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Recipe courtesy of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint

Chicken on a String

  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 3 hr (includes fire building and resting time)
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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1 whole fryer chicken, about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds (no larger!)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


8 lemons, halved 


  1. Rub the chicken with the oil and season liberally with salt, pepper and paprika. Set aside.
  2. Start a fire in your fireplace with a generous amount of seasoned hardwood firewood, such as oak or hickory. You want the wood to burn for quite some time before cooking the chicken, at least an hour, in order to develop a deep core of glowing embers at the base of the fire. These embers supply all the heat; without them, you won't have enough heat to cook the chicken. As the wood burns and pieces fall to the bottom and burn as embers, add fresh wood on top to keep a big blaze going. It should be uncomfortably hot about a foot in front of the fire.
  3. Truss the seasoned chicken with a long length of kitchen twine.
  4. When the fire is nice and hot with a core of hot red embers, once again salt the chicken generously on all surfaces and then hang the chicken. You can use any sturdy hook or screw secured to the fireplace mantel or other solid structure above the fireplace. Wrap the twine tightly around the hook and tie tightly so it doesn't slip. It helps to have someone hold and support the chicken while you tie the twine to the hook. You want the chicken to hang several inches off the ground so that it is directly in front of the middle of the fire, where most of the heat is. Put a heatproof drip pan under the chicken to catch drippings.
  5. Gently spin the chicken so that it rotates in front of the fire. This acts as a rotisserie so all surfaces cook evenly. The chicken should spin slowly back and forth on its own for some time due to the heat. Periodically, if you see the chicken has stopped spinning, give it a gentle twist to set it in motion again. The chicken should spin slowly throughout the cooking time.
  6. Every 10 to 15 minutes, squeeze the juice of a half lemon over the chicken.
  7. Continue adding wood to the top or back of the fire as needed to keep a hot blaze going with a deep core of red embers at the bottom.
  8. After about an hour, depending on the size of the chicken, start testing for doneness with a meat thermometer inserted into the breast or inner thigh (but not against the bone). The chicken is done when it reaches an interior temperature 160 degrees F, about 1 1/2 hours in my experience, but this will vary depending on your fire and the size of the chicken. Lift the chicken in a dish and cut the twine to remove it. Let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to rise another 5 degrees or so.
  9. Remove the twine, carve and serve.

Cook’s Note

You can also make this recipe in a 350-degree F oven. Cook the same way as you would in the fireplace, basting periodically.