Whole Grilled Chicken with a Tex-Mex Spice Rub and Chipotle Glaze

Karen writes: I want to grill a whole chicken tonight. I have a full spice drawer for a spice rub and I’m open to a sauce though I would want it to be quick. I can stop off at the supermarket on my way home today for little things.

Tony’s take: I like your thinking – a simple, but tasty meal. Grilling a whole chicken is easier than most people think. A couple of years back, beer can chicken became really popular and while I think that’s a nice technique (definitely a cool party trick), I find it far easier to butterfly the chicken (just a fancier way of saying taking out its backbone) so it can lay flat on the grill. This helps it cook through quickly and evenly. A spice rub is a good idea and since you’re open to a quick sauce, you can finish it off with a really easy chipotle glaze, one of my favorites, which will make this dish a little more special. Serve the grilled chicken with a simple side – I’d go rice – and some sort of grilled vegetable – like asparagus or zucchini. Serves 4. Total time: about 1 hour; Prep time:  about 20 min.

What you’ll need:

Ingredients: The chicken (of course) – a 4-lb bird sounds about right, olive oil, spices (chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, sugar, chipotle powder or pimenton de la Vera if you have), canned chipotle en adobo, honey, cider vinegar, and tomato paste (if you have).

Equipment: Grill (gas will be quicker and easier to control for this technique, charcoal more flavorful), tongs,spatula, basting brush, blender or food processor, chef’s knife (or kitchen shears).

How to do it: Make the spice rub. In a small bowl, mix even parts kosher salt, chile powder, cumin, and sugar (about 1 tsp.) with some black pepper and garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp. each), and a large pinch (about 1/4 tsp.) of chipotle powder (or pimenton or cayenne).

Butterfly the chicken: If you look up at the neck of a chicken, you can see the backbone running down its length (on the opposite side of the breasts). You’re going to want to cut out a 1-inch strip so you remove the whole backbone. To do this, you can use a chef’s knife or, even better, kitchen shears (which are a lot easier to use for this technique). Starting at one side of the neck (you can hold that to get a grip), cut down straight through the breast bones (these should give way easily) all the way to and around the tailbone (there’s a little space between that and the bone from the thigh). Do the same on the other side of the tailbone so you cut off a 1-inch strip. This video is pretty good if you want a little more visual assistance. Now you can flip the chicken over (breast side up) and press it down so it lays flat.  Give the chicken a rinse, pat it dry, and sprinkle it all over with the spice rub and drizzle with a touch of olive oil.

Grill the chicken: Heat half of the burners on a gas grill to medium high and the other half to medium low or light up a charcoal fire and spread 3/4 of the coals to one side (so the other side has just a very thin layer). Grill the chicken (breast side down) over the hotter part of the fire until it starts to brown and get good grill marks (about 5 minutes); transfer the chicken to the cooler zone immediately if it starts to burn (chicken skin has a tendency to flare up, especially if the fire is hot). Flip (so the chicken is breast side up), transfer the chicken to the cooler zone, cover the grill (with the vents open on a charcoal fire) and grill until the chicken cooks through, about 20 to 25 more minutes – an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs and breasts should register 165F or make a nick to check that it’s cooked through.

While, the chicken is grilling, make the glaze: Add 1 canned chipotle and 1 Tbs. of the adobo sauce (the sauce that comes in the can with the peppers), 1/2 cup honey, a splash of cider vinegar (about 2 Tbs.), and a spoonful of tomato paste (about 1 Tbs. if you have – not necessary) to a food processor or blender and puree. Divide this glaze into two bowls – one for basting and one for dipping at the dinner table.

Glaze the chicken: Once the chicken is cooked through, transfer it back to the hot zone and brush it all over with the glaze and cook, flipping and brushing some more, so the glaze caramelizes and bubbles on the chicken’s skin, 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve: Cut the chicken into pieces and serve drizzled with some more of the glaze.

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