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Bob Hart’s Citrus-Spiced Char-Grilled Chicken

Peter 'Grubby' Stubbs
Article image for Bob Hart’s Citrus-Spiced Char-Grilled Chicken


Throughout most of the United States, there is now far better takeaway chicken on offer than the inevitable, deep-fried unpleasantness – with or without its secret herbs and spices – that America inflicted upon the world all those years ago.

These new, fiery chooks, for which we have to thank Mexico, are usually marinated in a seductive herb and spice mix and grilled over charcoal. And they really ARE finger-lickin’ good, unlike the battered rubbish. Trust me…

Even better, however, is my home version of this dish which you can effortlessly make on a barbecue – ideally over charcoal, although a gas grill, also, will do the job.

Free-range chickens are simply butterflied, knocked into two halves, and then placed in a lively citrus marinade for a minimum of several hours but, ideally, overnight. The chooks are then quickly grilled and enthusiastically eaten. Try this:

Make a marinade by blitzing, in a blender or food processor, a chopped, red onion with five chopped garlic cloves, a cup of fresh orange juice, another of fresh lime juice, 2 tbs dried oregano, 2 tsp ground cumin and a cup of lightly packed coriander leaves with their tender stems. Add one or two hot, fresh chillies or a generous pinch of chilli flakes if you enjoy a bit of heat, but this is optional. Add 2 tbs EV olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put at least half a cup of this aside and use it to baste the cooking chicken.

But first, pick up a couple of small chickens and butterfly them by cutting along either side of the backbone and removing it, along with the neck at one end and the pointy bit at the other. Now, split the birds through the breastbone, giving you four, neat halves.

Prick the skin of these with a sharp fork or skewer and place them in a large, resealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over them. Close the bag, excluding most of the air, and work the chicken halves to ensure they are well coated with the marinade. Refrigerate.

Prepare a hot grill – gas if you like but, ideally, a clean, oiled grill in a Weber kettle or a kamado over charcoal. Add a few pieces of hickory or pecan to the fire and place the chicken, skin down, on the grill. Cover.

After about 10 minutes, lower the heat (by closing the vents slightly in the case of charcoal), baste the chicken (still skin side down) and turn each piece through 90 degrees. After another 10 minutes, baste again and flip the chicken. After another 10 minutes, baste again and turn through 90 degrees. And after a final 10 minutes, baste the chicken again and, if you think it needs it, flip over. By which time the internal temperature of the chicken should be reading, in the thickest part of the leg or thigh, around 75-80C. And if not, continue to cook and monitor until that temperature is achieved.

Finally, rest the chicken, loosely tented in foil, before jointing it and serving the pieces with fresh lime wedges to squeeze over the golden bird.

NOTE: Pit Barrel Cooker enthusiasts can produce a delectable variation of this recipe by marinating the chickens whole and then hanging them from turkey roasters in a PBC with the lid slightly open. This opening will, by the time you hang the chickens, have caused the temperature to soar. As you hang them, close the lid. The heat will fire the skins of the chicken and made them crisp and golden, while the gradually falling temperature (caused by closing the lid) will cook them to perfection. Monitor carefully with an instant-read thermometer.


Peter 'Grubby' Stubbs