Grill a Whole Chicken on a Charcoal BBQ

Last Updated September 6, 2020
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Grilling a whole chicken or two for an outdoor party is one of the easiest ways to impress your family and friends with your cooking skills. Yes, going the route of grilling a whole chicken is more effort than the standard chicken legs that are served up at most BBQ parties but the final results are completely worth this little extra effort.

Grill a Whole Chicken

Best Way to Grill Chicken

Personal opinion means there is no best grilling style for everyone which surprises me, because there is one style that is clearly the best for crispy skin and juicy meat. I guess it’s a good thing that everyone likes things a little differently as it means we keep trying new food styles. Below is what I believe is the best way to grill a whole chicken in descending order.

Rotisserie Chicken

Everyone has their own favorite style and technique to grill a whole chicken, but rotisserie chicken is my favorite and is therefore going top of the list. Rotisserie charcoal roasted chicken gives you delicious brown crispy skin and the constant turning motion helps to self-baste, making every mouthful super juicy and tender. The only downside is no other chicken will ever taste as good once you have mastered rotisserie chicken.

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Grilled Chicken Rotisserie Kit

Spatchcock Chicken (Butterflied Chicken)

The first question anyone asks when you say you are grilling spatchcock chicken is “what’s that?”. It is an unusual name, and some people simply call it butterflied chicken as this is basically what you are doing to the chicken. You cut out the backbone allowing the chicken to be spread out flat which allows for much faster cooking times and easier all-over marinading. If you want to know the history of the word spatchcock chicken then visit for answers – I’m 100% sure your guests will have questions, mine always do.

Spatchcock Chicken

Classic Roast Chicken

Some things are classics for a reason; they are the best methods to achieve your goal with the equipment available. And the classic roast chicken cooked over charcoal is precisely that. I’m sure you’re asking why is the classic roast chicken third on the list after what I’ve just said. Basically, if it were normal for people to have a rotisserie, then that style of cooking would be the classic. But most people will not have a rotating spit available to cook with. Having just the basics of an open fire and a grill grate means that the classic roast is your best option. (I added spatchcock chicken second mainly for the speed of the cook, not the taste)

Hanging Roast Chicken

One of my favorite dishes when out camping is hanging roast chicken. Obviously while out camping you have the benefits of an open fire at ground level, so it isn’t too easy to replicate on a backyard kettle. But there has been a rise in affordable accessories, such as tripods or even this Santa Corona conversion kit, that is allowing backyard pit masters to experiment with hanging a chicken over an open fire (without the risk of burning the house down).

Beer Can Chicken – Vertical Cooking

One of the hip and trendy styles to grill a whole chicken is called beer can chicken. It’s given this name because the chicken originally sat on an open beer can while cooking, the theory being that the steam from the evaporating beer gave added flavor to the chicken. And as outdoor grilling enthusiasts are also big beer fans this grilling style exploded. Unfortunately, it was proven the beer didn’t add extra flavor and actually risked leaving raw meat at the center of the bird. So the beer was out, but the style of grilling and name remained.

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Beer Can Chicken Holder

Smoked Chicken

Smoked chicken is more a style for adding a smoked flavor to the chicken than an individual style on its own. For example, you can smoke a whole chicken in combination with rotisserie, hanging or beer can chicken. All you need to do is add some wood chunks or chips to your charcoal to slowly smoke away, infusing the flavors of the wood in the meat. I like to smoke chicken with either cherry or apple wood, but most woods are perfectly fine as long as they are food grade standard.

Poached Whole Chicken

By far the easiest way to cook a whole chicken is to poach it, although you’ll not get the crispy skin this way, you’ll have very little work tending to the chicken, and you have to be an absolute culinary disaster zone to ruin the chicken. Poached chicken is a very unlikely style to be served at a BBQ, as most grillers believe they are great cooks, and poached chicken is the least flavorful style of chicken (if all done correctly).

Grilled Whole Chicken Marinade

Chicken is the most versatile meats regarding the flavors you can add. It tastes excellent with dry rubs, marinades, injections, brines that are sweet, spicy, citrusy and many more. So my advice to adding a marinade is that you muddle together several ingredients that you know you love. At the end of the day the best chicken is full of your favorite flavors not mine. Just go easy on the marinade the first time you try it.

If you’re not feeling experimental you can always try the more traditional spice mixes, here are some examples of ones I like to use. (add links)

How Long Do You Grill a Whole Chicken?

One of the most common questions people ask when it comes to cooking meat and mainly chicken or other birds is “how long do you cook a chicken for?”. It’s not an easy question to give a straight answer to. One of the main reasons is I never cook meat based on times. When grilling in indirect heat outdoors many different weather factors will affect the grill temp, so the best way to get perfect juicy meat is to check the internal temperature of the meat.

Of course, you need a rough time it will take to cook a chicken, as you’ll need to know what time to invite people over and when to put any side dishes on. A good rule of thumb is to allow roughly 20 minutes per pound of meat. But I highly recommend you buy an outdoor cooking thermometer and check the internal temp is 165°F – This is much safer.

Can you Grill a Whole Frozen Chicken

Can you grill a whole frozen chicken? Yes, you can cook any meat from frozen. If you have the option to thaw out a chicken before cooking this does make grilling a little bit easier, but if this isn’t possible then you’ll just have to slightly change how you cook.

In the section above I mentioned that internal temperatures are the most important part of knowing when a chicken is cooked. And this is no different if you’re cooking from frozen, it’ll just take a bit longer to reach the desired temps. I’d also recommend starting the chicken off at a lower cooking temp before ramping it up. Just make sure you have an internal temp of 165°F before taking it off the grill.

About Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a BBQ grilling enthusiast and has the expertise and knowledge to have created Brian specializes in all methods of grilling and bbq equipment and is a self-proclaimed backyard Pitmaster. Qualified at degree level he gained a BEng Degree in Engineering in the United Kingdom. Brian is a well-traveled and cultured individual and has lived and worked in several countries in Europe and has gained quite a reputation amongst peers for his skills and commitment on the grilling circuit.

Grill a Whole Chicken on a Charcoal BBQ

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