Bites and Pieces: Perfect Chicken

I’ve mostly been on the road this week. My sons finished kindergarten (yay!) on Wednesday, which happens to be the day that my wife was starting a week long job for the US Forest Service. I’m transferring to a new job in July, so a family break seemed warranted.

I found a surprise along the way. There’s a pretty decent Italian place in Lewisburg, WV, of all places (Giovanni’s). I ordered lasagna for Secondo, pasta with greens and sausage for Primo (he’s on a health kick), and a roasted veggie salad for myself. I figured I could hoover up what they left behind. Well, the salad was terrific. A good balance of veggies and the roasted squash really added heart. The pasta and greens didn’t look like much, but looks can be deceiving. They used broccoli rabe for the greens and a mild sausage that balanced the dish. The pasta was penne and cooked al dente. The lasagna was simple–a couple layers of noodles with ricotta in the middle and marinara on top. I took a bite of it and got a surprise. The noodles were tender and the ricotta is as good as anything I picked up at the Italian Store in Arlington. Turns out they make everything in house. This is the kind of restaurant everyone wishes they had in their neighborhood. The total was $37, including two sodas.

But that’s not important right now. I’m writing about chicken. The day after I arrived at the lake, my brother made a beer can chicken. I’d never tried it before. It was quite good, but he misjudged the timing (we didn’t have a thermometer) and so the inner portions were undercooked. That’s the eternal problem with roasting a chicken. Undercooked meat or dried out breast meat (or in the worst of all cases, both). How to solve it?

One of my sons was wanting chicken and I know my parents enjoy it. So, what to do? On a whim, I decided to try a butterflied chicken. Cut out the backbone, flatten the thing, and roast it. As a bonus, you can use the wings and the back to make a nice mini batch of stock. I did a bit of hunting about and came upon Kenji Alt’s blog. He used to appear on America’s Test Kitchen. The method seemed straightforward and dispensed with turning the chicken. The ideal is 150 degrees for breast meat and 170 for dark meat. I was shocked when the meat thermometer registered the perfect temperature both times. And the chicken was perfect! 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Take a 3 1/2 – 4 lb. chicken. Brine it if you like (I do) and air dry. Cut out the backbone with some kitchen shears. Flatten the beastie. Spread a tablespoon of vegetable oil (sesame oil is tasty) over the top and season with salt and pepper. I shoved a couple tablespoons of butter between the skin of the breasts and the meat. It may be gilding the lily, but what the hey.

3. Slide up a half dozen small (1″) potatoes. Toss with oil and put in the bottom of a roasting pan. Put a flat rack on top and place the chicken on it. [Note: don’t use a V-rack for a butterflied bird. If you don’t have a flat rack, just put it right on the potatoes.]

4. Roast the bird for about 45 minutes, until the breast meat registers 150 degrees and the thigh registers 170 degrees. As I noted above, it worked perfectly for me.

5. Let the bird rest for 5 minutes and then enjoy!



4 Responses

  1. I did 3 beer can chickens this weekend with a texas-style side smoker. i did a dry rub* overnight, bring the chickens out about 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook. get your fire going and return. while the smoker is heating, cut the top off the beer can with a can opener, drink half, and put chopped onion and minced garlic, some vinegar and remaining rub into the can. onto the grill with a temp of 200-220 for about 4 hours. hickory wood logs. a probe meat thermometer is key. my thermometer is magnetic, so the gauge is on the outside of the grill (never open the grill, you lose the heat) and the probe runs through the smokestack and into the chicken.

    paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.


  2. I bought a Weber chicken roasting pan for the grill. It’s a round perforated pan with a beer can holder in the middle. Once you place the beer can (including whatever herbs and spices you like) and chicken, you can load up the outside with veggies to roast. Instead of smoking, I cook with indirect heat for 1 to 1.5 h, until the juices run clear. I use charcoal, so I’m not sure exactly what temperature the grill is at.

    Butterflied chicken also works well on the grill, with direct heat.


  3. I’m waiting for any of the three of you to invite me over for chicken! 🙂

    I tried to fire up my grill (gas) last night and couldn’t get the burners to stay lit; I’m hoping it’s just that I need to pull everything apart and clean it, as I really don’t want to spend the $$$ on a new grill right now–but what’s summer without cooking outside?!

    I’ve never tried grilling a whole chicken, so now I really do have to get the grill fixed, since you’ve inspired me to give it a shot!


  4. I think the problem with the beer can chicken was that my brother didn’t have room in the fridge. So, he alternated between freezer and on a counter. It’s a shame as the skin was gorgeous.

    He also gifted me a lamb rib roast. A buddy came up with two of them and they cooked one of them in the Italian brick oven that he built. Problem was that both got hammered and the roast turned into a briquette. I’m not sure what to do with it. Perhaps tandoori style. I do love the flavor of lamb. Suggestions from the peanut gallery are welcome!



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