The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_GRILLED_FI_001

Line of Fire

Indirect heat is the secret to grilling a whole juicy chicken


Deep summer is here. The days are hot and sticky, farmers markets are bursting with peaches and tomatoes, and most people haven’t turned on their ovens in at least three weeks. That’s why this month’s Whole Chicken Project is devoted to a recipe that is best made outside, on your trusty grill.

When I was growing up, we often used the backyard barbeque during the summer to keep the heat out of the house (a particularly important trick as our houses never had central A/C). My mom mostly stuck to hot dogs and hamburgers, though, because she had a heck of a time getting her chicken to cook all the way through without being burnt to a crisp on the outside.

I only wish I could go back in time and tell her that the secret to grilling chicken is indirect heat. That means, when you build your fire, you want to keep the coals on just one side of the grill. The chicken is placed on the side away from the coals and covered while cooking, to trap all that good heat. If you have a gas grill, you can typically create the same kind of situation by only turning half the heat source on.

This method creates a bird that is seriously tender, juicy, and cooked all the way through. You can marinate your chicken any way you like, but I’m partial to this easy dry rub. I mix up a batch at the beginning of summer, and make a point to grill enough whole chickens through the season so the whole batch gets used up.

To keep things easy, I serve it with a basic potato salad that is infinitely better than the sum of its parts. And of course, corn on the cob is a must as well. If you have the time, mash up a little softened butter with chopped basil, salt, and pepper for the corn (proportions below). For dessert, slices of chilled watermelon are the perfect thing.

Happy summer!

Dry Rubbed Grilled Chicken


1 chicken, 2 ½ to 3 pounds
1 tablespoon neutral oil

3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon course salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne


In a small bowl, whisk together the rub ingredients until well incorporated.

Position your chicken breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone and then the other, removing it entirely from the chicken. Flip the chicken over and, using the heel of your hand, press down on the breast bone to flatten the chicken.

Dry the chicken with a few paper towels and sprinkle some of the rub generously across the bird (the rub recipe makes enough for 3-4 chickens, so don’t use too much). Using your hands, massage the rub into the chicken. Loosely cover with foil and let the rubbed chicken rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, prepare your barbecue. Light your coals and when they’re ashy on the outside and glowing hot on the inside, arrange them so they’re on just one side of the grill. Oil the grate on the side opposite the hot coals and place the chicken, skin-side down on the greased area. Cover the grill.

Cook, flipping the chicken over at the half-way point, for 30-35 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registers at least 160°F when inserted into the dark meat.

Remove chicken from grill and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing.

New Potato Salad


2 pounds small new potatoes like Red Bliss or Yukon Gold
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s/Best Foods is best)
¼ cup minced chives


Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. While it heats, slice your potatoes into bite-sized pieces (when working with small potatoes, I just cut them in half).

When water boils, add a few tablespoons of salt and carefully slide potatoes in. Cook until potatoes are tender.

When potatoes are ready, drain them and return them to pan. Place the pan on the stove over low heat and add the vinegar. Gently toss. When all the liquid is gone from the pan, add the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Remove pan from heat and let the potatoes cool for 10-15 minutes. When they’re still just barely warm, add the mayonnaise and stir to coat. Finally, stir in the minced chives.

Serve warm or chilled.

Salted Basil Butter for Corn on the Cob


¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the softened butter in a small bowl or saucer and mash with the back of a fork. Add basil, salt and pepper and stir until they are well incorporated.

Scrape butter into a small ramekin and chill until ready to serve.

Makes enough to dress 8 to 10 ears of corn.

Marisa McClellan is a food blogger, freelance writer and canning teacher based in Center City Philadelphia. She runs a website called Food in Jars, where she writes about canning, preserving and delicious things made from scratch. She regularly writes for the Food Network, USA Today, Grid Philly and Mrs. Wages. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.

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  1. Monica says:

    Yummy new recipes to try. Going to the Terminal for some new spices!

    • Hope you like it, Monica!

  2. Harold augenbraum says:

    It takes less than five minutes to make home-made mayonnaise, which will give a much richer flavor (and no sugar) to your potato salad.

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