Smoky Roast Chicken

Sally Swift

This recipe is quickly becoming my go-to recipe this summer for an easy Friday night dinner. It’s two whole chickens, propped up on vertical roasters, rubbed with spices, and then leisurely cooked and smoked over an indirect fire.

They emerge with burnished skin and smoky tender meat. I serve them with a sauce made of chopped fresh herbs (like basil, thyme and dill) and garlic stirred into whole milk yogurt and corn on the cob. Simple. Delicious. Summer.  

Cook to Cook: When I cut the chicken into pieces, I like to halve the breasts crosswise, so you get 10 pieces of chicken from every bird. Watch how many more people reach for the breast meat when the pieces are cut smaller.

Wine: Look for wines that are unoaked, which will allow the smokiness of the chicken to sing rather than strangle! For a white, try a Pinot Gris from Oregon. For a red, look for a light- to medium-bodied wine like Pinot Noir or Cote de Rhone.  

Equipment: A large kettle-style grill; 2 vertical roasters (beer cans would work); soaked and drained wood chips 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2  3- to 5-pound chickens
  • 1 cup soaked and drained hard wood chips

1. In a small bowl, combine the paprika, cumin, cinnamon and sea salt.

2. One to 4 hours before cooking, generously rub the outside of the chickens with the spice mixture. Mount them on the vertical roasters, pushing them as far down as they will go to make sure they will fit under the grill cover. Place the upright chickens on a platter or baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator uncovered until ready to cook.

3. Light the coals in a large, kettle-style grill. When they are well covered with ash, pour them out in a ring around the edges of the grill, leaving the center of the grill clear. Throw 1/2 cup of the soaked and drained wood chips on the coals. Place the chickens upright in the center of the grill so that the ring of coals surrounds them. Place the lid on the grill, making sure the vents are wide open on the lid and at the base of the grill.

4. Roast the chickens for 1 hour, adding more wood chips and charcoal as needed to keep the fire burning and the wood chips smoking.

5. After 45 minutes, check the chickens with an instant-read thermometer. The chicken is done when the thigh reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Using large tongs and an old dishtowel, carefully move the chickens to a cutting board and let them rest on the vertical roasters for at least 20 minutes. I have gone as long as 45 minutes with delicious results. Then, cut into pieces as desired. 

Prep time: 
10 minutes
Cook time: 
60 minutes
Total time: 
10 minutes prep time; 1-4 hours refrigerator time; 60 minutes grill time; 20 minutes rest time
Yield: 
Serves 6 to 10

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