Take our Grilled Butterflied Lemon Chicken. This recipe calls for butterflying two chickens, rubbing some lemon zest and salt and pepper under the skin, and then grilling them first on the cooler side of the grill until cooked through and then over the heat to crisp the skin.
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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
While it might sound intimidating, it’s actually very easy and mostly hands-off. And you can also grill some lemons at the same time to make a sauce to serve with the finished chicken.
Here’s how to do it.
How to Butterfly and Grill Whole Chickens
1. Start with 2 whole chickens and, working with 1 whole chicken at a time, place chicken breast side down on cutting board. Using kitchen shears, cut through bones on either side of backbone; discard backbone. Why? Butterflying the chicken means that all the skin is on the same side so that it can crisp up on the grill.
2. Flip each chicken and press on breastbone to flatten. Cover each chicken with plastic wrap, and use meat pounder to gently pound breasts to even thickness. Why? Pounding the bird creates a flat surface to encourage even browning and cooking.
3. Mix together lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Pat chickens dry with paper towels and, using your fingers or handle of wooden spoon, gently loosen skin covering breasts and thighs. Rub lemon zest mixture under chicken skin and then season bird all over with salt and pepper. Why? Getting the seasonings in direct contact with the meat helps them permeate and prevents them from burning.
4. Place chickens on rack set in rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least an hour or up to 24 hours. Why? The salt mixture needs time to penetrate; leaving the birds uncovered helps dry out the skin so that it crisps on the grill.
5. For charcoal grill, open bottom vent completely and place disposable pan on one side of grill with long side of pan facing center of grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over other half of grill (opposite disposable pan). Scatter 20 unlit coals on top of lit coals. (For gas grill, heat all burners on high for 15 minutes and then leave primary burner on high and turn other burners to low. Adjust burners to maintain temperature of 350 to 375 degrees.) Why? Using both lit and unlit charcoal creates a longer-burning fire so that there’s enough heat left to sear the chickens after an hour of gentle cooking. Pouring the coals on half of the grill creates hotter and cooler zones. (On a gas grill, leaving one burner on high creates hotter and cooler zones on the grill.)
6. For serving sauce, place 10 lemon halves cut sides down over hotter side of grill. Why? For maximum lemon flavor without the bitterness and pucker of raw lemons, caramelizing the citrus on the grill concentrates the juices and mellows the tang.
7. Arrange chickens skin side down on cooler side of grill with legs closest to heat. Why? Moderate heat allows the fat to render without flare-ups, and pointing the legs toward the fire means the delicate white meat won’t overcook.
8. Once chicken skin is golden and chickens are cooked through (breasts should register 160 degrees and thighs should register 175 degrees), slide them to hotter side of grill for a few minutes to brown skin. Why? Once the fat is rendered, the hot fire will crisp the skin and develop flavorful char.
9. Tent grilled chickens with aluminum foil and let them rest for 15 minutes. Why? Letting the birds rest allows the juices to redistribute for more moist and flavorful meat.
10. Use juice from grilled lemons, plus garlic, parsley, mustard, and sugar to make garlicky vinaigrette for serving with chicken. Why? The smoky lemon juice makes a delicious base for the bold vinaigrette, and the vinaigrette pairs nicely with the grilled chicken.
Now, the next time you’re trying to decide what to throw on the grill when you’re having guests over for a backyard soiree, you’ll have this grilled chicken recipe and step-by-step guide in your back pocket.