September 08, 2023

Summer Outdoor Chicken Dinner & Dessert

Summer Outdoor Chicken Dinner & Dessert

Roasting Chicken in 109ºF Weather

I wanted to test using our Garlic and Lemon olive oils for roasting chicken to see how much flavor these two oils would add with only the addition of salt and pepper. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures topping 109°F, so heating our oven for roasting wasn't a good choice. As an alternative I used our modest charcoal grill with wood from our retired French Prune orchard, and experience told me that temperature control would be difficult. Our fruit wood gets very hot at first, however, if I wait for it to get to the right temperature it doesn’t stay there long enough to roast a whole chicken, and I don’t have an adjustable height grate. I had to find another way to control the heat.  

Temperature Control at the Grill

I found that using a heavy cast iron pan is the perfect tool to regulate the intense heat from the wood coals. Once I spread the coals and attached the fixed-height grate I placed our well seasoned 12" cast iron pan directly on it and let it get hot. I put the chicken into the pan skin side up and it sizzled nicely, starting to char a little on the sides but not burn. I closed the lid and the temperature rose to 450°F, which is the recommended upper limit for high heat cooking with olive oil. To regulate the temperature I raised the lid a few times, however, the heat eventually evened out and I could keep the lid closed. It took about 40 minutes to get a nice golden crispy skin on the top without having to turn the chicken at all. Toward the end of the cooking time the temp started to come down and by then the meat was perfectly cooked without any burning.  

Half chicken in a 12" cast iron pan, on an outdoor grill


Fresh summer squash, okra, and leftover spiced saffron basmati rice in a 12" cast iron skillet on an outdoor grill

When I took the bird out of the pan I didn’t want to waste any residual heat, so added some Arbequina EVOO, freshly steamed summer squash and okra, and leftover saffron rice from the night before. The more moderate heat was enough to give the rice a nice bottom crust and caramelize the veg as well as pick up a bit of flavor from the chicken which proceeded it.

Two peach halves glistening in dinner's pan drippings while being roasted in a 12" cast iron skillet

The pan was still hot, so once I removed the rice and vegetables I halved a peach and added butter and brown sugar to that same pan. I placed them cut side down and let them roast in the now gentle heat of the grill with the cover down. We served that with some whipped cream after the meal.

Dinner for 2:  a Hhalf chicken, veggies and rice on a serving plateGrilled peach half with whipped cream on a Deruta style ceramic plate

The chicken, rice, and veggies with roasted peaches for dessert made a quick, easy, and economical dinner. 

Preparing the Chicken

Two days before cooking the chicken, spatchcock then divide it into two halves; one half was enough for the both of us, and I saved the other half for another day. Drizzle a 1/4 cup each of Roasted Garlic and Lemon Olive Oils onto the chicken covering both sides. Sprinkled some salt and pepper on both sides and store the chicken in the fridge uncovered in the meat compartment to let the skin dry.  This helps the skin get nice and crispy.  

Results & Recommendations

The results were very tasty, however, the garlic and lemon flavor didn’t come through as strongly I had hoped. Although these oils performed well from a cooking point of view in terms of standing up to the heat, I would have done just as well using a regular EVOO with salt and pepper, then used garlic and lemon as finishing oils to achieve the flavor intensity I was looking for. Lucero Arbequina, Picual, or Coratina EVOOs are ideally suited for this sort of cooking. I still use the garlic and lemon olive oils in our kitchen, however, for temperatures under 450ºF.  [The lemon olive oil poured over pan fried halibut filets just before serving is delicious!]

Variations for beyond lemon and garlic: 

  1. Rub the bird with olive oil and fresh herbs like chopped rosemary and sage at the beginning of the drying period and let that be the primary flavor,
  2. or use Whiskey Oak Smoked Pork & Poultry Seasoning instead of fresh herbs for  heightened smoky flavor,
  3. or substitute Whiskey Oak Smoked Salt for regular sea salt and skip the Poultry and Pork seasoning. 

I enjoyed figuring out how to optimize my modest set up; yours will be different, and perhaps you have a full outdoor kitchen. Either modest or deluxe, I hope you've had a chance to cook outside this season. 

Happy cooking!

- Donald