Chicken Under a Brick
I first had this dish in 2013 or 2014, when our farm hosted the annual benefit dinner for Boyne City Farmers Market. At the grill was chef Paul Ramey. (He's currently heading up Grain Train's new Market Cafe in Petoskey.)
What I knew then was that it tasted really good.
What I know now is that chicken prepared in this way cooks in about a third of the time a whole chicken would. And that extra step of brining the meat beforehand? It makes for a way more forgiving grilling experience. If you've ever been sad you turned an expensive piece of meat into blackened cardboard, you'll know what I mean about that.
Here it is in a nutshell: brine the chicken for a few hours. When you remove the chicken from the brine, cut the backbone out with a pair of scissors. (It's way easier than it sounds.) Flatten the chicken out, dry off the meat the best you can, and throw it onto the grill breast-side down. This part sears the meat and makes nice grill marks.
After a few minutes, grab a pair of tongs and flip the chicken over. The ribs-side will be facing down now. At the ready, have a hot cast iron skillet. You can pre-heat it on the grill, or use the stove if you prefer. Now set the bottom of this hot skillet down, right on top of the chicken.
And I know it seems strange, but now you're going to put a nice softball-sized rock down in the middle of the skillet.
As the recipe name implies, you could also use an actual brick. Either way, the added weight from the rock plus the contact of the hot skillet that's pressing down on the meat will speed the cooking process. You're left with meat that has the character of being grilled, while also being evenly and quickly prepared. Chicken under a brick.
1 whole pasture-raised chicken, about 4 pounds
3 heaping tablespoons fine-grind sea salt
2 heaping tablespoons sugar
a cast-iron skillet
a clean softball-sized rock or brick
Dissolve the salt and sugar in water. You want enough water to cover the chicken in a pot or a dish that will fit in your fridge. I like to thaw the chicken in a pot of brine. A couple or few hours is usually good, but this brine is weak enough that you can leave a chicken in it overnight, or even longer if you need to.
If you're conscious about sugar consumption, know the sugar isn't going to penetrate the meat. It's just there to promote more even browning on the surface. How's that? Sugar molecules are much larger than salt molecules. The salt does enter the meat, but the sugar stays outside and helps promote nice, even browning. It's called the Maillard Reaction, and it's delicious.
As I mentioned above, you'll be scissoring the backbone out of the brined chicken. It also helps to make a scissors snip on the ribs side of the chicken's breastbone. This part is optional, but it does help the meat to lay flat on the grill.
Blot the chicken dry with some paper towels. This also helps with browning.
Start with a pre-heated, hot hot grill. Remember, the chicken goes breast-down first. You'll leave it on this side for maybe 5 or 7 minutes.
When you flip the chicken over to the ribs-side, also lower the grill temperature to medium. It will take approximately 20 minutes on this side before the chicken is done. Unless you're a chicken grilling maestro, do use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. You're going for an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the thigh.