Back to Basics – Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

Back to Barbecue Basics

Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

There’s something so seductive about a whole chicken rotating slowly on a spit, its skin browning to crisp perfection, its rich-tasting fat basting the meat as it roasts over the flavor-boosting powers of wood smoke.

Yes, spit-roasting—also known as rotisserie cooking—is the best way we know to cook a whole bird.* (See interesting facts below.) One of the rotisserie kits is produced by Weber; it fits on their popular 22-1/2 inch kettle grill and includes a 6-inch metal collar to raise the height of the lid. It works beautifully, in our experience. Some gas grills come equipped with rotisseries as well, though they can also be after-market purchases. Of course, you can spit-roast over a campfire as our ancestors did. If you don’t have a rotisserie set-up, no worries: indirect grill the chicken.


Can you buy rotisserie chicken at your local big box store or supermarket? Of course. (Costco sells over 170 million per year.) But why would you, when a chicken seasoned and smoke-roasted at home is easy, versatile, and so satisfying? This cooking technique not only ensures even cooking, but also imparts a delightful crispy skin and succulent meat. Follow these simple steps, found in Steven’s book, Project Smoke, and you’ll be a rotisserie chicken master in no time.

Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

  • Select the best chicken you can find: An organic chicken in the 3-1/2 to 4-pound range is ideal, and will amply serve 3 people. (If you’re serving more appetites, skewer 2 chickens.) Air-dried is preferred. Look for a bird with unblemished skin. Remove the chicken from its packaging. Search the cavities (both neck and main cavities) for giblets or extra fat. (Giblets can be set aside for another use.) If desired, rinse the chicken under cold running water, then dry with paper towels.
  • Season the chicken with coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast Chicken

  • For the crispiest skin, place a wire rack in a rimmed sheet pan. Place the chicken on top of the wire rack. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 8 hours to overnight. (This drying out will help make the chicken skin crispier once it’s spit-roasted.)
  • You could, if desired, spit-roast the chicken after the skin dries. Seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked over wood smoke, this is simple but sublime. However, you might want to add a different flavor profile to your chicken—easy to do. Brush the chicken with olive oil or melted butter, then sprinkle liberally with your favorite rub. We give you three awesome suggestions below.
  • Set up your grill for indirect heat at a temperature of 375 to 400 degrees F.
  • Tie the legs together with butcher’s string and tuck the wings behind the bird. Rub or brush the chicken on all sides with olive oil or melted butter, then top with your favorite rub or fresh herbs (see below).
  • Brandy Brined Rotisserie Chicken

  • Following the manufacturer’s directions, skewer the chicken (or chickens) on the spit. Be sure to slide the first pronged fork on the spit first. Use it to secure the chicken. You can do this top to bottom, or through the sides of the bird. Your choice.
  • Place the skewered chicken in the rotisserie unit and turn the unit on. Cover.
  • Battle of the Rotisserie Chicken

  • Grill the chicken until it’s Instagram-worthy, about 1 to 1/2 hours. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before carefully removing the bird from the spit and carving it with a sharp knife.

And the rub recipes I promised? Here they are.

  • Mediterranean: Combine 2 tablespoons each sea salt, dried rosemary, and dried oregano. Add 2 teaspoons cracked black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon granulated garlic.
  • West Indian: Combine 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons sea salt, and 1 teaspoon each onion powder, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder; 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Scotch bonnet or habanero chili powder; and 1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, and ground cinnamon.
  • Moroccan: Mix 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon each cracked black pepper, ground coriander, and cumin; and 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, and garlic powder. Add hot pepper flakes to taste.
  • *And we’re in good company: Though dressed as a peasant to avoid capture by his enemies, legend has it that King Richard the Lionheart was outed when he insisted on a meal of spit-roasted chicken, an indulgence usually enjoyed only by noblemen at that time; Napoleon was so fond of the dish that he demanded it be served to him at a moment’s notice, meaning the palace likely smelled deliciously of roast chicken at all hours.

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