Low and slow grilled chicken

Bigger birds of today require indirect heat

Grilled chicken

Low and slow chicken cooked on the grill. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / July 7, 2014)

Chicken on a bedspring. The only summer camp meal I care to remember. The novelty of utilizing the metal bedsprings as a rack over the fire redeemed a nasty week of mosquito bites and homesick blues.

The aroma and flavors from cooking over hardwood shifted something in me — summer will forever be tied to wood-cooked chicken.

There was a time when I could grill a half-chicken in 30 minutes. Faster than a round trip to the local takeout store.

I haven't lost my touch. Chickens have simply gotten so much bigger that my timing is off.

The majority of chickens in North America are raised for either meat or eggs. We used to see them in the market labeled broiler/fryers, weighing between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds. I regularly split these small birds down the back to grill to juicy tenderness in a half-hour. A few markets still stock this size bird, and I can order them from my local butcher.

But today, roaster chickens more commonly occupy the meat case. Weighing in at 5-plus pounds, these behemoths take more time and finesse to cook through without drying. (Note that cut-up parts from these birds are bigger too; therefore, timing in older recipes needs adjusting.)

This summer I decided to make my favorite lemon-and-herb-grilled half-chicken recipe with these readily available roasting chickens.

Because of their size and the amount of meat on the breast, I turned the heat down on the grill and turned up the patience. Indirect cooking on a covered grill proves the ticket to success.

By the way, I always cook two chickens; the only incremental time needed is to cut the chickens and herbs. Extra chicken transforms into sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes and soup garnishes all week long. Grilled chicken also can be frozen for an easy, smoky treat later in the summer.

Of course, the chicken can be cooked in a 325-degree oven for about the same amount of time. You'll just be missing smoke flavor and perhaps a little of the romance of summer, including the mosquitoes.

Grill-roasted chicken with lemon and herbs

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

If you're cooking with a gas grill, soak a few handfuls of wood chips in water and then wrap loosely in foil and place over the heat to create a smoky environment inside.

1 whole chicken, about 5 to 5 1/2 pounds

2 lemons

2 to 4 large sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped, thick stems reserved

1/3 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, tarragon (or, better yet, a combination)

2 to 3 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt

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