2 grilling methods for large roasts

Tips on how to cook big pieces of meat on the barbecue

By David ZimmerDavid Zimmer


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The cottage barbecue is often sadly overlooked when it comes to larger roast-sized cuts. This is a shame: Big cuts spend more time on the barbecue, and so they benefit most from the fantastic flavours only outdoor cooking can achieve.

Cooking with indirect heat

The simplest way to cook large cuts on the cottage barbecue, indirect grilling 
can be achieved on any charcoal grill, or on a gas grill equipped with more than one burner, with the basic idea being to separate the fire from the meat, creating an outdoor oven. A foil pan placed under the grill catches the drippings for gravy lovers and keeps fat off the burner. If your grill lacks a built-in thermometer, place an oven thermometer inside the cooking chamber to gauge your heat.

Gas grill: Preheat one side of the grill or, if you have multiple burners, light only the two outermost ones. Place the meat over the unlit portion of the grill, close the lid, and regulate your heat as desired.

Charcoal grill: Bank the coals in two parallel rows with a drip pan in the middle. Replace the cooking grate and set the meat over the pan. Close the lid, and use 
the air vents to maintain your desired temperature. Add fresh, lit coals, preheated in a chimney starter, after about an hour of cooking.

The rotisserie method

Spit-roasting is by far the most delicious way to cook large cuts. With the meat going round and round on the rotisserie, birds and roasts are self-basting and their flavourful juices stay in the meat, rendering even the easily overdone breasts of chicken or turkey supple and succulent. Best of all, the spit’s rotation ensures even cooking and crispy skin—think pork crackling. It’s a brilliant way to cook.

The only limitation to spit-roasting on gas barbecues is that your grill must have either multiple tube burners, arranged front to back, or a dedicated rotisserie burner mounted at the rear of the cooking chamber, directing heat from the side rather than from below. For charcoal enthusiasts, any grill with a rotisserie set-up can be used. Size is also a constraint. Is the cooking chamber on your grill large enough for that 18-lb turkey? If you need to buy a rotisserie rig, do your best to get one specifically made for your brand of grill; universal models are often poorly constructed and don’t fit well.

Setting up the food

The trick to putting meat on the spit is balance—you 
want the food to be centred so it turns evenly. Birds should be loosely trussed 
so wings and legs don’t flop; roasts tied into a compact shape.

Slip one set of forks on the spit, slide the spit through the meat, then slide 
on the other fork set, pressing them into the meat to hold it firmly in place. Tighten the thumbscrews on the forks with needle-nosed pliers and get your grill ready.

Gas grills: Preheat either the rotisserie burner, or the front and rear burners 
to high. Place a drip pan on top of the cooking grate, directly under the spit. 
(If your payload is really large, you might have to remove the cooking grates entirely and set the drip pan below it.) Mount the spitted meat on the rotisserie and give the motor a test spin; if the balance is off, use the counterweight sometimes supplied with the rig, or attach a pair of Vise-Grips to the spit rod (out-
side of the cooking chamber) to even the load. Add smoke chips as you wish, 
and close the lid.

Charcoal grills: Bank the coals in two parallel rows with the drip pan in between. Balance the spit rod as above, and add smoking chips if you wish. Add fresh, live coals every hour or so to maintain the heat.

Spit-roasting requires very little of the cook. Once the food is spinning on the grill, you are free to relax, and baste as required (or not). When cooking is complete, don’t immediately remove the meat. Instead, shut off the gas (or close the bottom vents on a charcoal grill) and let the meat rest while rotating on the rotisserie; it will ensure the tumbling juices stay inside your dinner. When it’s time to carve, use your needle-nosed pliers to loosen the hot spit forks.

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David Zimmer