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Split chicken on the grill- help

YEaterday I got excellent advice on cooking a large london broil on the grill. Dinner was fabulous! This week I also picked up some split chickens ( for those of you in the Melrose area- I got them at Johnnies for less than $2.00 per chicken!). I want to grill them tomorrow, and am looking for tips on how long they will take- I do not want to pre cook them, but do not want to burn them, either.
I was also thinking of some kind of marinade with soy sauce, maybe- but all ideas are welcome. For herbs, I have rosemary, tarragon, parsley and globe basil in the garden. And have the usual suspects- garlice, shallots, ginger, lemon. Please help inspire me!

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  1. They will probably take about an hour, depending on how hot the grill you use is.

    I use a gas Weber, which give me nice, steady temperature control. I preheat it on high, then turn it down to medium when the bird goes on.

    Take 2 heavy bamboo skewers, and pass one throught the outer wing, through the breast, and out the other side thru the other outer wing. The second through the thigh, bottom of the breat, and thru the second thigh. This will keep the bird from coming apart, especially the legs/thighs, which are only connected to the rest of the bird by skin once butterflied.

    Grill it at a relatively low temp (300 deg) on a covered grill, bone side down for about 30-40 mins--it'll smoke a bit as fat renders from the skin. Then flip for 15-20, to brown and crisp up the skin. Back over for a few, and brush with whatever marinade or topping you are using. I typically use a kosher bird for moistness, and cook to 160 in the breast, 180 in the thigh, and they come out nice and juicy.

    In the summer, I tend to make something my family calls "gonza" (it's sort of an Italian barbeque sauce, I have no idea about the name, or where it comes from, or if it's just a old, made up family term.).

    You take about 1/2 can of whole plum tomatos, and crush them with your hands. Add the juice of 3 lemons or so, and about half that amount of olive oil (My grandmother never measured, so neither do I..just taste and adjust as I go). Add a generous amount of oregano (more than a TBSP), and salt and pepper to taste. Brush it on in the last 10-15 mins of cooking, placing the pieces of tomato "artfully" around the skin, and dabbing with the more liquidy part a few times. If you start putting in on right away, you'll get charring, burning, and flare-ups, and cook alot of the citrus taste out of it. It gets consistent raves.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

      Thanks so much. The sauce sound wonderful- maybe I will do that instead of marinating the birds. I love lemon with anything- maybe I will sub cherry tomatoes, as I have a ton of themin my garden. And, chickens are already split- each package contains two halves of the chicken, so I dont't think I will need to skewer.

      1. re: macca

        The skewering is actually a good idea. If you don't do it the wing can really droop down and burn quite badly. It is the same idea as trussing a roaster -- without doing it the outer smaller bit (drumstick and wing) will overcook.

        The application of sauce/basting liquid in the last 10-15 minutes is also a key, not only does it reduce tha chance that it will just go up in flames, the flavor does not fade.

        CBAM has some great advice!

        1. re: renov8r

          Thanks. Will skewer them- was not sure if I needed to, as they are spilt perfectly in half. But it certainly cannot hurt!

    2. I do mine on indirect heat. Even when on low if there is any fire underneath you risk flare ups that will char the skin. Mine cook at a temp of around 250 for around 90 min. They come out beautiful. I take whole chickens and split them myself. Cut little slits in the skin to tuck the legs into to keep it all tight and neat. The bamboo shewers will help you turn them but I've had no problem with just flipping using tongs except breaking the skin a little.

      1. All great advise so far.... one tip- just in case you do find the bird getting a bit too crispy you can always finish it in the oven (375-ish degrees).

        I always like to stuff fresh herbs under the skin then marinate for a bit in lemon and olive oil.


        3 Replies
        1. re: PamelaD

          Wasn't sure if I could stuff under the skin when grilling. But is do have lots of fresh herbs, This is the first summer I have really gotten into grilling. Nice to be able to get advice on techniques, etc. I am really comfortable in the kitchen, and hope to be as comfortable on the grill soon!

          1. re: macca

            If you have lots and lots of herbs, you can also lay them directly on the grill, away from direct heat, and let them smolder, giving off a nice flavored smoke. Woody rosemary is great for this, since the leaves get tough once the stems turn from green to brown, anyway.

            1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

              great idea- I did see this tip somewhere on tv, too. I often use my rosemary as a skewer for small potatoes on the grill.

        2. jfood grills a lot of chicken in the summer (last night again) and the times that people refer to here is waaaay longer than jfood experiences. He uses a Weber gas gril, preheats for 10 minutes on the front and back on high and the middle on low-med. Then he places the bird pieces on and closes the cover and watch for the initial brid fat onto grates. He is real careful to turn often during the first 10 minutes while the fat burns off. Then he turns every 3-4 minutes to get the nice rich color.

          All in jfood guesses the birds are off the grill in <30 minutes and he checks with a themometer. He takes the birds of at about 175 degrees. And they are juicy, juicy, juicy and the juice runs clear. Grilling a bird past 185 strats to evaporate the juicesm is jfood's experience.

          Wrt sauces, be careful of sugars, the burn VERY quickly. If you want to use any sauce leave it til the end 10 minutes, that's all it will need.

          3 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            I find pieces generally cook more quickly than whole bird, so that may be part of why you find yours cooking more quickly. I also generally find "low and slow" produces juicier birds, but I know a lot of people cook faster. I also find that when cooking whole, butterlied birds, it works out just about perfectly for doneness, with the thicker breast meat hitting a finished 160 at the same time the dark meat in the thighs and legs hits 180. At leat that the way we Darien boys do it!

            1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

              I agree with the low and slow; 60 to 90 minutes with the gas grill on low. Then you don't have to keep as close an eye on it, either - whip up some other stuff to go with it.

            2. re: jfood

              I think I will have to use my instant read as I cook. Like I did with the steak, will take it off before it is at the done stage, as I am sure it will cook another 10-15 degress once off the grill.
              Lots of marinades and sauces the family likes probably are not good when I am cooking a whole bird, as I know how much the sugar can burn- easy to use on quick cooking items, though.

            3. I grow my own herbs too. I like to put fresh cut up garlic and the herbs under the skin. For a marinade, I like Paul newman's lite sesame dressing..............I add a bit of balsamic vinegar to the dressing.................I usually split cornish hens, they cook much faster than a full grown chicken.

              1. If at all possible, brine your bird before grilling. It's similar to a marinade, but uses no acid and has a fairly high salt concentration. Osmosis will carry the liquid and a little salt into the chicken's muscle tissues, adding fantastic flavor and moisture to the finished dish.

                I use about about 1/4 cup of salt and half a gallon of liquid for a good-sized chicken. Plain salt and water will give great results, but fruit juice (Trader Joe's Orange-Peach-Mango is highly recommended), allspice, and black pepper (crush the spices) bring extra flavor to the party. Soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and lemon zest could also play nicely together here. After an hour submerged in brine, the chicken is ready for the grill.

                As others have noted, flare-ups are your biggest enemy while grilling chicken. If at all possible, keep the fire out from under the bird. Once you see smoke pouring out from under the grill lid, it's too late. The meat may still be tasty and tender, but the skin, which should be a crispy delicious mahogony brown, will be black and inedible.

                As far as timing goes, there are too many variables involved to estimate. The size of the chicken, the thickness of various pieces, how tightly you have the bird trussed or skewered, the temperature of the grill, and the phase of the moon all come into play. Your best bet is a remote probe thermometer stuck into the thigh (or, if your bird is especially buxom, the breast). When the inside temp hits 165, remove the meat from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before carving.

                5 Replies
                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Brining (kashering) is critical. We do it in ziploc bags, basically with recipe above but add 5-6 juniper berries. 8-48 hrs works. Rinse when getting ready to cook.

                  Low and slow is critical: we plan for 2.5- 3 hrs. cooking on medium sized gas grill. Start it hot, clean the grate, turn one burner off, the other on the lowest it can go. Put your chicken in a cast iron pan (any type). Initial high heat sears the outside, low and slow self-bastes the chicken from the inside. We usually use whole chickens and stuff them with a lemon that's been poked with a knife twice, and onion quarters. Stick the whole thing on the grill, close the lid and forget about it for a couple hours, (temp should be no more than 225-250). Add wood chips for the last 20 minutes. Remove the lemon and onions and serve.

                  This doesn't work as well without the kashering. You can probably reduce the cookng time with a split chicken, but I'd probably try to reassemble it around a lemon/onion to get the best flavors.

                  Be gentle cutting this beast: it falls apart.

                  1. re: captbob

                    Wow- great tips. DOn't have any juniper berries, but I could brine it overnight. . I do have lots of cast iron pans- I am sure one will be the right size for the grill.And I bet I can get a nice sauce if I add lemons, onions, garlic white wine and a bit of butter to the cast iron when almost done.

                    1. re: macca

                      If you use the brine above for an overnight bath, you'd have pickled chicken. One hour is plenty. If you want to do an overnight soak, you'll need to greatly reduce the amount of salt involved.

                      The cast iron pan sounds like an interesting idea. It would definitely prevent flare-ups, and you'd have a good start on a pan sauce. But query whether having the bird sit in the the juices and oils that accumulate in the bottom of the pan will change the texture from grilled to baked or sauteed?

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Good point. Maybe I will conduct an experiment!! After all, the chickens were less than 2 bucks. Maybe I will brine for a few hours, grill till halfway done, pop into the castiron and baste/make sauce, then back onto the grill to get n ice and crispy. Love all the ideas these boards provide.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Oops...small addition: We tip the chicken on end using a beer-can chicken rack or asperagus rack (whichever is closest at hand). That way you don't get a gooey breast or back.

                          I'll have to hunt down our brining solution. It's pretty simple, basically water, kosher salt, a little sugar, herbs de provence and juniper berries. My wife measures, I just throw it in. But we do our brining in a ziploc during the summer, or in a 5-gallon bucket (with tight fitting lid) and keep it in our "potting shed" during the winter (it stays between 30 and 40 degrees all winter long, which here in Montana is from October 31st to June 1st, It's great for entertaining - like having a very large walk-in fridge for 7-8 months). And we like to brine for a minimum of 8 hrs, but when we are planning a party, we start brining as soon as we get the chicken or turkey from the Hutterites, (Anabaptist farming communities that prosper all over Montana that produce awesome poultry and produce).

                          The 5-gallon bucket works for turkeys too, which we cook the same way, just a little longer. I think the brining solution is from a NY Times article or Craig Claiborne.

                  2. The best grilling implement I ever got was my hinged wire basket - it's about 14" wide by 8" or so long, and will accommodate food from 1" to almost 4" thick. That's what I use for split chickens, as well as butterflied lamb legs and whole fish. The handle does stick out and prevent the grill cover from closing all the way, but that seems to have no effect on the cooking (that's with my gas grill - when I had my big Weber charcoal kettle, the whole basket would fit inside). The beauty of the basket is that the meat is held together without being pierced at all, you can brush on any kind of basting substance you want, and turning the meat over requires only a good oven mitt and one hand. Cleaning the basket is a bit of a chore, but a long soak and a good scrub with a polypropylene-bristled brush works for me.

                    I don't brine whatever I grill, but usually give it an hour or two in a bath of seasoned oil before enclosing it in the basket. This gives a nice crunchy skin and firm flesh.