Some may consider the humble chicken as a bit of a challenge on the barbecue – get the temperature or timings wrong and you could end up with burnt skin and raw meat. But follow a few simple rules and you will be barbecuing to perfection in no time.
When buying your chicken, consider how many people you wish to feed. A large whole chicken will feed four to six people but you could also consider cooking just the thighs (for a cheaper option) or wings, which make an irresistible snack while you prepare for the main event.
The question of coal or gas is always up for debate, but either way you need to ensure your barbecue is hot and ready to go before beginning. If you are using a gas barbecue, turn it on around thirty minutes before you intend to use it and keep a section turned to low or off as it will come in useful later. For coal barbecues, once you have lit your charcoal wait for the flames to die down until you are left with a nice amber glow (this normally takes between thirty and forty-five minutes). Try to concentrate the coals to one side of the grill to leave you with a cooler area.
There are a wealth of rubs, spices, salts and marinades that you can add to your chicken to enhance the flavour, and the best way to find your favourite is to experiment!
Brining the chicken before cooking not only seasons the bird but also helps it retain moisture during cooking. A five percent brine (five percent salt to one hundred percent water) for a few hours or even overnight will give you tender, juicy meat every time.
Rubs are a dry mixture of herbs, salt and spices and are best done the day before cooking in order to give the ingredients time to permeate the meat. You could make a Moroccan-style rub with cumin, paprika, cinnamon and black pepper or an Indian-style one with coriander, turmeric and chilli or look to the US for some sweet, smoky barbecue inspiration.
You can also make a wet marinade using yoghurt or buttermilk. Both contain lactic acid which helps to tenderise the meat. Simply cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours before cooking. Don’t be tempted to slather your chicken in a thick, sugary sauce before cooking,as it will burn very quickly.
Always remove the meat from the fridge at least thirty minutes before cooking to let it come to room temperature.
If you are cooking a whole chicken, start it off on the hot part of the barbecue until it gets some colour then move to a cooler part of the barbecue and cover with the lid to retain the heat. To check the chicken is cooked, insert a knife near the thigh bone and if the juices run clear it’s ready. You could also use a meat thermometer – the chicken should be at least 70ºC in the centre. Cooking chicken portions or kebabs is much quicker and best done on the cooler part of the grill; boneless breasts will not take much time at all but legs or drumsticks will take a bit longer. Always leave your meat to rest before serving – whole chickens will need to rest for around thirty minutes whereas breasts will only need five to ten minutes.
Try Leyla Kazim’s deliciously spicy Mexican chicken wings with creamed corn or Marcello Tully’s Chicken and lime skewers as tasty snacks with a group of friends. For something a bit more substantial, try Luke Holder’s Barbecue chicken thighs with a tangy sweetcorn salsa.
Lisa Allen’s Beer can chicken is a fun way to cook a whole bird, as the beer keeps it moist and flavours it while cooking. Graham Campbell’s Chargrilled chicken breast with Jersey Royals and romesco cakes makes for a delicious summer supper.