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Smoky Split Chicken on the Grill
By Charlie Burke

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During hot weather I do much of the cooking outside and use both a standard
Weber kettle grill and a ceramic egg shaped grill modeled after a traditional
Japanese clay cooker. I prefer the Weber for quick grilling and the ceramic
cooker for larger roasts and poultry because it maintains moisture in the meat,
and I always cook over hardwood charcoal. We have several apple trees, and I
save some of the branches from spring pruning for when I want to add smoke
to grilled fish, pork or poultry.

Cooking a whole roaster over charcoal is difficult to time, and often the meat in
the upper thigh is not done at the same time as the breast. I’ve seen Italian
recipes where a split chicken is cooked under a brick to help it cook evenly but
wondered why a brick is necessary because it seemed that simply splitting the
bird would accomplish this.

I’ve experimented a few times, cutting on either side of the backbone with
poultry shears and spreading the chicken by pressing down on the top of the
breast. It is then easy to lay the bird flat on the grill where it cooks skin side up.
The breast is still moist when the dark meat is done, and the skin becomes
nicely browned and crispy, as described in the recipe using the brick.

The chicken can be flavored with only salt and pepper, but I like to chop herbs,
mix them with olive oil and spread them on the surface and under the skin. To
loosen the skin I had used the traditional method of sliding my fingers
underneath, but it is difficult to reach all the areas and the skin is easily torn.
While using a spoon to distribute the oil and herb mixture I discovered it is
quick and easy to make this plane between the meat and skin using the spoon
turned convex side toward the skin. In seconds the skin is lifted without
tearing, making it easy to flavor the meat. To add more flavor, pieces of apple
branches are placed into an inexpensive stainless steel box made for this
purpose and available where grilling equipment is sold.

This time of year locally raised chickens are widely available and are well
worth the effort of seeking them out. In addition to serving a healthier and
more flavorful chicken, you will have the satisfaction of supporting a local
farmer and keeping your money in the local economy. Farmers markets in New
Hampshire now number nearly seventy and most sell local meat and poultry.
To find the markets in your area, check the list on the web site of
New Hampshire Farmers Market Association if you live in New Hampshire or
check with your state’s Department of Agriculture elsewhere.

Split chicken on the grill:

1 roaster (3-5 pounds)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage or rosemary or a combination of the two
1/3 cup extra virgin olive
1 cup chopped apple branches (cherry and grape vines work well, also) –
optional

Remove the neck, liver, heart and gizzards from the chicken, rinse it well under
cold water and pat it dry. With poultry shears, cut along both sides of the back
bone. Reserve the back bone, neck and organ meat for stock.

Place the chicken on a platter or flat surface, skin side up. Push down on the
breast to flatten the chicken. Season it well on all surfaces with salt and ground
pepper and mix the herbs with the olive oil. Use a soup spoon with the
rounded side up, sliding it over the breast meat to lift the skin off the meat.
Spread the herb mixture under the skin and over both the skin and cavity sides.

Make a medium- hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 20 minutes on
medium-high. Place the fruit wood into foil or a metal smoke box and place it
directly on the fire. Place the chicken on the grill, cavity side down, arranging
the thighs and legs so that it lays flat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken for
approximately 1 hour. The cooking time will vary, according to the size and
temperature of the chicken and the heat of the fire. It will register 175 degrees
in the thick thigh muscle when done and should rest 10 – 15 minutes before
carving.

Splitting the chicken is quick and easy, and its short cooking time makes this
preparation practical for weeknight dinner or for entertaining. Cooking over
wood charcoal and adding smoke gives it an intensity missing in oven roasted
chicken, and I believe the oil and herbs keep the breast moist, in addition to
adding flavor. The carcass makes a rich stock when boiled with a carrot, onion
and a celery stalk, and the neck, backbone and organ meats add flavor.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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