Bean Salad
- Chopped Italian Salad
- Chopped Greek Salad
- Layered Rainbow Salad
- Broccoli Honeycrisp Slaw
- Asian Slaw
- Sweet Vidalia Onion Slaw
- Red Cabbage and Dill Slaw
- Spicy Rainbow Slaw
- Mac and Cheese
- Honey Jalapeño Cornbread
- Fried Cabbage and Bacon Slaw
- Roasted Rainbow Potatoes
- Spicy Thai Spaghetti Salad
Whole Grilled Chicken
- 1 whole frying chicken
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a couple of tablespoons vegetable oil for basting (optional)
- barbecue sauce, home-made or store bought, for basting and serving (optional)
- Light your grill and mound your charcoal to one side of the grill, creating a "hotter" and a "less hot" side of the grill.
- Spatchcock and season your chicken - see notes below
- Add the chicken to the hot grill, skin side up, on the cooler side of the grill. Place the chicken so that the legs are facing the hotter side of the grill, since they can take a little more cooking. Cover and allow the chicken to cook until it's nearly fully cooked (about 5 or so degrees away from 165F). This should take about an hour or so, use a meat thermometer to check when you think it might be getting close. The skin should start to dry out a little, if it seems like it's drying out too much you can brush it with a little vegetable oil.
- When the chicken is almost fully cooked, baste it with your sauce of choice (optional) and flip it over so it is skin side down on the hotter side of the grill. Cover and allow to cook for a few more minutes until the skin is crispy and the chicken is fully cooked. Make sure to check on it a couple times to make sure it isn't getting too charred for your liking. If you need to cook it a little longer but don't want the skin to get burnt, move it back to the middle or the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.
- Remove the chicken from the grill and serve with your sides of choice!
notes and variations
How to spatchcock a chicken ~
- A good pair of kitchen shears is the best tool for spatchcocking a chicken. You want to place your chicken with the legs facing you, breast-side down. The backbone will be facing up. With your kitchen shears, you want to cut along the backbone, about an inch or so away from the center. Then, make the same cut on the other side of the backbone. Remove the whole backbone and discard (or save for making chicken stock!)
- Turn the chicken over, open it up, and flatten the breast out firmly with the palm of your hand so it lays relatively flat.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, or a spice rub if you are using one.