I was planning to cook a whole chicken over a gas grill before I realized we were pretty low on fuel. I'm so glad I opted to use my tri-pod grate over the camp fire! This was the best chicken I have ever eaten. I was amazed at how juicy every part of the meat was. Normally, I'm not a fan of breast meat, but this chicken has the most flavorful and moist white meat I could imagine.
Cooking over a camp fire is pretty darn easy. The tri-pod's grate raises and lowers and I've found it's pretty easy to guess whether the heat at any given height is low, medium-low, medium-high, etc. I treat it just like the grill and adjust cooking times if need be. I've made all sorts of things on this tri-pod grate, which I picked up at Gander Mountain for $20 some years ago. Besides grilling meat and kebobs, you can also put a cast iron pot on the grate and cook anything from quesadillas to soup.
This is the first time I've ever butterflied a chicken. It's super easy and it reduces the cooking time of a whole chicken by quite a bit. To butterfly a chicken, just snip the back bone clear off using a good pair of kitchen scissors and open the chicken up kind of flattish like a book. The scissors must be sharp because you have to cut through the ribs on the right and left side of the back bone. If you need photos, here's a link.
I made a little marinade and rubbed it into the meat under the chicken skin. This is optional, but it gives the meat really good flavor.
Butterflied Chicken Over an Open Fire (or grill)
One whole chicken, about 3 pounds, butterflied
3 tablespoons olive oil
One clove garlic, finely minced or grated
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk oil and seasonings together in a small bowl. Using your hands, separate the chicken's skin from the flesh on the breasts and legs. You'll really have to shove and wiggle your hands in there and don't worry too much about tearing the skin. It will remain intact. Using your hands, scoop up the marinade and rub it all over the flesh of the chicken under the skin. Rub your greasy hands over the outside of the skin as well. Place the chicken on a plate in the fridge while you get your fire going. You want a good hot bed of coals established to cook over.
Grease the grill's grate with oil, then place the chicken on the grate set over medium-low heat, skin side down. Cook for 35 minutes over medium-low and flip the bird once the skin is all a deep golden brown. Flip the chicken, lower the grate to medium heat and cook another 25 minutes, or until a digital thermometer reads 165 in the deep part of the thigh and the juices run clear. If you're cooking on a charcoal or gas grill, leave the lid off to mimic the open fire, and then your cooking times should be about the same.
I didn't have to add wood to my fire, but keep your eye on the heat. You may have to lower your grate or add more wood at times. Adjust the cooking time to be longer, as needed. Just try not to cook the outside of the chicken too fast, leaving the inside under cooked. The chicken should be cooked slowly over relatively low heat...Not "flash grilled" by any means.
Happy summer cooking! Enjoy!