For everyday outdoor cooking I usually choose chicken pieces, but for festive dinners I prefer to grill whole chickens. They always make an impressive entree, with their intense, appetizing aroma and their beautifully browned skin. Even the most finicky eaters in the family are enthusiastic when they see and smell the golden-brown chicken on the barbecue.
The fastest way to prepare chicken for the grill, whether you’re using a whole bird or chicken pieces, is to season it with a spice rub. As the name suggests, this is simply a mixture of spices that you smear all over the chicken, inside and out.
Unlike marinades, you don’t need to do it hours ahead. You just unwrap the chicken from its packaging while the barbecue is heating, rub it with the spices and it’s ready. Another advantage over marinades: with a spice rub, you’re not adding any fat.
We’ve experimented with many spice rubs for our grilled chicken, but we often return to our favorite, a mixture of cumin, turmeric and black pepper. This seasoning mix gives the bird an appealing golden color and a wonderful flavor that complements the taste of the grilled meat perfectly.
Although this spice rub is Middle Eastern, I often like to serve the grilled chicken in the French fashion, accompanied by a green salad. I find that mixed fresh lettuces with a zesty vinaigrette makes an outstanding complement for the rich-tasting chicken.
At other times I serve grilled chicken in the eastern Mediterranean style, accompanied by a chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and green onion and a rice pilaf sprinkled with toasted pine nuts.
Grilled Whole Chicken With Middle Eastern Spice Rub
For grilling chickens, I use a covered grill at moderate heat, so the birds cook evenly without flare-ups. As with roast chicken, it’s important to pierce the thickest part of the thigh and check that the juices run clear, meaning the chicken is well done.
1 (3-1/2-pound) chicken, giblets removed
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place chicken on plate. Combine cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt in small bowl and mix. Rub spice mixture into chicken, both inside and out. Wash hands immediately, so turmeric won’t stain your fingers.
Preheat covered gas grill for indirect heat, according to manufacturer’s instructions, and set at medium (350-375 degrees). If using charcoal grill, heat coals until they’re covered with gray ash and have only a hint of red. Then move coals to edge of grill and place drip pan in grill’s center. If grill grate is adjustable, set it about 6 inches above coals.
Brush grill rack lightly with oil. Set chicken on rack in area that is not directly over heat source, with breast facing up. Cover and grill 45 to 60 minutes. To check if chicken is done, pierce thickest part of thigh near bone. Juices that run from meat should be clear and meat should no longer be pink. Transfer to clean platter. Let chicken stand 10 minutes before carving.
Yield: 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 509 calories, 21 grams (37 percent fat calories), 71 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 217 milligrams cholesterol, 344 milligrams sodium.
Note: For grilled chicken pieces, use 2-1/2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs, drumsticks or breast pieces with skin and bones. Rub spice mixture over chicken pieces. Grill as above, taking total of 20 minutes for breasts or 30 to 35 minutes for thighs or drumsticks, turning pieces over halfway through cooking time.
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