BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
At our house, things cooked on the grill have a tendency to end up a little overcooked, so I am always on the lookout for ways to foolproof the system, so to speak. For Thanksgiving turkeys, which we always grill, I brine the bird in apple juice and salt, and then we put it on the grill, breast side down in a roasting pan of broth with onions and other good things. After a couple of hours, we flip it and roast it to a golden turn. It is always perfectly cooked, never dry, and absolutely, drop-dead delicious.
I guess I could do the same with a chicken, but thanks to the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen, I have a better idea.
Yup, that’s spatchcocking. It sounds like something adolescents whisper about in the schoolyard, but, really, it’s just a way to cook chicken, preparing it for the grill by cutting out the backbone so that it lies flat and cooks evenly. Sometimes people help this along by putting the whole flattened chicken under a brick to help ensure a crispy skin, but you don’t need to. Spatchcocking even without a brick gives you perfect grilled chicken.
Of course, I always brine my chicken before grilling it, too. I can’t say enough about the beauty of brining. Soaking the bird in salt water lets flavor into the meat and keeps it moist so that dry methods of cooking, like grilling and roasting, don’t leave you with something resembling chicken jerky. Works for frying, too. My fried chicken, if I do say so, is pretty darn good, and the main reason is that I brine the chicken first for several hours, and then soak it in buttermilk mixed with hot sauce for several more. Dusted in seasoned flour and cornstarch and fried to a crisp. [Scrumptious—best fried chicken I have ever eaten. —the editor]
But I digress. We are talking about grilled chicken here. This is what you do: Cut the backbone out of the chicken with kitchen scissors, lay the bird open, skin side up, and push hard to flatten it. Soak it in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water for a couple of hours (but don’t leave it in the brine too long or it will be too salty). I sauté some chopped garlic, chilies, and dried mint in olive oil and rub it all over the chicken, getting plenty of the garlic and herbs under the skin. You can use a mix that’s seasoned to your own taste; the important thing is to layer some flavor in there and oil up your bird.
Get your coals going and grill away.
And, oh yeah, start with a great-tasting chicken, will you? If you want happy, delicious chickens, buy them locally, where you can ask how they are raised. Heartland Family Farm, Rhodes Family Farm, and Schacht Farm all vend at the Saturday morning Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, and all sell truly free-range chickens that are allowed to run around and peck in the dirt to their hearts’ content.
But I digress, again. Bon appétit.
To read more by Christine Barbour, visit her blog, My Plate or Yours?