Basic Technique: Rotisserie Poultry
This is my basic technique for rotisserie cooking poultry. It produces the best whole birds I’ve ever cooked. They look gorgeous, and have the best crispy skin I have been able to make. The meat turns out juicy and tender, due to the brining. I’ve used this technique on chicken, turkey and duck*, and I am going to try it with cornish game hens in the near future.
*Rabbit season! Sorry, had to shout out to Daffy.
Basic Technique: Rotisserie Poultry
[Update 2013-01-24: Here’s a video overview of the entire process.]
Video link: Rotisserie Grilling Two Chickens – [YouTube.com]
- Gas or charcoal grill with rotisserie attachment (I’m a Weber fan; my jumbo Weber S-650 gas grill with infrared rotisserie burner is here, and my Weber Kettle with rotisserie attachment is here).
- 9×13 aluminum foil drip pan
- Butcher’s twine
*Fast brine, for smaller birds (say, up to 5 lb chickens). Dissolve 1/4 cup table salt + 2 tbsp sugar per quart of water in a container large enough to hold your birds. Brine in the refrigerator, covered, for 1-8 hours, about 1 hour per pound of bird. I usually make two quarts of brine for two four pound chickens, and brine them for 4 hours.
*Slow brine, for larger birds (turkey). Dissolve 1/2 cup table salt + 2 tbsp sugar per gallon of water. Brine for 8 to 14 hours, about 1 hour per pound of turkey. I usually make two gallons for a 14 pound turkey, and brine for 12 hours. (I use my 12-Quart stock pot as the container when I brine a turkey; a 14lb bird will just fit in it.)
*Dry brine, [added 5/29/2009]. Use 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of bird. Sprinkle evenly over the entire bird. Make sure you get salt on the entire inside of the cavity, and work some under the breast skin by loosening it gently with a finger, then rubbing it in there. (for a 4lb bird, I sprinkle 1/2 tsp on the top, 1/2 tsp on the bottom, 1/2 tsp in the cavity, and then loosen the breast skin and work some salt on the breast. I sprinkle any left over on the top again.) Put the bird on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan, and let it rest in the refrigerator at least overnight. For a chicken, you can do this as early as 6 hours before cooking, and up to 2 days. For a turkey, 1-3 days ahead of time is best.
2. Truss the bird. Drain the poultry, pat dry, stuff the cavity with any aromatics (optional), then truss tightly. See my video, below, for how to truss a bird. This technique works on all birds, not just turkeys. I use a turkey in the video because it is easier to see the technique on a larger bird. (And because it was Thanksgiving.) Trussing is important – if anything is loose and flopping around on the rotisserie, it may wind up in the fire.
*Everyone seems to have their own way of trussing. If you don’t like mine, try these: Alton Brown’s video is here, and here is one from Chow.com.)
3. Skewer the bird. Put the first fork on the spit, and tighten securely. Then put the poultry on, skewering through the legs first. Spear the legs with the prongs of the fork – you want them to conduct heat into the legs and thighs of the bird. Then, put on the second fork, with the prongs “under” the bird – you want the prongs to be spearing the backbone side of the bird, not in the breast – you want the breast to cook slower. If I’m doing two or more birds, I try to alternate them, like in the picture below – it seems to keep them more balanced. I changed my mind on this – it seems to work better when both birds are facing the same way, nose to butt. If you’re cooking two birds with one pair of forks, it holds them together better.
4. Set up your grill. Remove the grates, and attach the rotisserie motor to its bracket, and set the grill up for indirect grilling on high heat.
*For a charcoal grill (like a Weber kettle with a Weber Charcoal Kettle Rotisserie): light a full chimney of charcoal, wait until it is just covered with ash, and then set up for “indirect” cooking by putting the aluminum drip pan in the middle of the charcoalgrate, and pouring the charcoal in even piles on both sides of the pan. (A fist sized, soaked chunk of smoking wood on the charcoal is good as well.)
Don’t forget the aluminum foil pan in the “indirect” part of the grill; you will get a lot of dripping fat and you need something to catch it. Remember -no grates on the grill for this method – you need the space for the spinning birds.*Special note about setting up a grill for turkey: Because a turkey is so large, you can use directional heat to cook the legs faster than the breast. (This is a good thing, as you’ll see below – you want the legs cooked more than the breast.) Try to concentrate the heat around the drumstick end of the turkey. In my charcoal grill, I make a “U” of charcoal on one side of the grill, put the drip pan inside the U, and point the breast towards the open end of the U. For my Weber Summit, I turn my smoker burner and burner 1 to high, leave the infrared rotisserie burner on medium, and leave the rest of the burners off. Then I spit the turkey so the breast is facing burner 6, and the legs are facing the lit burners. (If you don’t have the smoker burner, go with burners 1 and 2. If you have a Weber Genesis, with burners that run the length of the grill, you’ll have to live with even heat.5. Start cooking: Put the skewer in the mounting bracket, seating the point end in the motor, and turn on the motor. Make sure the bird is spinning freely, then adjust your drip pan to make sure it is under the bird(s). Close the lid – you want to trap the heat in the grill, so it roasts from the trapped heat as well as browns from the direct heat of the flames.
6. Cook the bird. It takes 45 minutes to an hour for a 4 lb chicken, and 2 to 2.5 hours for a 12 pound turkey – adjust the times up or down based on the weight of your bird. Rotisserie cooking tends to be faster than “regular” grill roasting, so start checking if the bird is done at the early end of time frame. I use an instant read thermometer to check for doneness. I’m looking for 155*F to 160*F in the breast, measured at the thickest part of the meat. At that point, the thickest part of the leg should be about 170*F to 180*F, and we’re done cooking.
7. Remove and serve. Remove the spit from the grill. Make absolutely sure you are wearing gloves or use oven mitts – the spit will be a branding iron at this point. I get the birds off the skewer as soon as I can, so the hot skewer doesn’t keep cooking them. Remember, the knobs on the forks are going to be hot as well! Don’t try to turn them without your gloves on, or use pliers or a fork. Let the poultry rest for 15 minutes (at least – 30 would be better), then carve and serve!
I’m a Weber loyalist, so I think these are the best options:
- For best results – use a charcoal grill: Weber Performer 22.5″ Kettle with work table with Weber 22.5″ Charcoal Kettle Rotisserie
- If you insist on gas, or insist on grilling through a Cleveland winter: Weber Genesis Propane Gas Grill with the Weber Gas Grill Rotisserie
- If you need to intimidate your neighborhood: Weber Summit S-650 Propane Tuck-Away Rotisserie Grill
I’ve owned all three of these, and #1 and #3 are what I currently own and use. I really prefer to use charcoal for rotisserie cooking. There’s something about the results over a live fire that I can’t seem to duplicate on a gas grill.
*The Summit 650 is also a monster – it’s huge! I’ve cooked 3 chickens simultaneously, and it felt like I could have squeezed on another one if I needed to.Notes:
*Brining. As I say above, I use the fast brine for everything up to the size of a chicken, and the slow brine for turkey. That being said, you can slow brine chicken (buy 4lbs+ chickens and brine them for 8 hours), and fast brine turkey (12lbs turkey, no more than 8 hours – the concentrated brine might make the bird too salty if you wait longer than that). I’ve brined chicken for as little as an hour with the fast brine, and had good results, but I prefer the results with 4 hours in the brine. I would brine cornish hens for 1-2 hours, and duck for 1-4 hours.
Click here for my other rotisserie recipes.Inspired by:
Russ Parsons: It’s Roasting Outside [LA Times]
Jeffrey Steingarten: It Must’ve Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate EverythingSteven Raichlen: How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue TechniquesCook’s Illustrated: The Best Chicken Recipes, among countless others
|Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,|
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.It’s available in paperback and Kindle editions.(You can download the Kindle edition and start reading immediately!)
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