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Bob Hart’s Chook on the Barbie


A sturdy, free-range, farm-raised chook – something around the 2kg mark – is a bird that has been almost purpose-built for the barbecue.

There are any number of popular barbecue techniques, like butterflying birds and grilling them over direct heat which always works well. And then there is beer-butt chicken – the highly entertaining technique which involves establishing a fruitful relationship between a chook and an opened can of beer.

But in all of this, it’s easy to forget perhaps the most satisfying technique of all: simply roasting a chicken which works, brilliantly, every time.

Provided you do it like this:

Roasting a chook is particularly effective over coals because chicken is very receptive to hickory flavours. But if your barbecue runs on gas, no problem. This technique will still work a treat:

Always choose a large bird because there is as much work involved in roasting a small chook as a large one, so go the big one.

Wash and dry the chicken inside an out and remove the fat glands from just inside the cavity. Then, oil the outside of the chicken with EV olive oil and season well with salt and pepper, inside and out. In the cavity, insert a bunch of fresh herbs ? thyme, rosemary, parsley and a bay leaf will do ? and slice a large lemon in half, lengthways. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken and insert the squeezed half into the chicken in such a way as to block the cavity. Tuck the wingtips under.

Place the chicken, breast up, on an oiled adjustable roasting rack (from any kitchen shop for around $15, and they work on any barbecue). These are a great way of holding the chicken above the grill. They are cheap and durable even ? as is the case when you use them to barbecue ? when they are used without a baking dish.

Fire up your grill.

If it is a gas grill, then set it up for indirect cooking by leaving off at least one burner under the chicken. But remember, this is one occasion when charcoal ? in a kettle barbecue, perhaps, or in a kamado ? does a superior job. It also means you can soak some hickory chips, just a few, and add then to the coals just before you put the chicken on, which you should do with the temperature at around the 200C mark. And if you are using a kettle grill or a kamado grill with a heat deflector, place a foil tray of water under the chicken to keep things moist.

Now, place the grill rack, chicken and all, on the barbecue grill. Depending on the heat of your grill, you may find it helpful to protect the extremities of the chicken with strips of foil under the rack to prevent them from burning. And from there, it is up to you.

Moderate the heat, using it judiciously to crisp up the breast skin at the end of the cooking process. Use a meat thermometer and take the chicken off the heat when it approaches 70C in the thickest part of the breast. This will take something over an hour, but less than 90 minutes, depending on the heat of your barbecue. Never undercook chicken but remember, overcooking dries it out, and a bird will continue to cook after you have taken it off the heat.

Wrap the bird loosely in foil and rest it for at least 15-20 minutes before carving.

But remember, there is more to cooking chook than roasting whole birds. Oil, season and grill various cuts of chicken, and you will be astounded by the results. Thighs, for example, are magnificent. And if your butcher can supply them to you with skin on and bone in, he’s a keeper. But remember, those same rules apply: use your instant-read meat thermometer to keep an eye on your cooking progress. And never, ever, cook chicken pieces in foil: that’s the coward’s way out, and will simply not deliver much flavour at all.