Wednesday May 22, 2013 | 05:30 AM

Roasting a whole chicken on the barbecue grill is more of an art than you’d think. Type of charcoal, “roasting” temperature and preparation of the chicken are all important factors to consider.

I like to use a mixture of hardwood briquettes and real hardwood charcoal.  Trader Joe’s sells excellent long-burning high-heat briquettes for $7.99 for 18 pounds and Whole Foods has a relatively inexpensive brand of natural hardwood charcoal, 8 pounds for 6.99.  I mix up the two charcoal styles in equal batches.

This 4 1/2 pound bird is a heritage Freedom Ranger raised by Frith Farm in Scarborough; let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before barbecuing

For the chicken, get the best you can whether organic; free range, or a good all-natural chicken.  A good size is anywhere from 3 ½ to 5 pounds. The chicken I used the other day was from Frith Farm, a grower from Scarborough raising of heritage Freedom Ranger, which is available at his stand at the Wednesday Monument Square farmer’s market.

To prepare, clean out the chicken, season generously with salt and pepper and stuff the cavity with a whole lemon pricked all over with a fork.  Under the skin covering the breast meat insert slivers of garlic and a bunch of tarragon leaves for each breast.  Season the inside and out very generously with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.  Tie up the legs with string to cover the opening of the cavity as much as you can and stuff it with some aluminum foil so the juices don’t run out. 

Rub the chicken all over with olive or canola oil. 

The chicken is studded with cloves and tarragon, stuffed with a lemon, trussed witth string, seasoned and rubbed with oil, ready for barbecue-roasting

If using a charcoal grill prepare the fire by letting the coals burn until glowing and white ash forms.  You want high heat.  Put your hand over the heat and if it’s hot enough to keep over the heat for only a second or two you’re at the right temperature. If using a gas grill preheat to high, then lower the temperature on one side so you have two roasting temperatures at your disposal. 

This combination of charcoal is a perfect mix: the natural hardwood from Whole Foods burns very hot and fast while the hardwood briquettes from Trader Joe's burns more slowly--together they work well

At this point you can add some smoking wood like hickory, apple or sugar maple. Put the chicken over the direct heat. Some grill cooks like to use an indirect heat method where you put the chicken away from the heat. I like to start it off hot and move it to the side if the flames flare up. You don’t have to worry about the bottom of the chicken scorching because you’re not serving meat from the back.  And there’s no need to turn the chicken, just cover the grill and let it roast at about 400 to 450 degrees for at least an hour, checking the chicken periodically, especially in the beginning to make sure there are no flare ups and moving it around to cooler parts of the grill if necessary.  An instant-read thermometer should read 165 degrees for breast meat.  

Ready for roasting over charcoal and hickory; covered, the temperature will remain steady between 400 and 450 degrees; it will take about an hour to roast

Remove to a carving board and let rest, under a dome of foil for about 5 minutes before carving.  The meat will be moist and have that inimitable smoked flavor

Straight off the grill, the chicken has  deepenened to a beautiful mahogany, glistening and rich

The chicken carved easily having been roasted under very high heat for a short period--and it still remained very juicy

The perfect spring dinner: barbecue-roasted chicken (breast) flavored with lemon, garlic and tarragon; grilled asparagus, finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice; and parboiled fingerling potatoes, finished off on the grill until crispy then put into a hot saute pan with olive oil, smashed and mixed with snipped  rosemary leaves, cooked until the potato flesh becomes somewhat crispy.
 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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