This Labor Day weekend just might be the last time you can fire up the Weber this year. Use these recipes and tips to end the outdoor cooking season on a deliciously high note.
By Daniel Duane Thu, Sep 1, 2011
PROVENCAL HERB-STUFFED SPATCHCOCKED CHICKEN
CHEF: Frank Stitt, undisputed dean of southern cuisine and owner of the legendary Highlands Bar and Grill, in Birmingham
Back in the 1970s, Frank Stitt traveled to Provence, France, to study with an underground American-expat culinary hero named Richard Olney. While there, Stitt mastered a brilliant solution for the age-old grilled-chicken dilemma: the challenge of taking a bird with a lean breast, fatty legs, and a big empty cavity, and somehow getting crisp skin, juicy meat, and succulent thighs. Here in the States, we typically punt on the issue, cutting our birds into pieces and grilling each separately, then making up for the loss of moisture and shriveled skin by slathering on barbecue sauce. Stitt’s Provence-by-way-of-Birmingham method — spatchcocking (British for flattening) the whole bird, trussing it tight, and stuffing the skin with minced garlic and fresh herbs — transforms that humble chicken into a party dish of unparalleled juiciness and flavor.
1 whole chicken
1 cup parsley
Handful fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 whole lemon
1 tbsp salt
Fresh black pepper
1/2 stick softened unsalted butter
Butcher’s twine (optional)
1. Start with a good product, Stitt says, “ideally a bird raised naturally on a local farm. Set the chicken on paper towels over a pan, and store in the fridge for at least a day. This dries out the skin, helping it get crispy later.” If you don’t have time for that, at least blot it dry with paper towels inside and out, and be sure to take it out of the fridge for 1–2 hours before cooking, allowing the meat to come to room temperature.
2. Cut out the backbone with kitchen shears or a sturdy knife. Turn the chicken onto its back, and, starting at the tail end, where it’s easier to find the bone, cut first along one side of the backbone, then along the other, until you’ve removed the entire thing.
3. Laying the chicken breast-side up, smash down on the middle of the breast with the palm of your hand, breaking the breastbone and forcing the chicken flat.
4. With the bird breast-side up, gently rotate the legs out and away from the body until they, too, are skin-side up. Now make a 1-inch incision in the skin, at the bottom of each breast, and tuck the knobby end of each drumstick into these slits. This will hold the bird in a fixed shape that gives it a more even thickness. “A little string probably isn’t a bad idea either,” Stitt says. Use a 2-foot length of kitchen twine or unflavored dental floss to bind the ends of the leg bones tightly together.
5. Mince the parsley, basil, garlic, and lemon zest. Blend with salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and the softened butter. Then stuff under the skin, smearing it around in there for even distribution. Finally, season the chicken’s exterior with more salt and pepper.
6. Over the low-heat side of your grill, start the chicken skin-side up, and cover with grill vents open. “This will get some heat going toward the bones without burning the skin,” Stitt says, “and it’s going to take a while, 30–45 minutes.” Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. When the breast meat is about 145 degrees and the thighs are passing 160 degrees, give the chicken a final 5 minutes, skin-side down, directly over your hottest coals, watching carefully to make sure the skin turns a crisp golden-brown without burning.
7. Serve: Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and let rest for 15 minutes. Cut apart the skin or twine holding the legs together, and then carve the chicken into two drumsticks, two thighs, and four breast halves.
EXPERT RIBS: Trap the Moisture
Ribs need long, slow cooking to break down their connective tissue, so there’s a constant risk that they’ll dry out. Here are two great moisture-saving tricks: First, a 6-hour immersion in a mixture of salt and water (1/2 cup salt per gallon of water). Second, when you pull the ribs off the grill — after 2–3 hours over medium heat — wrap them tightly in foil, then stuff them into a paper bag for a half hour before serving.
BETTER THAN BBQ SAUCE: GRILLED VEGETABLE SALSA
Make a quick topping for whole fish by halving a red onion and a mango, brushing the cut sides with olive oil, and seasoning with salt and pepper. • Set cut-side down on grill long enough for a deep sear. • Dice onion and mango, and add 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro or parsley, and minced serrano pepper.
ADVANCED TECHNIQUE: TWO-LEVEL COOKING
Whole chickens, like any large piece of meat, need two different heat levels on the same grill: a high-heat zone, for crisping the exterior, and a lower-heat zone for slow cooking, to make sure the interior is done before the exterior burns. You can do this on a gas grill by simply setting different burners to different heat levels. With charcoal, you’ll need to pile the embers deep and high on one side to create an area of intense heat, and spread the embers thin and low on the other side for an area of gentle heat.