Grilled Mexican Roadside Chicken

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I first discovered this chicken recipe on Serious Eats, one of my favorite food blogs, and it is slightly adapted from there.  The recipe originally comes from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday.  This recipe, if you execute it correctly, might be the best chicken you ever make.  I cook this once a week.  My kids love it. They ask what we’re having for dinner,  I say, “grilled chicken,” they say “Yay!!!

Executing this recipe correctly, embodies what I have come to learn is key to cooking, after my fifteen plus years of professional and non-professional cooking experience.  The recipe is simple, but it comes down to the technique.  It is not rocket science, it is the subtle intuition that comes from doing something over and over again.  It is finding joy in tweaking one thing or another in a recipe you’ve cooked dozens of times, to make it slightly more delicious.

The marinade is unique and simple.  I have always been a fan of the method of butterflying chicken, also known as, “spatchcocked” chicken. “Spatchcocked,” simply means to remove the backbone, which flattens the chicken.  This promotes even cooking, and allows a shorter cooking time for a whole bird.  The other key to this recipe is cooking the chicken slowly, over indirect heat, on a charcoal grill.  Basically, the longer you can keep the coals going, the better.  My minimum cooking time goal is one hour, and I have cooked a chicken for up to two hours.

Start by making the marinade.  I like to mix the marinade in a large wet cup measure.  I can easily whisk the marinade and pour it over the chicken.  The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice.  I can usually get this out of one orange, but I usually buy two, just to be safe.

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Add 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.

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Add 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder.

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Two garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine.

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1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican.

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1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and a big pinch of ground cloves.

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Whisk the marinade well, and set aside.

Next, get a fresh chicken.  I always give any meat a good rinse with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.  To keep “raw chicken funk” off of my counter tops and cutting boards, I place the chicken in a large baking dish.  Place the chicken breast-side down in the dish.

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Using kitchen shears or clean household scissors, cut a straight line up the back of the chicken, starting just to the right of the tail.

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It might be difficult to cut all the way through.  Start the cut, and use both hands to press down on the scissor handles, cutting all the way through.

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Continue cutting a straight line up the left side of the tail.

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Finish cutting and remove the backbone from the bird.

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Turn the chicken over, spreading out the sides, placing it in the pan breast-side up.

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Using your hand, apply pressure on the breast bone of the chicken and press down until you hear the breastbone crack, flattening the chicken more.

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Pour the marinade over the bird, covering the breast side of the chicken.

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Turn the chicken over, coating the other side completely. Allow chicken to marinate at room temperature, about 30 minutes.

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While the chicken is marinating, prepare the charcoal grill.

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Oh yeah, look at that baby.  The Weber kettle is the only way to roll…

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Once the coals are mostly grey in color, place them on one side of the grill.

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Toss some fresh charcoal over the hot coals.  Be careful not to smother the fire, but put enough to keep the coals going for a while.

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Place the grill grate over the coals and oil the grill.  Pour some oil on a dry paper towel, and, using tongs, rub the paper towel along the grate.

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Place the marinated chicken, breast side down, on the opposite side of the grill as the hot  coals.

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Place the cover on the grill and cook for 45 minutes.

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After 45 minutes, remove the cover and flip the chicken over.

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Return the cover to the grill and cook another 30-45 minutes, adding new coals if needed. Once the cooking is done, allow the chicken to rest about 10 minutes.

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Serve the chicken however you like. I’ve served it with homemade tortillas, southwestern slaw, and salsa, as a “make your own taco” dinner.

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This night I just threw some extra vegetables on the grill, tossed them with a little vinegar, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled a bit of feta over.  I’m a dark meat kind of girl.  Delicious.

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GRILLED MEXICAN ROADSIDE CHICKEN RECIPE

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • A big pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 1 /2 teaspoons Diamond Krystal kosher salt
  • 1 large chicken, about 3 lbs

Procedure:

1.  Make the marinade.  Place the orange juice, apple cider vinegar, chili powder, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and  salt in a large wet measuring cup.  Whisk to combine, and set the marinade aside.

2. Prepare the chicken.  Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place chicken in a large backing pan, breast-side down.  Using kitchen shears or clean household scissors, cut the backbone out of the chicken, cutting a straight line up either side of the tail.  Turn the chicken over, and apply pressure to the breast bone to flatten the chicken out a bit more.

3.  Stir the marinade once more.  Drizzle about half of the marinade over the top of the chicken, making sure to evenly cover it.  Flip the chicken over and drizzle the remaining marinade, covering the entire bottom side of the chicken. Let the chicken marinate at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

4.  Prepare a charcoal grill.  Once the coals are ready,  pile them up to one side of the grill.  Toss some extra charcoal on top of the hot coals.  Place the grill grate over the coals, and using tongs, oil the grate by rubbing a paper towel soaked with a bit of oil over the grate.

5.  Place the chicken breast side down on the opposite side of the grate from the hot coals.  Place the cover on the grill, and cook for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, flip the chicken over and cook the other side at least 30-45 minutes more.

6.  Remove the chicken from the grill and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

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