Basic Technique: Rotisserie Poultry



This is my basic technique for rotisserie cooking poultry. It produces the best whole birds I've ever cooked. They look gorgeous, and have the best crispy skin I have been able to make. The meat turns out juicy and tender, due to the brining. I've used this technique on chicken, turkey and duck*, and I am going to try it with cornish game hens in the near future.
*Rabbit season! Sorry, had to shout out to Daffy.

Basic Technique: Rotisserie Poultry

[Update 2013-01-24: Here's a video overview of the entire process.]

Video link: Rotisserie Grilling Two Chickens - [YouTube.com]

Equipment:
  • Gas or charcoal grill with rotisserie attachment (I'm a Weber fan; my jumbo Weber S-650 gas grill with infrared rotisserie burner is here, and my Weber Kettle with rotisserie attachment is here).
  • 9x13 aluminum foil drip pan
  • Butcher's twine
Directions:
1. Brine - Brining works wonders on poultry, by using osmosis to pull salt and water into the meat of the bird. (What? Click here for an explanation.) I use two strengths of brine, depending on how much time I have, and the size of bird being cooked.

*Fast brine, for smaller birds (say, up to 5 lb chickens). Dissolve 1/4 cup table salt + 2 tbsp sugar per quart of water in a container large enough to hold your birds. Brine in the refrigerator, covered, for 1-8 hours, about 1 hour per pound of bird. I usually make two quarts of brine for two four pound chickens, and brine them for 4 hours.

*Slow brine, for larger birds (turkey). Dissolve 1/2 cup table salt + 2 tbsp sugar per gallon of water. Brine for 8 to 14 hours, about 1 hour per pound of turkey. I usually make two gallons for a 14 pound turkey, and brine for 12 hours. (I use my 12-Quart stock pot as the container when I brine a turkey; a 14lb bird will just fit in it.)

*Dry brine, [added 5/29/2009]. Use 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of bird. Sprinkle evenly over the entire bird. Make sure you get salt on the entire inside of the cavity, and work some under the breast skin by loosening it gently with a finger, then rubbing it in there. (for a 4lb bird, I sprinkle 1/2 tsp on the top, 1/2 tsp on the bottom, 1/2 tsp in the cavity, and then loosen the breast skin and work some salt on the breast. I sprinkle any left over on the top again.) Put the bird on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan, and let it rest in the refrigerator at least overnight. For a chicken, you can do this as early as 6 hours before cooking, and up to 2 days.  For a turkey, 1-3 days ahead of time is best.
*The dry brine works like the wet brine; first the salt pulls the juices out of the bird, but then osmosis takes over and the juices are re-absorbed, pulling the salt with them into the bird. The disadvantages are that you don't get the extra juiciness in the meat that the absorbed water gives you, and that it takes longer. The advantage is that the skin dries out, so it will crisp up better, and (if you start with a high quality bird) it will taste "chickenier". If that's a word.

2. Truss the bird. Drain the poultry, pat dry, stuff the cavity with any aromatics (optional), then truss tightly.  See my video, below, for how to truss a bird.  This technique works on all birds, not just turkeys.  I use a turkey in the video because it is easier to see the technique on a larger bird.  (And because it was Thanksgiving.)  Trussing is important - if anything is loose and flopping around on the rotisserie, it may wind up in the fire.
*Everyone seems to have their own way of trussing.  If you don't like mine, try these: Alton Brown's video is here, and here is one from Chow.com.)



3. Skewer the bird. Put the first fork on the spit, and tighten securely. Then put the poultry on, skewering through the legs first. Spear the legs with the prongs of the fork - you want them to conduct heat into the legs and thighs of the bird. Then, put on the second fork, with the prongs "under" the bird - you want the prongs to be spearing the backbone side of the bird, not in the breast - you want the breast to cook slower. If I'm doing two or more birds, I try to alternate them, like in the picture below - it seems to keep them more balanced. I changed my mind on this - it seems to work better when both birds are facing the same way, nose to butt. If you're cooking two birds with one pair of forks, it holds them together better.


4. Set up your grill. Remove the grates, and attach the rotisserie motor to its bracket, and set the grill up for indirect grilling on high heat.

*For a charcoal grill (like a Weber kettle with a Weber Charcoal Kettle Rotisserie): light a full chimney of charcoal, wait until it is just covered with ash, and then set up for "indirect" cooking by putting the aluminum drip pan in the middle of the charcoal grate, and pouring the charcoal in even piles on both sides of the pan. (A fist sized, soaked chunk of smoking wood on the charcoal is good as well.)

*For a gas grill with 3 or more burners (like a Weber genesis with the Weber Gas Grill Rotisserie attachment): Set up for indirect cooking by turning the outside burners on the grill to high, and leaving the inner ones off. Put the aluminum drip pan over the middle of the grill, over the unlit burners. My Weber Genesis had 3 burners, so I would turn burners 1 & 3 to high, and leave burner 2 off. If you had 4 burners, you'd have 1&4 on, 2&3 off. And so on.

*For a gas grill with an infrared rotisserie burner (like my Weber Summit 650): Light the infrared burner by turning knob to "light", and once it catches, hold down the knob for 20 seconds, to let the burner get glowing hot. Leave the infrared burner on high. Then, set up the regular burners for indirect heat like you would with a regular gas grill. On my Weber summit 650, that means turning burners 1 and 6 to high.

For any grill, your goal is high indirect heat, with temperatures in the grill between 400*F to 500*F. If your grill can't at least get to 350*F doing indirect heat, it's not powerful enough for rotisserie cooking. On a gas grill, if you need to, adjust the burners that are on to get in that temperature range. On a charcoal grill, that's where you should be with a full chimney of charcoal.

Don't forget the aluminum foil pan in the "indirect" part of the grill; you will get a lot of dripping fat and you need something to catch it. Remember - no grates on the grill for this method - you need the space for the spinning birds.

*Special note about setting up a grill for turkey: Because a turkey is so large, you can use directional heat to cook the legs faster than the breast. (This is a good thing, as you'll see below - you want the legs cooked more than the breast.) Try to concentrate the heat around the drumstick end of the turkey. In my charcoal grill, I make a "U" of charcoal on one side of the grill, put the drip pan inside the U, and point the breast towards the open end of the U. For my Weber Summit, I turn my smoker burner and burner 1 to high, leave the infrared rotisserie burner on medium, and leave the rest of the burners off. Then I spit the turkey so the breast is facing burner 6, and the legs are facing the lit burners. (If you don't have the smoker burner, go with burners 1 and 2. If you have a Weber Genesis, with burners that run the length of the grill, you'll have to live with even heat.

5. Start cooking: Put the skewer in the mounting bracket, seating the point end in the motor, and turn on the motor. Make sure the bird is spinning freely, then adjust your drip pan to make sure it is under the bird(s). Close the lid - you want to trap the heat in the grill, so it roasts from the trapped heat as well as browns from the direct heat of the flames.

6. Cook the bird. It takes 45 minutes to an hour for a 4 lb chicken, and 2 to 2.5 hours for a 12 pound turkey - adjust the times up or down based on the weight of your bird. Rotisserie cooking tends to be faster than "regular" grill roasting, so start checking if the bird is done at the early end of time frame. I use an instant read thermometer to check for doneness. I'm looking for 155*F to 160*F in the breast, measured at the thickest part of the meat. At that point, the thickest part of the leg should be about 170*F to 180*F, and we're done cooking.

7. Remove and serve. Remove the spit from the grill. Make absolutely sure you are wearing gloves or use oven mitts - the spit will be a branding iron at this point. I get the birds off the skewer as soon as I can, so the hot skewer doesn't keep cooking them. Remember, the knobs on the forks are going to be hot as well! Don't try to turn them without your gloves on, or use pliers or a fork. Let the poultry rest for 15 minutes (at least - 30 would be better), then carve and serve!



Equipment:
I'm a Weber loyalist, so I think these are the best options:
I've owned all three of these, and #1 and #3 are what I currently own and use. I really prefer to use charcoal for rotisserie cooking. There's something about the results over a live fire that I can't seem to duplicate on a gas grill.

When I had the Weber Genesis, I would use the rotisserie with it, but the results were never as good as the charcoal grill. Once I upgraded to the infrared rotisserie burner on the Weber Summit*, I found an acceptable substitute for charcoal. It's not quite as good, but it's pretty darn close. And, since it's December right now, you're going to see a lot of pictures of #3 for the next few months.
*The Summit 650 is also a monster - it's huge! I've cooked 3 chickens simultaneously, and it felt like I could have squeezed on another one if I needed to.

Notes:
*Brining. As I say above, I use the fast brine for everything up to the size of a chicken, and the slow brine for turkey. That being said, you can slow brine chicken (buy 4lbs+ chickens and brine them for 8 hours), and fast brine turkey (12lbs turkey, no more than 8 hours - the concentrated brine might make the bird too salty if you wait longer than that). I've brined chicken for as little as an hour with the fast brine, and had good results, but I prefer the results with 4 hours in the brine. I would brine cornish hens for 1-2 hours, and duck for 1-4 hours.

*Brine ingredients - Usually, I use table salt (non-iodized) and brown sugar. Kosher salt and regular, granulated sugar work as well. If you use Kosher salt in the brine, double the quantity - kosher salt is less dense when measured by volume, so you need to use twice as much.

*Hot spit. Be careful! Please, learn from my mistake on this one - I think I burned the fingerprints off my left pointer finger and thumb. I could have been a two-fingered cat burglar, and no policeman could have figured out it was me!
*Other than by the smell of roasted poultry at the crime scene.

Related Posts:
Click here for my other rotisserie recipes.

Inspired by:
Russ Parsons: It's Roasting Outside [LA Times]





Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.

Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.

It's available in paperback and Kindle editions.

(You can download the Kindle edition and start reading immediately!)


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13 comments:

Anonymous said...

thanks.

Pablo in Texas said...

Thanks! Getting ready to use my rotisserie on my webber for the 1st time! Leg of lamb, wish me luck...

MikeV @ DadCooksDinner said...

@Pablo in TX:

Good luck! Let us know how it goes...

Michael Brigham said...

Great site! I'l be back

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner said...

Thank you!

Sue said...

I've used your pork shoulder and chicken rotisserie recipes. Question: I want to do an Orangina can chicken, rather than beer. Just curious as to the outcome. I've read you should leave some of the liquids in the can, in order to infuse the flavor. I've never done a "can" chicken before, so any suggestions would be helpful. I have a gas grill with an infrared element.

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner said...

Yes, leave half the liquid in the can - I can't say it adds a lot of flavor, but you want the steam to help cook the chicken from the inside. Cook over indirect medium heat with the lid closed for about an hour, until you reach 160*F in the deepest part of the breast meat..

Good luck!

Chris Lukowski said...

Are there any adjustments that have to be made for your rotisserie recipes depending on the equipment, or do your 3 setup configs give off roughly the same amount of heat? I have a 2011 model Genesis (burners perpendicular to spit) and I'm going to ask Santa for its spinner.

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner said...

I don't have any personal experience with the new model Genesis, but it should work fine.

I've had reports from a number of new-model Genesis owners this year who cooked their turkey on the rotisserie.

Go by temperature for the grill instead of burner setup - 450*F internal for high, 350*F for medium.

Chris Lukowski said...

Hurray, Santa delivered on the rotisserie and your book! I can't wait to try it out, but there's one more procedural thing I'm wondering about before I light up the grill. How exactly do you deal with the meat removal from the blazing hot spit? It seems like a simple matter, but the logistics of carrying a screaming hot branding iron with a fat dripping piece of meat sideways and into a kitchen full of people ("MAKE WAY, HOT SPIT!!") and limited counter space seem to indicate there are smart ways of dealing with it and some not-so-bright ways. Any suggestions will be appreciated, as well as any pointers on how to clean and store the thing once it cools down (can it be left outside without rusting, etc).

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner said...

Read the book - I cover this in detail in there.

The quick version: I wear welding gloves to protect my hands, and use a set of tongs to loosen the spits. Then I push everything off the spit, and set the spit so the point and handle are resting on oven mitts. The spit cools down enough to handle relatively quickly.

Greg Gabbitas said...

I just got an S-670 and trying this out. Do you really leave the rotisserie burner on high for the whole cook? After 20 minutes or so the skin looked pretty cooked!

Mike V @ DadCooksDinner said...

I do, for most chicken recipes. But..some brown quicker, especially if they have sugar in the brine or marinade. I check the chicken after 30 minutes and 45 minutes, and if the skin is browning too much, I turn off the rotisserie burner and let the chicken finish in the heat of the other burners.

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