What’s Cookin’ – Grilled Whole Chicken Halves

Memorial Day 2011 is history and that means the Summer grilling season has officially begun!

We love to grill in the Summer.  We do try to grill year round, but last Winter was brutally cold with lots of snow and ice, and Spring was really wet so it’s been awhile since we’ve been able to grill outside consistently.

If you’re stuck in a rut grilling the same old hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats, you might want to change it up a bit and grill some whole chicken halves.  Whole chickens go on sale frequently, and you can make a meal for four for under $5.00.  So, you can grill something new and save some money, too.

And, seriously, grilling a chicken with both white and dark meat and with the bones in makes for a very flavorful meal.

This post is more about technique than a specific recipe.  You want to get a whole chicken cut in half so that you place it as flat as possible on the grill.  I cut up and grilled 2 whole chickens.  Each was about 3 1/3 pounds.  I actually looked for the slightly smaller chickens.  I didn’t buy the larger roaster chickens because about 3 pounds is the perfect size to feed 4 people.

Here’s the step-by-step to cut your whole chicken into two halves.

Here’s a whole chicken that’s been rinsed and patted dry with paper towels.  Don’t forget to remove the bags of innards and gizzards from the cavities.  I throw them out.

Notes on handling raw chicken:  Remember to use safe handling techniques when working with raw chicken.  You must keep everything that comes into contact with raw chicken clean.  Cutting boards and knives must be washed in hot sudsy water after using, and hands must be scrubbed thoroughly before and after handling.  Do NOT use anything that has come in contact with raw chicken for any other purpose prior to thoroughly washing. 

Raw chicken can harbor harmful salmonella bacteria.  You do not want to transfer bacteria to work surfaces, utensils, hands, or other foods (this is called cross contamination).  Salmonella bacteria can cause food poisoning which is easily prevented with safe handling techniques.

That’s my public service announcement for the day.

Turn the whole chicken breast side down onto your cutting board.  Take a sharp knife or kitchen shears and cut down alongside the backbone.

Don’t be skeered.  It takes a little muscle, but it is not that hard to cut through these little bones.  I actually find it quite empowering to be able to buy a whole chicken and cut it up.  I don’t want butchers to go out of business, but you pay a premium for cut up chickens.  And it’s not that hard to do.

Now cut down the other side of the backbone.  Discard it or save it to make chicken stock.

Yeah, right.  I throw it out.

Turn the chicken over, place the palm of your hand onto the breastbone and press firmly until it loosens or snaps.  You are going to be removing it next.

Turn the chicken over on its back again, and remove the breastbone.  The chicken is now only attached by a little bit of meat and a piece of skin.  Cut through the meat and skin.

Now you have two halves of one whole chicken.  Wasn’t that easy?

At this point, the world is your oyster.  All you have to do is to salt and pepper both sides of the bird and season it according to your tastes before grilling.  One last thing before grilling – bend the tip of the wing under the chicken.

At this point, you can marinate the chicken halves, use your favorite homemade or store bought seasoning or keep it simple with only salt and pepper.

This is what I did – I seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper on both sides.  Then I brushed with a thin coat of vegetable oil.  Then I seasoned with some Sunny Paris Seasoning by Penzeys Spices that my sister gave me recently.  It contains a blend of purple shallots, chives, green peppercorn, basil, tarragon, chervil, bay leaf, and dill weed.  My point is that you should use whatever flavors you like best on chicken including wet rubs or barbecue sauce.

Here’s the step-by-step to grill your chicken halves.

Preheat your grill to moderately high heat.  Place the chicken directly on the hottest part of the grill, skin side down, and grill for approximately 10 minutes with the lid closed.

Adjust the heat, as necessary, to ensure that you do not burn the chicken.  Halfway through, you can rotate your chicken to make pretty grill marks on the skin.

After 10 minutes, turn the chicken over and move to the center of the grill.  Reduce the burner directly under the chicken halves to low, but keep the adjacent burners on medium to medium high.  Grill for another 20 minutes on this side with the lid closed.  Our grill stayed at about 350° F.  Check frequently to ensure that the chicken is not burning and that the pieces are cooking evenly.  Cook to an internal temperature of 165° F.

The best way to ensure this is to use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.  If you do not have a meat thermometer, prick with a sharp knife and make sure the juices run clear.  You can also do the wiggle test – wiggle the leg and if it is loose, it is done.

Our 3 1/3 pound chickens took exactly 30 minutes to cook perfectly.

You do not want to overcook or undercook the chicken, so you will have to keep an eye on it.  And, if you use a charcoal grill, you will have to make adjustments since the cooler part of the grill is usually the outside perimeter.

When the chicken is done, remove it to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for at least 5 minutes.

This will ensure that the chicken will be moist and juicy.  Don’t these look good?

Here is half of a chicken half cut in half.  There is a breast / wing piece and a drumstick / thigh piece.

On this day, I made two whole chickens which means I ended up with four half chickens and eight total pieces.  Advanced math.  This gave me enough moist, flavorful chicken for several meals during the week.  For under $10.  Can’t beat that.

In our family, the kids like the dark meat and we like the white meat so grilling whole chickens works out perfectly.  On the day that I made these, I served them with a Greek salad (made with fresh lettuce from my neighbor’s garden) and some garlic bread.


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