Grilled Butterflied Brown Sugar Chicken

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As much as I love a whole roast chicken any time of the year, grilled chicken is a must in the summer.  Many recipes direct you to grill chicken pieces separately, but by taking a few extra steps, this whole chicken method will ensure that the entire chicken is moist and juicy.  There will not be any dried-out chicken breasts or underdone chicken legs and thighs to pop your grilled chicken yummy balloon.  

The concept of butterflying meat may sound intimidating, but it really couldn't be easier once you become comfortable with the technique.  Simply remove the backbone using a pair of sharp kitchen scissors, then flatten the chicken to a uniform thickness.  This helps the chicken pieces to cook evenly.  To make sure that the white and dark meat finish cooking at the same time, the grill is prepared for indirect heat. This requires that one side of the grill is hot and the other side is cool.  Placing the chicken on the cool side of the grill with the legs closest to the hot side enables the chicken to cook at a lower heat, resulting in a moist, juicy, and perfectly cooked chicken.  As the browning bird reaches its final minutes on the grill, it is brushed with a sticky, sweet, buttery brown sugar sauce that becomes lightly caramelized before removing from the grill.  The smell is an honest precursor to the taste.  Trust me on this, you will love it. 

*Note-- When turning the butterflied chicken I use a large round "cake" spatula on the underside and another spatula on the top side before flipping.  This helps keep the tender meat of the entire chicken intact.  If you don't have a large round "cake" spatula, use the largest spatulas you have on hand.  Do not use tongs or forks for this will cause the skin, meat, and bones to separate/tear and moistness to be lost.

Printable Recipe

Grilled Butterflied Brown Sugar Chicken
serves 4-6

1 (3 1/2 - 4 pound) whole chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola Oil
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons apricot jam
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground paprika

Using a pair of kitchen scissors, remove the backbone from the chicken and trim any excess fat or skin from the cavity.  Turn the chicken skin side up and press the breastbone with the heel of your hand to flatten the chicken.  Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and use a meat mallet to lightly pound the breast to the same thickness as the legs and thighs.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and transfer to a rack set over a baking sheet.  Refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice, jam, mustard, and paprika.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick.  Transfer half of the sauce to a small bowl for basting and keep the remaining sauce warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Prepare a charcoal grill using a chimney starter and lump hardwood coals. Spread the hot coals on one side of the grill bottom (indirect heat) and place an aluminum drip pan opposite the coals.  Cover the grill, open the vents, and allow the grates to heat until hot, about 5 minutes.

Brush the skin of the chicken with the canola oil and season both sides with  with salt and pepper.  Clean and oil the grill grates.  Place the chicken skin side down over the drip pan with the chicken legs closer to the hotter side of the grill.  Cover the grill and cook until skin is lightly browned, about 30-35 minutes.  Using a basting brush, brush the flesh side of the chicken with some of the sauce.  Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.  Carefully turn the chicken skin side up and brush the entire chicken with more sauce.  Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn the chicken skin side down and gently slide the chicken directly over the coals to cook for another 5-10 minutes; checking to make sure that the sauce isn't caramelizing to quickly.  If so, move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill.  Cook until the breasts registers 150º F and the thighs register 160º F. (The temperature will continue to rise as the chicken rests).  Transfer the chicken to a carving board, brush with additional sauce, and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the reserved warm sauce.  Enjoy!

Source: The Galley Gourmet


  1. I make grilled chicken at least once a week in the summer. Thanks for the tip on flipping the butterflied chicken. It does tend to fall apart. That'll help!

  2. What time is dinner? :)

  3. You did it again! Got me ready to run to the grocery store for a chicken!! Thanks Nicole, this sounds just amazing and you make everything seem so easy!!!

  4. I can't wait to try this recipe. What a nice change. Love the spatula tip, too. Thanks!

  5. One question - I was wondering what does the refrigeration for one or more hours do? The answer is probably very logical but I still can't figure it out.

  6. Chris,
    Placing the chicken in the refrigerator uncovered for a period of time does two things. It creates a dry skin that will help prevent the skin from sticking to the grill Also, if it is left in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight, this draws more moisture from the bird which intensifies the flavor-- kind of like a quick dry age.

  7. We butterfly chickens a lot and cook them on the grill. I can't wait to try this sauce! We even butterflied our turkey for Thanksgiving and it was the best turkey we've ever cooked!

  8. Jamie-
    Mmm-- butterflied turkey. It might be time for a little Thanksgiving/Christmas in July:)

  9. AnonymousJuly 14, 2011

    Gorgeous! This is what I'm making tonight!

  10. You have wonderful blog! I like when people can come up with a nice article, personal appenion, royal quality photographs and the most important - charm! Well you have it excess

  11. Hi

    Is there another way I can cook this chicken, I do not have a grill.

  12. Jackie-
    You can certainly try this method. Heat some oil in a large cast iron skillet. Add the chicken skin side down and place a heavy pot or weight on top of the chicken to help it cook evenly. Cook the chicken for 10-15 minutes. Remove the pot, flip the chicken skin side up and replace the pot/weight. Continue to cook for 10-15 minutes. Preheat the broiler. Remove the pot/weight and brush the chicken with the brown sugar glaze. Place under the broiler and cook until the glaze has caramelized. Remove from the broiler, brush with additional glaze and allow the chicken to rest before carving.

  13. In Israel we take out all the bones from the chicken body, you can ask your butcher to do so ot do it yourself, it doesn't have to be that nicely removed because you spread it later on the grill and it all becomes "one piece".


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