Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

For barbecue season and July 4, grill a whole spiced chicken - without the seasoning sliding off

A grilled whole chicken that's deeply and perfectly browned yet still juicy can be hard to pull off at home. But a couple easy tricks ensure success for your Fourth of July barbecue.
This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for Iraqi spice-crusted grilled chicken served over warmed flatbread. (Milk Street via AP)

A grilled whole chicken that's deeply and perfectly browned yet still juicy can be hard to pull off at home. But a couple easy tricks ensure success for your Fourth of July barbecue.

First, we spatchcock the bird, which involves cutting out the backbone of a whole chicken and pressing down on the breast bone to flatten it. This puts the dark and light meat on the same plane, so they finish cooking at the same time.

Second, we maximize the flavor of the spices by rubbing them under and over the skin. That’s because while chicken skin can be a good thing — it reduces moisture loss during cooking by drip and evaporation— it also can make it hard for seasoning and meat to meld. Applying them under the skin helps them stay in place and have direct contact with the meat for more impactful flavor.

The flavoring for this dish, from our book “The New Rules,” which rethinks familiar dishes to change the way you cook, is based on an Iraqi spice-rubbed chicken. To save time, we shorten the long list of spices that make up the traditional rub by reaching for both curry powder and garam masala, two Indian seasoning blends that add up to about a dozen different spices. Ground sumac in the rub lends the chicken earthy, citrusy notes and, along with the paprika, a deep, brick-red hue.

The bird cooks in under an hour and is rich and complexly flavored, with smokiness from the grill. Just don’t forget to open the grill vents, both on the bottom of the grill and on the lid, if you’re using charcoal. This allows airflow so the fire does not extinguish during the covered cooking time.

Serve with basmati rice or warmed flatbread.

Iraqi Spice-Crusted Grilled Chicken

Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (1 hour active), plus resting

Servings: 4

2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 medium garlic cloves, grated

1 tablespoon ground sumac

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds

Lemon wedges, to serve

In a small skillet over low, combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and sizzling, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, stir together the sumac, coriander, curry powder, garam masala, paprika, cumin, cardamom, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture to the garlic oil and stir to form a paste.

Place the chicken skin side up on a cutting board. Using sturdy kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone, from top to bottom; remove and discard the backbone (or save to make broth). Open up the chicken, then turn it skin up. Use the heel of your hands to press down firmly on the thickest part of the breast until the wishbone snaps. Loosen the skin over the chicken’s breasts and thighs by gently working your fingers between the skin and the flesh. Using your fingers, evenly distribute the garlic-spice paste under the skin and rub it into the flesh. Sprinkle the remaining spice mixture evenly on both sides of the chicken, patting gently to help it adhere. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for about 45 minutes.

Prepare a grill for high-heat cooking. For a charcoal grill, spread a large chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents and the lid vent. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate.

If using a gas grill, leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burners. Set the chicken skin up on the cooler side of the grill, legs facing the heat. Cover and cook for 25 minutes.

Using tongs, rotate the chicken to bring the breast side closest to the heat. Cover and cook until the thickest part of the breast reaches 160°F and the thighs reach 175°F, another 25 to 35 minutes.

Brush the skin of the chicken with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Using tongs and a wide spatula, flip the chicken skin down onto the hot side of the grill. Cook until the skin is lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer skin up to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve with lemon wedges.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press