When I was attending school in Boston, I visited a tourist site called Plimouth (Plymouth) plantation. It’s a living village where actors replicate a 17th century Colonial village. The one thing I remember is the Native American exhibit. The Native American lady that was the host at the exhibit was a real Native American. She wasn’t very friendly, even a bit hostile. But most importantly, she had a gigantic turkey roasting over an open fire inside her shelter – and it smelled delicious. Now that I think about it, she may have been hostile, because most of my questions may have revolved around the turkey… rather than the contemporary Native American issues that she wanted to talk about. I just remember that at that moment, I swore an oath to myself, that I was going to cook some kind of poultry over an open fire the next chance I got.
That next chance happened on a scouting campout on Lopez Island in 2005. I was serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster at the time. In my mind, the rotisserie is the culmination of a set of scouting outdoor skills – Fire Building, Cooking, and Lashing. The fire building and lashing are easy compared to the final skill – cooking. On our first attempt, it wasn’t too difficult to lash up a tripod. The fire building was also fairly easy. However, we stayed up until near midnight to get a taste of that bird. And frankly, only about a 1/3 of it was cooked. We ate what we could and threw away most of it.
I’ve since tried building rotisseries on several other campouts since then. One of the problems with trying to cook rotisserie chicken over the open fire is that it’s very difficult to keep the fire at an even consistent temperature. There is usually a peak where the flames are licking skyward, and then it starts to die down into coals.
This year, the Robinson’s joined us on the Korean Branch campout at Ensign ranch, and Adam took the Rotisserie to another level with the hanging adjustable rope. With the adjustable rope, the height of the rotisserie could be adjusted depending on the intensity of the heat.
Unfortunately for the cooking endeavor, we had to put out the fire early to go participate in some church activities. But, the bird was probably about 3/4 cooked, and we got a chance to eat some juicy morsels. The next day, we quartered the bird, wrapped it in some foil and dumped into the coals to finish cooking. It was still quite good, and the whole bird was eaten.
Some learnings for those that might want to try this on their own campout.
1. It probably takes about an hour to find the sticks and lash them into two tripods.
2. You should use natural fiber rope. Otherwise, the rope is just too slippery and it’s hard to keep things together.
3. You can use wire or twine to keep the bird together. If you don’t tie up the bird, the wings and the legs will flop out and likely get too close to the fire, burning them too quickly.
4. It’ll probably take about 3-4 hours to cook the entire bird. If the chicken is too close to the flames, then it will burn the outside without cooking the inside. If the bird is too far, then it will take forever to cook the bird (and it probably won’t get done.) In my experience, this is the “art” part of roasting the bird. It’s difficult to come up with a repeatable formula for this, because there are so many variables – weather, quality of the wood, how big the fire is, etc. However, with the adjustable height rope to hold the rotisserie stick, you have some control over where to set the height.
5. You should rotate the bird about every 10-15 minutes about 90 degrees. If you use a natural fiber rope, it helps to keep a grip on the rotisserie stick and keep it at a certain angle. Tying it up with twine also helps the imbalance. What often happens is that the chicken and stick will naturally rotate until the heaviest side is on the bottom. That is why you want to try and keep the weight as evenly centered as possible.
6. After you’re done cooking the bird, it’s probably best to take some scissors and cut the chicken off of the rotisserie stick. You can cut next to the spine to split the bird open. This way, you don’t have to slip the bird back off the stick – which may be dirty or have bits of raw chicken from when you slipped the chicken on.
Keep in mind, I’ve yet to successfully cook a bird to perfection on a rotisserie. Hopefully, in the next few years as we try this a few more times, I’ll find success… I may even season or brine the bird. My secret hope is that I’ll get re-assigned to be an assistant scoutmaster at church again. Best assignment ever. It’s a great excuse to go camping and do things that you weren’t generally allowed to do when you were a kid. (But, you do have to try and keep the kids from hurting or killing themselves…)
If you’re looking for joining the scouting program as an adult or a youth, you can look up a troop here. I was initially introduced to the scouting program as an adult because I was given this assignment as part of the young men’s program in the LDS church. All young men (12-18) in our church are encouraged to participate in the scouting program for the values and leadership skills that it teaches. Most LDS wards host a scouting troop also, and everyone is welcome.
If you’ve been able fully cook a delicious bird, please feel free to post a comment and leave some tips.
Nice post brother, I like the idea of the “hanging adjustable rope”, will try next chance I have.
For your next attempts, I suggest you try to spatchcock the bird (http://tinyurl.com/spatchicken or google it), or try some type of reflector fire or oven like this (http://tinyurl.com/7vnpadf).
I’m a scoutmaster from Brazil by the way.
Your post makes me very happy. I am Cuban, living in England Oxford for the last 10 years. I am going camping soon with a friend, no males, just mums and boys and we will be trying to cook a chicken with your tips, thank you! I let you know if we manage to eat that day! je je je
ps: we will have a fish and chips (as you do when you are proper English) plan B on hand just in case!