The aroma of chicken cooking over hot coals is universally appealing. But any poultry—from a tiny poussin to a hefty turkey—can take on great flavor when cooked on a grill.
Whole birds cook with little fuss over an indirect-heat fire. If you have a grill with a rotisserie attachment, there may be no better way to present a perfectly cooked bird: crisp on the outside and wonderfully juicy on the inside.
Choose a fresh turkey (frozen turkeys tend to have drier meat) that was raised free range and fed organic grain, if possible. Lean ground turkey makes healthful burgers.
Duck is a bit more challenging to grill, because it is rich in flavorful fat that can cause flare-ups. Don't let that deter you; duck's sweet, succulent meat tastes delicious when tinged with a bit of grill smoke. Most duck you buy at the supermarket or from a butcher will be frozen; it should be solidly frozen with no signs of thawing. If fresh, look for smooth skin without discoloration.
Preparing Poultry for Grilling
Remove external fat from poultry, or it will melt and drip into the fire, causing flare-ups. Some cooks remove the skin from chicken before grilling to cut down on fat, but the skin protects the delicate meat, keeping it moist while adding flavor during cooking.
Butterflying poultry helps to put more of the bird into contact with the hot fire. Halved and flattened, the birds come off the rack with juicy meat and plenty of crisp, golden skin. Use a foil-covered brick or cast-iron pan as a weight that rests on the butterflied birds while they cook. This technique holds the flattened poultry uniformly against the grill so it cooks evenly.
Brining ensures moist meat, and is especially suited to some of the traditionally leaner birds such as turkey.
A note on Salmonella: Research has discovered a link between the poultry industry and bacterial contamination, especially from salmonella. While not all poultry is contaminated, it is best to treat raw chicken with the utmost care to avoid potentially serious illness.
Always use separate cutting boards and work surfaces to keep raw chicken juices from coming in contact with foods that are to be eaten raw, such as salads and sauces.
Clean hands, cutting boards, knives, and countertops thoroughly with hot, soapy water after working with poultry to guarantee that bacteria will not contaminate other foods.
Testing Poultry for Doneness
With the exception of duck breasts, cook all poultry to a minimum of 160° to kill bacteria.
To test bone-in poultry cuts for doneness, make an incision near the bone; the meat, except duck breasts, should look opaque with no sign of pink. Duck breasts will be reddish pink. To test boneless cuts for doneness, press on the center of the cut. Perfectly cooked poultry should feel firm and spring back to the touch.
For a more precise method of telling when a bird is done, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone, and follow these temperatures:
Duck breasts: 150° - 155°
Chicken breasts and turkey breasts: 160°
Chicken thighs and turkey thighs: 165° - 170°