Cooking a chicken in a rotisserie oven is one of the surest ways to finish with a perfectly juicy, evenly cooked bird. The constant rotation ensures that the whole chicken receives equal exposure to the heat, and gravity ensures that the rendered fat and cooking juices automatically baste the bird as it turns. Although rotisserie ovens do a fine job with a chicken, they're not the only -- or even the most traditional -- way to do it.
On Your Grill
For thousands of years, spit-roasted birds revolved at a real fire instead of a rotisserie oven. You can replicate that tradition with a rotisserie attachment for your gas grill or charcoal kettle. On a gas grill, light the burners on either side of the rotisserie's path but not the ones underneath. On a charcoal grill, scrape the coals to one or both sides so the rotisserie's spit will only receive indirect heat. Spit the chicken according to the instructions that came with your rotisserie, then lock the spit into place. Close the lid and cook your chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit when tested with an instant-read thermometer.
Open Hearth Surgery
If you have a fireplace, you can take authenticity to an even higher level. It is possible to get an old-fashioned spit for the hearth, either hand-cranked or driven by an electric motor. Build a fire of hardwoods on your hearth and let it burn down to a bed of hot coals. Spit one or more chickens and mount the spit to its brackets in front of the coals. Slide a pan under each chicken to catch the drips, and begin cranking the spit. Baste the chicken periodically with the drips from the drip pan for an extra-crisp, golden skin. Remove and serve the chickens when they reach a food safe temperature of 165 F.
Keep Me Hangin' On
If you have a fireplace but don't want to spend on a spit for occasional use, there's an alternative. Like the frugal peasants of Southern France, you can attach a hook to the inside of your hearth and hang a trussed chicken from the hook by a string. If you spin the dangling chicken every few minutes as you pass by the fire, the effect is very similar to rotisserie cooking. Keep a drip pan under the chicken and use the drippings to baste it.
If you're less concerned with authenticity than just getting a good chicken cooked by gentle, all-around heat, you have the option of faking it. A countertop slow cooker provides even, gentle heat and has the added advantage that you don't need to give the bird any attention as it cooks. Place the bird vertically in a round slow cooker or horizontally in an oval one, then close the lid and crank the dial to High for 3 to 4 hours, until the chicken is cooked and tender. The only shortcoming of this method is that the skin won't crisp, except for a few spots where it's in contact with the walls of the cooker.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.
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