I usually don’t remember to defrost chicken with enough time to do a day long brine plus a stay overnight in the fridge to dry out the skin. But, with longer than anticipated outing at this weekend’s Ponchatula Strawberry Festival on Saturday, I ended up pushing the grilling to Sunday.
Some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten was at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. Part of the deliciousness comes from his brine. I altered his version slightly to focus on the lemon and rosemary and brined the chicken for 8 hours. I followed it with a rest overnight in the refrigerator (uncovered) before sprinkling on a rub and grilling it on my Weber kettle grill.
I remove the chicken’s backbone and neck for later use in stock and because it makes it easier to grill.
Brined and Rubbed Grilled Chicken
1 3 to 5 pound whole chicken, backbone cut off
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar or honey
5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 lemons, zested and sliced in half, zest set aside
2 large bunches of rosemary springs plus 3 tablespoons leaves
2 quarts water
Bring the 2 quarts of water, 1/2 cup salt, brown sugar (or honey), bay leaves, peppercorns, lemons (not the zest) and rosemary springs (not the additional leaves) to a boil. Stir to dissolve all the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to steep while it cools. After about an hour, strain the liquid into a large bag with the chicken. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 and up to 12 hours.
In a spice mill, grind together the remaining 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, the lemon zest and the 3 tablespoons of rosemary leaves until it forms a fine powder. You can also finely chop the leaves and grind them all together in a mortar and pestle, if you don’t have a spice/coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container.
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Place the bird on a wire rack on a cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator overnight. Do not cover, as you want the skin to dry a bit in the cool air of the fridge.
At least one hour before grilling, remove the chicken from the refrigerator to begin to come to room temperature. Coat with olive oil and place two pinches of the rosemary lemon salt powder on the inside of the bird and then rub the outside of the chicken with about two tablespoons more.
Set up your grill for indirect cooking and put a layer of unlit briquets in a half moon shape along one side. Fill a chimney starter with briquets and heat until they are covered in a white ash. Pour over the unlit briquets and toss in a hickory chip or two (or some rosemary sprigs). Place the chicken on the grill, breast side down, wings tucked behind the back and legs toward the coals. Close the lid and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and, keeping the legs toward the fire, cook for an hour more. It is done when the dark meat is 165 degrees F.
The chicken comes out moist and delicious. If there are any leftovers, this makes an awesome chicken salad for lunch the next day – pick the carcass clean and put the chicken meat in a bowl with a little mayonaise, sweet pickle relish, chopped celery and a handful of chopped pecans. Give it a few grinds of pepper and stir before serving on toasted bread.