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Spit-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon Butter


Serves 2-4

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 117

When it comes to grilling a whole chicken, nothing beats spit-roasting. You'll need a special rotisserie attachment for your grill (there are models available for both gas and charcoal grills), but it's well worth the investment: As the bird slowly rotates above the grill, it bastes itself both inside and out, which produces incredibly moist meat and beautifully browned skin. Even the breast meat stays succulent. When the chicken comes off the spit, be sure to let it rest for a few minutes so the juices are evenly distributed through the meat.

  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus 2 large sprigs
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest plus 1/8 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3-1/2- to 4-lb. whole chicken
Prepare the grill:

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill fire for indirect grilling over medium-high heat (400°F).

If using a charcoal grill, bank the coals against opposite sides of the grill, parallel to the spit. Put a 9x13-inch foil drip pan on the charcoal grate between the banked coals and fill it halfway with water.

If using a gas grill, remove the grill grates, put a 9x13-inch foil drip pan on the inactive burner(s) and fill it halfway with water.

Set up the rotisserie attachment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make a tarragon butter:

In a small bowl, mix the butter, chopped tarragon, lemon zest and juice, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper with a fork until well combined.

Prepare and grill the chicken:
Before you attach a whole chicken to the spit, be sure to tie the legs together for a compact shape. This helps the bird cook and brown more evenly and prevents the legs from flopping around with every turn.

Remove the giblets from the chicken and discard or save for another use. Remove and discard any fat inside the body and neck cavities. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Starting at the neck cavity, carefully work your fingers under the skin to separate it from the breast meat without tearing the skin. Continue to separate the skin from the thighs; you may need to reach in with your whole hand. Measure 4 Tbs. of the tarragon butter into a small bowl. Using your fingers, spread the butter butter evenly under the skin of the breast and thighs. Arrange a sprig of tarragon under the skin of each breast. Pat the skin back into place, then gently massage the chicken to distribute the butter. Tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wings behind the neck.

In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tbs. of the remaining tarragon butter over low heat. Secure the chicken on the spit, making sure it’s balanced. Brush the chicken with the melted butter and then season it with salt and pepper.

Attach the spit to the motor and turn on the motor. Make sure the drip pan is directly under the chicken. Cover the grill and spit-roast the chicken until the skin is deep golden-brown and the thickest part of the thigh registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, 40 to 60 minutes.

Carefully remove the chicken from the spit and transfer to a carving board or platter. Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. tarragon butter.

Carve the chicken, arrange on a platter, drizzle with the melted butter, and serve.

Serving Suggestions

Start the meal off with a fresh Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Fennel & Arugula Salad, and serve with French-Style Potato Salad on the side. Angel Food Cake with Strawberries & Whipped Cream makes for a simple but sweet end to the meal. 

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 660, Fat (kcal): 49, Fat Calories (g): 430, Saturated Fat (g): 22, Protein (g): 52, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 16, Carbohydrates (mg): 0, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 6, Sodium (g): 300, Cholesterol (g): 225, Fiber (g): 0,

Photo: Scott Phillips

Awesome recipe

My husband and I thought this one of the best, if not the best, grilled chickens we've done. By mistake, I used 4 Tbsps of butter which may have made the tarragon flavor more potent (and I used tarragon fresh from my garden). This is on our "favorites" list.

I love chicken on my gas grill rotiss, but this did not do well for me. I thought the tarragon too delicate for the grill, and the butter an overload. A good bird with s & p and maybe some heartier herbs in the cavity (oregano&garlic, thyme, rosemary), have done better for me.

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