Wood-Roasted Chicken recipe

A sample recipe from Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook by Louis Lambert ’81 and June Naylor ’79

Wood-Roasted Chicken recipe

Wood-Roasted Chicken with Mexican Chocolate Chile Rub by chef Louis Lambert '81 (Photo by Ralph Lauer)

Wood-Roasted Chicken recipe

A sample recipe from Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook by Louis Lambert ’81 and June Naylor ’79

Wood-Roasted Chicken
with Mexican Chocolate Chile Rub

(from Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook)

The best way to barbecue a chicken is to hot smoke, or wood roast, the bird over an indirect fire. I have grilled a lot of chickens directly over both wood and coal fires, and invariably the skin burns and tears before the chicken is fully cooked, especially if it has been seasoned with a rub with any sugar in it. The rub on this chicken is a classic combination of brown sugar and chile powder with an undertone of Mexican chocolate. The wood smoke and rub come together to give the chicken a wonderfully unique flavor and crispy skin. Serve this chicken with a bowl of your favorite barbecue sauce.


2 (3 to 3½-pound) whole chickens
¼ cup finely grated Mexican chocolate
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano


Thoroughly wash the chickens under cold running water and pat the birds dry with paper towels. Remove the chickens’ backbones and then split the center of each breastbone with a short whack of your knife—you only want to cut about halfway through the breastbone. Turn the birds over, skin side up, and flatten with the palm of your hand.

To make the spice rub, in a small bowl, stir together the chocolate, chili powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and oregano. Generously coat both sides of the chickens with the spice rub. I like to season the chickens with the rub about 30 minutes before I roast them to give the rub a chance to start flavoring the birds; that’s about the time it takes to get your fire ready to cook.

Set up your grill or smoker as you would for hot smoking, with the fire to one side of the firebox. Because of the sugar in the rub and the long cooking time, the chickens should not be cooked directly over the live coals. Your fire can be built from charcoal briquettes or wood; either way, let the fire burn until you have a good bed of coals. The grill or smoker should be between 300 and 325 degrees. Place the chickens on the grill, skin side up, on the opposite side of the grill from the fire. If I am using charcoal briquettes, I will place a couple of small chunks of hardwood that I have soaked in water on the coals to impart some wood-smoked flavor.

Roast the chickens until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle of the thighs reaches 165 degrees, about 1 hour, adding charcoal or wood to the fire as needed to keep the temperature at 300 to 325 degrees. If you’re using a grill, you will need to rotate the chickens a couple of times so that they cook evenly. Once the birds come off the fire, let them rest for at least 15 minutes before carving them into pieces (legs, thighs, wings, and breast halves) and serving.

Related story:
Home grown — Chef Louis Lambert ’81 celebrates his ranching roots in new cookbook co-written with June Naylor ’79.

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