How to Cook a Whole Chicken Over Briquettes

by Amelia Allonsy

    Chicken gets a boost of smoky, charred flavor when roasted on a grill over charcoal briquettes, but because it's so difficult to control temperature with charcoal, it's easy to burn the skin before a whole chicken cooks through. When the bird is placed directly on the grill in its rounded shape, the bottom of the bird is in direct contact with the hot briquettes while the top is several inches away and doesn't get any direct heat. A butterfly-cut chicken is opened up and flattened so the chicken cooks quickly and more evenly.

    Step 1

    Stack about 30 to 40 charcoal briquettes in a rough pyramid shape in the bottom of one side of the grill. Light the charcoal, using charcoal lighter fluid if needed. When the flames die down and the outside of the coals begin to turn gray with ash, spread them in an even layer to prepare for cooking. Spread the coals over half of the grill, leaving one side cool to help moderate the heat as it cooks the chicken.

    Step 2

    Spray the grill rack with non-stick cooking spray, and set it in place over the briquette coals. Do not spray the rack after setting it on the grill or you'll have a huge flare-up.

    Step 3

    Remove the giblets from the chicken cavity. Wash the inside and outside of the chicken under cool water and pat it dry with paper towels.

    Step 4

    Set the whole chicken on a cutting board with the breasts down and the tail facing you. Cut along either side of the tail from tail to neck to remove the backbone. A pair of sharp kitchen scissors works best because in addition to the sharp blades, scissors offer lever action that helps to cut through the rib bones. Discard the backbone or save it for making broth or soup.

    Step 5

    Spread the chicken open and flip it over so the breasts face up toward you. Place your hands at the center of the breasts, one hand on top of the other, and press down firmly to break the breast bone and lay the chicken flat. You might need to reposition your hands along the chicken and break the bone in several places.

    Step 6

    Tuck the wings under the back and spread the legs open to make a butterfly shape. If desired, push a skewer in through one thigh, through the breasts and out through the other fly to stabilize the shape.

    Step 7

    Brush both sides of the chicken with a cooking oil that has a high smoking point, such as vegetable oil, coconut oil or olive oil. Rub in some butter over the oil, if desired. Rub your choice of seasonings and spices over the fat coating. Choose from spices such as salt, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika, or massage a dry rub spice blend onto the chicken.

    Step 8

    Set the butterflied chicken on the cool side of the grill with the inside facing down on the rack and the legs facing toward the hot coals. Close the lid on the grill.

    Step 9

    Grill the chicken on the cool side for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the breast and thighs reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breasts and thighs to check the temperature; don't push the thermometer all the way to the bone. This extended period on the cool side allows time for the fat and moisture to render out of the chicken skin so it crisps better and cooks more evenly.

    Step 10

    Flip the chicken over so the skin side faces down. Move it directly over the hot coals and allow 10 to 15 minutes for the skin to crisp and the internal temperature to rise to 165 F. Check the breasts and thighs with a meat thermometer after 10 minutes. If the skin starts to burn before the finished temperature is reached, move the chicken back to the cool side of the grill to finish cooking while keeping the skin side down to avoid moisture loss.

    Step 11

    Move the chicken to a serving plate and serve immediately. Unlike many types of meat, whole chickens don't require a rest period before serving.


    • A large chicken can prove tricky to flip, but you'll find best results with one or two pairs of tongs that grip the chicken well without piercing it. If you push skewers through the legs and breasts, you can grip the skewer to steady the chicken as you flip it, but don't turn the chicken with only the skewer.

    About the Author

    A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images