Why This Recipe Works: In the coastal region of Sinaloa, chickens are split in half; marinated with bitter orange, garlic, and herbs; and slow-roasted over smoky embers. We wanted a foolproof way to bring all the flavor of this dish to the American home kitchen. We first tried marinating the chicken with an orange juice–garlic mixture, but the results proved lackluster. After several tests, we discovered that the best way to ramp up the flavor of the marinade was to swap fresh orange juice for frozen orange juice concentrate. To help the marinade thoroughly penetrate the chicken, we scored the meat with a knife before marinating it for at least 2 hours. Butterflying, halving, and skewering the chicken allowed it to hold its shape and made it easier to maneuver on the grill. To further boost the chicken’s flavor and help keep the meat moist, we reserved a little less than a cup of the marinade to baste the chicken during grilling. Oregano, thyme, and chipotle chile in adobo rounded out the flavor of our basting liquid. The sugars in the marinade and the basting liquid caramelized to produce a crisp, well-charred exterior. Adding a wood chip packet to the grill infused the chicken with savory, smoky flavor. A squeeze of lime juice perfectly complemented the bold, smoky, earthy flavors in the chicken.
You will need four 12-inch metal skewers for this recipe. If you’d like to use wood chunks instead of wood chips when using a charcoal grill, substitute 1 medium wood chunk, soaked in water for 1 hour, for the wood chip packet.
2 (3 1/2‐ to 4‐pound) whole chickens, giblets discarded
2 onions, chopped
1 (12‐ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup extra‐virgin olive oil
2 garlic heads, cloves separated and peeled (20 cloves)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 1/2 cups wood chips
1. With chickens breast side down, use kitchen shears to cut out backbone and butterfly chicken.
Flip chickens over and split chickens in half lengthwise through breastbones using chef’s knife.
Cut 1/2-inch-deep slits across breasts, thighs, and legs, about 1/2 inch apart.
Tuck wingtips behind backs.
2. Blend onions, orange juice concentrate, oil, garlic, and 2 tablespoons salt in blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer 3/4 cup mixture to bowl and stir in oregano, thyme, and chipotle; set aside for grilling. Divide remaining marinade among two 1-gallon zipper-lock bags. Add chickens to bags and toss to coat.
Press out as much air as possible, seal bags, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, flipping occasionally.
3. Just before grilling, soak wood chips in water for 15 minutes, then drain. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top. Remove chickens from marinade and pat dry with paper towels; discard marinade. Insert 1 skewer lengthwise through thickest part of breast down through thigh of each chicken half.
4a. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into steeply banked pile against side of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.
4b. FOR A GAS GRILL: Remove cooking grate and place wood chip packet directly on primary burner. Set grate in place, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature between 350 to 375 degrees.)
5. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken halves skin side up on cooler side of grill with legs pointing toward fire.
Cover and cook for 45 minutes, basting every 15 minutes with reserved marinade.
6. Switch placement of chickens, with legs still pointing toward fire, and continue to cook, covered, until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with lime wedges.
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