Grilled chicken with lemon, herbs, and sumac recipe the meatwave

If you follow the Meatwave, you know by know that I don’t hold back at my cookouts. Each one I host is an excuse to make as many new recipes as possible, usually outputting six to eight unique dishes each time. Guests, understandably, want to a try a little of everything, which keeps me focused on items that can be consumed, or at least divided up into, in small sampling portions. For that reason, dishes that can’t be made smaller often don’t make the menu, and even if they do, I know going in they may not get eaten because the increased stomach space they require make them undesirable within the larger feast. So it was with some reservation that I decided to throw this whole chicken with herbs, lemon, and sumac into an already overcrowded menu, but then realized I was onto something good when the entire plate disappeared.

This recipe was really fueled by a number of ingredients I had on hand for Middle Eastern-themed feast. I had the idea for this chicken recipe awhile ago, and it just seemed like good timing to make use things I was already picking up primarily for other dishes. The seasoning was a mixture of herbs—parsley, thyme, and mint to be exact—lemon, garlic, oil, red pepper flakes, and the wonderfully tart and lemony sumac.

I decided it would be easiest to cook this chicken mostly whole, but did butterfly it and split it down the breastbone. The butterflying aids in even cooking by creating a relatively flat specimen. Splitting the bird into two was for ease of handling—moving two smaller halves is less cumbersome than trying to flip and move around a whole chicken.

Once butchered, I threaded two skewers through each chicken half, securing the dark and white meat together—another trick to make it easier to work with on the grill. I then spooned on the seasoning and used my hands to distribute it as evenly as possible across the service of the bird. I then let the chicken sit in the fridge for a few hours until it was time to cook.

To get the exterior to its ideal state, I flipped the chicken halves over and moved them directly over the coals—which were now outputting a medium heat after the 30-40 minutes of roasting. I kept the bird there, peaking at the skin often to avoid burning, until the color darkened and skin felt more tight and a little crisp. Once it got there, I took the temperature in the breast again, which was at my 150°F target. So I removed the chicken from the grill and let it rest for a bit before slicing and serving.

I piled all the beautifully browned pieces of chicken onto an platter and set it out. I grabbed my preferred thigh and dug into what was one incredibly tasty and juicy bird. The skin was awash with flavor and texture, from the bright citrus tang to the crunchy and concentrated herbal crust to the crisp-tender and fatty, but not overly so, so skin. This all gave way to meat that picked up a faint smokiness and retained all its moisture, mostly thanks to a watchful eye on the internal temperature and pulling it off the grill a little earlier than most folks may be inclined to. This chicken was kind of an afterthought in the overall menu, but ended up being a real star that was fully consumed. That was no small feat knowing that partaking in a larger sized item such as this meant potentially less room for other things during the day, something my guests aren’t apt to do unless it’s truly worth it.

• Place chicken halves, skin side up, on a cutting board and run two skewers parallel to each other through the legs and the breasts of each piece. Transfer chicken to a container and spoon on marinade. Using hands, rub marinade over all surfaces of the chicken. Cover container and transfer to refrigerator. Allow chicken to marinate 2 hours to overnight.

• Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place chicken halves on cool side of grill, cover, and cook, until an instant read thermometer reads 145°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, about 45 minutes.

• Flip chicken over and move to hot side of the grill. Cook until skin crisps and lightly chars, but does not burn. Flip chicken over and move too cool side of grill. Insert an instant read thermometer into thickest part of brest and if temperature reads less than 150°F cover grill and continue to cook until chicken reaches temperature. Once at 150°F, transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove skewers, cut chicken into individual pieces, and serve immediately.