The best way to grill a whole chicken is to spatchcock it. All that means is removing the bird’s backbone and breaking the breastplate, which allows the chicken to lay flat. When it can lay flat on the grill (or in the oven for that matter), it cuts down on the cooking time AND gives you extra surface area for the skin to get crisp.
Keep a close eye on the bird, especially at first, and especially when grilling over charcoal. The fire might flare up when the chicken first hits the grill, which is fine, but you don’t want to leave the bird over those flames for more than two to three minutes, or the skin will char.
Whether you’re grilling over charcoal or gas, a two-zone fire, with a hot and cool side of the grill, is key. Responsiveness is also important – don’t hesitate to move the chicken around if it’s getting too hot in one area or not enough heat in another. That said, moving a whole chicken around the grill requires a confident hand and a large spatula or set of tongs—so make sure you have those tools available.
Finally, give the bird ample resting time after cooking—at least 20 minutes, if not more. This will help ensure even cooking and tender meat. Serve with a punchy, garlicky sauce, like romesco, salsa verde, or yogurt with garlic and herbs.
- 1 medium whole chicken 4-5 pounds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground sweet paprika
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about an hour before you’re ready to grill. Dry the bird and remove any giblets in the cavity. Place on a cutting board, breast-side-down, with the legs facing you, and use kitchen shears (or a sharp, heavy knife if you don’t have shears) to cut along both sides of the backbone.
- Remove the backbone and open the chicken by pressing down on the thighs. Press down at the center of the breastbone with both hands to break it so that the bird can lay flat (you can also snip the breastbone with the shears). Snip off the wing tips (reserve along with the backbone for making stock).
- Combine the salt, spices, and olive oil together in a small bowl to make a paste. Rub the paste all over the chicken and set aside.
- Light the grill: Create a 2-zone fire. For charcoal, this means lighting the coals and moving them to one side of the grill when they’re hot; for gas, just turn it up to high on one side and leave it off on the other. Clean and oil the grates.
- Place the chicken, skin-side-down, on the hot side of the grill and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on how hot your grill is. Flip and sear again on the other side. Move the chicken over to the cooler side of the grill, close the lid, and cook, flipping every 10-15 minutes or so, for about an hour, or until the bird registers 165°F.
- Remove the chicken from the grill, place on a clean sheet pan, and rest for about 20 minutes before carving and serving.