Grilling season brings to mind burgers and sausage, steaks and chops – all with good reason. Lower down on the list of cuts immediately associated with grilling is whole chicken. We’d like to change that. Whole chickens belong on a grill! Here are a few ways to grill whole chicken, all work well for guests – or just for you.


Spatchcocking, is just a fancy word for taking the backbone out so a bird can lay flat when cooking. Here’s how to spatchcock chicken. If you choose to, you can cut out more than the backbone. “When I do it, I remove all of the bones. I make a boneless bird, grill it, and chop it up afterwards,” says Josh Applestone. “It depends on how crazy you want to go.” And how much work you want to do.  

Once you have a spatchcocked bird, there are a number of ways to cook it on a grill. You can dry rub and make brick chicken directly on the grill. Or you can use a cast iron pan over indirect heat and baste the bird with an herb butter and wine sauce. “Have one side of your grill flaming hot, then shut off the area under the cast iron pan or turn it way down so the bird doesn’t burn,” explains Applestone.

beer can whole chicken


Home rotisseries can be expensive and run the risk drying out your chicken. In a bigger commercial rotisserie, birds are being constantly basted by other birds’ fat. “That is a very difficult thing to replicate, unless you’re doing something really fatty like pork belly or duck,” says Applestone. Ideally a rotisserie chicken has a dry crusty outside and moist meat.

One way to cook a whole chicken on a grill that will be crispy outside and moist inside is beer can chicken. “You get almost the same effect as rotisserie. The chicken’s upright and the beer bubbling up all of the time keeps it moist,” explains Applestone. It self-bastes.

Instead of using an actual beer can, Applestone prefers a cheap stand like this one. It holds the bird up and liquid in the center, plus it’s made of food-safe stainless steel. “Maybe it’s not the greatest idea to cook on an aluminum can,” says Applestone. Beer can liners and exterior dyes aren’t made to be put on hot grills in proximity to chicken fat. With a stand, you can also choose what liquid you want to use: beer, stock, wine, fruit juice, even soda. There are stands on the market without a container for liquid, but these don’t help keep the chicken moist. Plus, they allow the chicken’s own liquid to drip out.


If you have a kettle grill, try smoking a whole chicken. Light your grill with a chimney. While you’re waiting for your coals to be ready, get some good wood smoking chips and soak a bowl of them in water. Next, dress your chicken. Slather it in olive oil, generous amounts of salt and pepper, and shove thin slices of garlic and herbs (we’re partial to sage) under the skin. Try to place these slices evenly all over the bird.

When the coals are ready, distribute them in two even banks along the sides of your grill. Leave the middle open for indirect heat. Place something like an aluminum foil pan under the grill to catch drippings and prevent flare-ups. Place your dressed chicken in the middle of the grill, directly on the grate. Put a few handfuls of the soaked wood chips on top of each bank of coals. Close the grill top and open the vent fully.

Periodically throw more soaked wood chips on top the coals on either side to keep the smoke going. The chicken will turn a nice dark brown color. A four-pound chicken should take about an hour to smoke, just check the juices. When they’re nearly clear, it’s ready.