Summer in Seattle tends to inspire a frenzy of grilling among the city's rainbound residents. Unfortunately, because summer lasts approximately one minute in Seattle, our love of grilling is only matched by our inability to do it well. Some have even theorized that grilling is intimidating, especially (pfffft!) to women. Personally, I think the problem is lack of practice, not fear.
That's too bad, because grilling, done well, is simplicity itself. Take something as banal as a piece of chicken—dark meat, with the skin on, not that insipid pale white stuff that passes for food at so many of America's tables—apply a marinade or rub, cook on the cool side of the grill until almost done, turning once, then move it to the hot side of the grill to give it a good char. Apply any sauce you're using right at the end of cooking so it doesn't burn.
Once you've mastered the basic recipe, you can move on to more complicated preparations—spatchcocking a whole chicken, say, or grilling more delicate cuts like individual wings. Here are three of my favorite ways to grill chicken, from beginner to advanced.
Beginner: Best BBQ Chicken with Simple Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from The Bitten Word
vegetable oil, for grates
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
About 3 pounds chicken drumsticks and thighs
2 cups Simple Barbecue Sauce (below)
First, build a two-zone fire. (Instructions for both gas and charcoal grills here). Soak a few paper towels in vegetable oil and (quickly!) oil grill grates. In a small bowl, combine spices, salt, and pepper; spread spice rub all over chicken.
Put the chicken on the cooler side of the grill, skin side up, and cook a few minutes before turning. If the fat flares up, move it to an even cooler part of the grill (or turn the heat down if using gas). When the chicken no longer looks raw—usually after about 20 minutes—move it to the hot side of the grill to give it a good char. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, baste chicken with about a cup of barbecue sauce, using a barbecue brush or a spoon. Serve chicken with reserved sauce.
Simple Barbecue Sauce
1 24-ounce bottle of ketchup (about 3 cups)
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced by a third, about 30 minutes.
Intermediate: Grill-Roasted Cornish Game Hens
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
1 cup table salt
4 Cornish game hens (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each), butterflied (Martha Stewart tells you how to do this here)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 (3-inch) wood chunks (optional)
Disposable 16 by 12-inch aluminum roasting pan
Vegetable oil for cooking grate
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
Dissolve salt in 4 quarts of cold water and submerge hens in brine. Refrigerate for about an hour.
While the hens are brining, combine sugar and spices in small bowl and soak wood chunks, if using, in water to cover. After an hour or so, take the hens out of the from brine and rinse inside and out with cold running water; pat dry. Drain the wood chips Lace two flat metal skewers through the wings and breasts of each hen so that it holds its shape. (Instructions for how to do this here). Rubs the hens evenly with spice mixture and refrigerate while preparing grill.
To make the glaze: Cook all ingredients in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
To grill the hens: Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, or about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash, 20 to 25 minutes. Place a disposable aluminum pan in the center of the grill. Empty the coals into the grill, creating equal-sized piles on each side of pan. Place two wood chunks on each pile of coals, if using. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean and oil lightly with paper towels, as in previous recipe.
Place hens, skin-side down, on the center of the grill over aluminum pan. Open grill lid vents completely and cover, positioning vents over hens. Grill-roast hens until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 160 to 165 degrees and skin has started to turn golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Using tongs, move birds to hot sides of grill (two hens per side). Cover and continue to cook until the chickens are browned, about 5 minutes. Brush birds with half of glaze; flip and cook for two more minutes. Brush remaining glaze over hens; flip and continue to cook until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, one to three minutes longer.
Transfer hens to cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Cut in half through breastbone and serve immediately.
Advanced: Leaping Frog Chicken
To be honest, this one is a little advanced even for me, and I haven't worked up the gumption to try it yet. However, with a recommendation like Gourmet's—they call it a "recipe that will change your life"—it's definitely on my list.
2 chickens (about 3 1/2 lb each)
16 garlic cloves, smashed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 tablespoons Argentinean ají molido or hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante
2 tablespoons dried oregan
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 lemons, each cut into 6 rounds
Discard any visible fat from chickens. Rinse chickens and pat dry. Put 1 chicken, breast up, on a cutting board. Pull 1 leg away from body and with a sharp knife cut through skin between leg and breast until you hit the joint (do not cut through joint). With your fingers behind joint, bend leg back until joint pops. Repeat with other leg. With kitchen shears, cut through rib bones (starting from thigh) on both sides of breast up to, but not through, shoulder joints. Open chicken, skin side up. Press on breastbone to crack and flatten with heel of your hand. Repeat with second chicken. (A visual guide to this process is here).
Purée garlic with 1/4 cup oil, paprika, oregano, cumin, allspice, 2 Tbsp fine sea salt, and 2 tsp pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Stir together 1 Tbsp marinade and remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a small bowl and reserve, chilled, for basting.
Put chickens in a large 4-sided sheet pan. Using a few lemon slices as spreaders, rub some of marinade all over chickens, then stuff lemon slices with remaining marinade under skin of breasts and thighs. Marinate, chilled, at least 8 hours (and up to 12).
Prepare grill for indirect-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas). Oil grill rack, then grill chickens directly over coals, turning once (more if flare-ups occur), until browned, about 5 minutes total. Move chickens to area of grill with no coals underneath (for gas, turn off 2 burners if necessary and turn remaining burner on high) and grill, covered, turning occasionally and basting with reserved marinade mixture, until chickens are cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes (do not baste during last 5 minutes; discard any leftover basting sauce). Add more charcoal as necessary. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.