How to Cook a Whole Chicken on the Grill: Easy 3 Step Process

Grilled chicken is becoming quite popular with people. It looks amazing, has a delicious taste and offers plenty of health benefits for food connoisseurs.

You can have grilled chicken in a sandwich or with pasta, rice, gravy or even tossed into a salad without much trouble. It can be prepared dry, with mild seasoning or marinated with a thick marinade.

Learn How to Cook a Whole Chicken on the Grill

One popular way to make grilled chicken is to have the bird grilled whole. There is very little that looks and tastes better than a juicy, crispy, well smoked whole chicken. In this piece, we will examine a variety of ways to cook a whole chicken on the grill.

cook whole chicken grill

Grilling a Whole Chicken is Simple

Grilling a whole chicken is not as difficult as it may seem. In many ways, it is similar to baking the chicken whole. However, it gives you that familiar juicy flavor and crispy skin that you get with barbecuing the meat.

If you have a charcoal grill or wood pellet grill, you will also get that smoky rich flavor that is necessary for a well-grilled barbecue

Seasoning and Preparing the Whole Chicken

It takes some time for seasoning to soak into the chicken. When you have the bird cut into smaller breast and leg pieces, the seasoning is applied at all sides and gets blended into the meat much quicker.

However, if you are preparing to grill the whole chicken it can take longer for the spices to mix with the meat as they can only get applied to the outside. You may want to leave the bird in the chiller for 8 – 12 hours after applying the seasoning for the meat to absorb the spices.

Make sure you get the cavity washed and filled with the seasoning as well. This will improve the taste both inside and out.

Rub the chicken with olive oil, salt & pepper and any other spices that you are planning to use. You can also put in delicious stuffing into the cavity. Chopped herbs such as tarragon, sage or thyme can give it a delicious aroma and flavor while grilling.

Another popular filling is frozen ginger and garlic butter. It melts during the cooking process and makes the chicken more tender and tasty.

If there is a chance that filling might drip out of the chicken during the grilling process, you can tie up the legs with a twine string.

Preheating the Grill

Preheating the grill is the first steps to cooking the chicken. Gas grills are considered easier to operate. The heat can be adjusted at any time and is applied indirectly to the meat through the metal grate. This reduces any chance of burns and overcooking.

Charcoal grills are also great but require more work. You will need to manipulate the coal with the poker to ensure heat is distributed evenly across the grate. Since heat and smoke will also directly cook the chicken, you will need to check and turn the chicken more often during cooking to avoid burns.

Electric and infrared grills are perhaps the easiest to operate. The heating element is directly controlled through the thermostat and there is no indirect heat at all. You may still want to preheat the grill but it doesn’t take very long for the grates to reach the ideal temperature.

Grill Like A Pro

Once your chicken is well seasoned and the grill has reached the right temperature, it all comes down to timing, placement and temperature control. You will need to keep a duster at hand and lightly sprinkle vegetable oil ( or butter) on the chicken while grilling. This helps the chicken from drying up and keeps it nice and greasy.

Charcoal and wood pellet grills make a lot of smoke as the grease drips down and falls onto the fuel. The white puffs of smoke are what gives the chicken its thick, charcoal-like smell. Even some modern electric and gas grills come with a grease collector bar that collects grease and burns it for adding flavor to the chicken.

You will need to turn the chicken around and move it every now and then to ensure it does not burn out or get overcooked on one side. Keep a knife on hand to check meat firmness. Poke the chicken with the knife and separate the meat to see if it is cooked or not. Meat that has been cooked turns white and dry. Parts of the chicken that are reddish or pinkish suggest the meat is raw and should be grilled more.

It takes about 20 – 30 minutes to grill an average sized whole chicken. If the bird is bigger, it will take longer for the heat to penetrate into the inner parts and you will need to adjust cooking times accordingly.

Finishing Touches for Perfection

For charcoal or pellet grills, once the meat appears to have cooked halfway on all sides, you can reduce the direct heat onto the chicken and place it on a cooler side of the grill.

Cover the lid to let it cook in the smoke for about 20 minutes. The idea is to create a sort of oven for the chicken to cook from all sides without exposing it to direct heat from one side. This will give you a much better grilling result.

Do not lift the lid to check on the meat. As long as you placed it on a cool side of the grill, it won’t get burned. Lifting the lid allows the heat and smoke to escape from the ‘oven’ that you created.

Check on the chicken after 20 minutes. If required, turn it around and close the lid again for 20 minutes.

Remember. The chicken needs to cook at 155 – 160 degrees for some time to be safe for eating. Once it hits that range, you can take it off the grill and let it cook in its own heat for some time.

Fire Level for Grilling

When you are cooking a whole chicken on the grill there are two distinct goals you are trying to achieve. On the one hand, you want the meat to be thoroughly cooked right through to the center. This requires you to leave the meat exposed to the heat for as long as possible so that it can penetrate deep inside the chicken. On the other hand, you also want the skin to not get burned and remain crisp and tender.

Cooking the chicken at a low flame is the best way to ensure that the chicken will stay tender and juicy. But it also means the heat won’t penetrate deep inside and you will have a slightly uncooked chicken at the center. Exposing the chicken to too much heat can cause the water to dry up which ruins the taste.

Apart from the lid-covered grilling method outlined above, there are two more ways in which you can grill a whole chicken and have the desired results.

1. Spit Roasting the Whole Chicken

Not all grills come with the spit roasting tools. If your grill has the equipment for it then your grilling experience will be much easier.

The spit, or rotisserie, turns at a constant speed over the grill fire. It allows the chicken to cook slowly but evenly on all sides. It gives the chicken that golden crisp look and doesn’t get any burn marks.

2. Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken

Spatchcocking, or butterflied chicken, is a style of roasting chicken where the backbone is cut and removed and removed. The chicken is flattened out without chopping it down into smaller pieces. The chicken is still whole but can be laid out flat for seasoning or grilling.

The benefit of spatchcocking is that the chicken still looks amazing when served after grilling. However, it takes less time for seasoning to soak into the meat and it isn’t that difficult to grill the meat.

Our Final Thoughts on Grilling a Whole Chicken

Summer barbecues are just not complete until you’ve had a whole grilled chicken that is cooked to crispy perfection. In order to cook a delicious whole chicken you will need to have the right cooking grill and a little bit of experience with placement, temperature control and timing.

Half of the cooking taste for a whole chicken comes from the seasoning while the other half comes from the griller’s skill. Make sure that you prepare your grill and chicken correctly for better results.

You can also go with a spit roaster that rotates the chicken slowly and allows you to cook it evenly on all sides. Lastly, you can also cut the bone out and flatten the chicken allowing you to make barbecue grills much more easily.

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