During the height of the pandemic last year, a lot of us looked to our own kitchens to replicate the fabulous dining-out experiences we took for granted before our favorite local spots shut down. Sourdough fanaticism gave rise to flour and yeast scarcities, while meat production slowed to a crawl (and we still suffer shortages). The one thing that disappeared faster than any other—at least in my neck of the woods—was the humble, hot-and-ready rotisserie chicken.
One of the greatest kitchen timesavers of the 21st century, the rotisserie chicken can be a simple meal in itself, or it can be tomorrow’s chicken salad, chicken noodle soup, or a faster chicken noodle soup casserole. But you don’t have to rely on Costco or your local grocery store. Spinning your own is easier than you think.
Why you should rotisserie your own chicken
Making your own rotisserie chicken at home is a low-effort, nearly 90-minute cook that works with any rub or marinade you can dream up. Instead of the faintly flavored store birds, you’re in complete control here.
There is one small requirement: You need a rotisserie for your grill. This is going to be subject to some availability depending on the make and model of your grill, but universal kits are out there and won’t cost you an arm, leg, or wing. If you find this is something you’re into, you can add on a basket for wings, veggies, and even whole fish.
There’s a lot more to do here than just threading a steel rod through a chicken, however. First things first: You need to learn the ropes.
A matter of trussed
Rotisseries work best when they are correctly balanced. If this is your first time using one, I would suggest setting it up on your grill with just the forks and giving it a test run to familiarize yourself with its operation. Insert rod, flip switch. Not much to think about—until you start adding weight to that rod.
If the rod isn’t balanced correctly, you’ll hear the components creak and moan through the entire cook. This can adversely affect your rotisserie motor, requiring it to exert more torque than necessary to rotate the spit. Since the rotisserie isn’t made to wobble, this can lead to broken parts and an early death for your new appliance.
To alleviate this, we turn to trussing. Tying the extremities down and shaping the chicken into a uniform size will keep the rotisserie spinning optimally, and ensure the ever important even cooking. For the best guide to tying one on, take a gander at this video from Alton Brown.
Get your hooks in
Meat hooks, rotisserie forks, Wolverine claws, whatever—dig them in deep and securely now, because the chicken will shrink as it cooks, and you don’t want to have to stop cooking to pull off a 400℉ steel rod, unscrew the retainers, and try to reposition everything.
Since poultry sizes vary, do your best to secure the forks deeply in the breast and thighs. The chicken in these images is about five pounds. One thing I do recommend is that you try to situate the front fork over the breastbone, giving support in the heaviest area as the spit turns.
Prep your grill
Your setup will vary depending on the grill and rotisserie you’re using, but for the most part, the process is standard: Remove your grates (and for Weber models, leave the flavorizer bars in place).
One of the most important components you’ll need is a drip pan. A disposable aluminum pan works best, but try to get the half-height variety—the taller pans can get in the way as the chicken spins, causing the bird to bump against it and even knock it over. Not the end of the world, but this is going to be full of chicken fat and next to fire, and we’ve already been through why that is a bad thing.
Set your burners for a medium-high heat, targeting 375-400℉, and grab your oven mitts. This is the moment of truth. Well, the first one. There are still a few things to do.
Spin to win
This is my favorite part! The party trick part, where you put the spit into the motor and it turns perfectly. Grab whatever heat resistant gloves you have, lift that grill lid, and lock the spit into the motor. All that’s left to do is to flip the switch and wait.
If your chicken is browning on the ends a bit too quickly, shut off the motor and drop the heat temporarily. Remove the spit from the motor and place it on a flat, heat safe surface (preferably another drip pan or a cutting board with a juice trough). Impale a square of aluminum foil over the end that needs it to work as a deflector, similar to what you would do with a pie crust, and carefully reassemble everything on the grill.
Because you’re cooking poultry, it’s important to stop every so often to take a temperature check. Cook time is going to vary depending on your chicken size and preparation method, but a four- or five-pound chicken should only take about 90 minutes. This particular specimen was ready for a brief rest after an hour and twenty minutes, but I checked after 30, 60, and 90 minutes to ensure I was keeping a good pace. When you’ve reached your target temp, cut the power to the motor and leave the grill lid open. It’s easier to rest the chicken here than to try to disassemble it on a counter or table top.
There isn’t much left to do now but decide what to do with your beautiful bird. With all that hands-off time, you’ve got a nice leisurely pace ahead to make a kickass vinaigrette for a green salad, whip up a batch of lemonade, or crank your coleslaw to 11 with a shot of pepper jelly. They all pair wonderfully with the fruits of your barely-any labor.