I can remember the first time my husband ever said to me, “I’ll grill some chicken tonight!” “Great,” I replied, “How are you going to do it?” His answer? “Oh, this is my special chicken!” And so it goes. From then on out, whenever Jon has said he wants to make his special chicken, we both know exactly what he means – and I look forward to it every time.
Jon likes to keep it simple so the chicken is all juicy and luscious – it really is so good! Basically he packages it up in foil with onions and herbs – and you can find variations of this all over the internet as beggar’s chicken, foil chicken, packet chicken. But with “Jon’s Special Chicken” basics, you won’t need any of those recipes - you can just adapt this to whatever suits your mood or whatever you have on hand. It’s the perfect “no recipe recipe”!
You will need aluminum foil, yellow onion (insisted upon because they’re sweeter than the white onions I usually have on hand), butter, extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper. Oh, and chicken thighs – definitely bone in and skin on for flavor and melty goodness! You can learn how to butcher them from a whole chicken yourself with the help of Chef Jacqueline Meyer.
First, get your grill going. Our small propane tabletop model (thank you, city balcony!) has a temperature gauge on the front. Once preheated, Jon likes to keep it around 350⁰ - kind of in the medium heat range. Keep in mind that the packets will not get turned. So if the grill is too hot, whatever part of the chicken is on the grill side will burn. Plus, if the heat is too high, the chicken will cook too quickly and there won’t be enough time for the fat from the skin to render out. While your grill is heating up, you can prep the chicken.
Tonight we’re doing four chicken thighs, which I’ve brought to room temperature and patted dry.
Tear off a piece of aluminum foil for each piece of chicken – something that will be large enough to make a loose “packet” around each one. I lightly rubbed each chicken thigh with olive oil and placed each one on a piece of foil. Jon likes to place the chicken thighs skin-side up, so I’ve placed two of them that way – the bottom side of the chicken gets a nice little crisp on it since it’s sitting on the grill grate. The other day we were talking through his process and I asked if he had ever done them skin-side down. He said he had not because he likes the idea of the chicken skin rendering a bit down through the chicken – which makes total sense. But we also thought it might be interesting to see how they would turn out trying them that way, so I’ve placed two of the chicken thighs skin-side down. Hmm.. will the skin get nice and crispy? Or will it stick to the foil too much? Oh, we are nothing if not adventuresome!
Jon’s instructions call for a sprinkling of salt, pepper, oregano and rosemary. Each one was then topped with a slice of yellow onion and about half a tablespoon of butter.
Finally, I sealed the packets tightly so no steam escapes. Be sure to leave an air pocket of room inside the packet around the top and sides of the chicken for steam and juices to flow.
Set each packet on the grill and close the lid.
Now set your timer for about 40 minutes and just walk away. Plenty of time to go make some rice and a salad!
When you remove the packets from the grill, they are going to be very hot, so use tongs or an oven mitt. When you open them up, all that pent-up steam will escape quickly so, again, use caution. You may have to peel a bit of the foil off the side of the chicken that was on the grill, but that just means it’s covering crispy yumminess! The onion will have cooked down and the juices can be poured right on the chicken or over rice. So let’s see how the skin-side up vs. skin-side down compare.
To compare, I plated both with the skin-side up. You can see that grilling with the “skin down” (the top piece), the skin got really crispy, with a nice char. As it turned out, removing the foil from the skin side was not any more difficult than removing it from the bottom of Jon’s traditional “skin up” piece. On the more traditional piece (the right-most piece, grilled “skin up”), the bottom had a beautiful char and the edges of the skin had a nice little crisp to them. Also the skin on this piece, while not crispy, was also not “flabby” – we definitely did not feel like we were just chewing on a piece of fat. We liked them both! So really – as with most cooking – follow your heart and go for what you love!
While Jon’s Special Chicken is really good prepared as is, you can add whatever you would like to these packets. Are you in the mood for potatoes? Add cut-up potatoes! Do you have a bunch of zucchini or Summer squash from your garden? Add slices! What about all the tomatoes that are ripening beautifully this month? Add them! You can even vary your spices – maybe a little cumin or Aleppo pepper if you want to spice things up a bit. Just be sure to keep in mind how long the chicken needs to be on the grill and cut your “add-ins” into sizes that won’t get mushy once the chicken is done. And simply enjoy!
If you want to maximize your grilling expertise – and have a ton of fun at the same time – think about taking one of The Chopping Block's grilling classes on our beautiful outdoor grilling patio at Lincoln Square. We'll be grilling into Fall, and you’ll find just about anything to suit your fancy from seafood and shellfish to beef to regionally-focused classes like Argentinian Grill, Italian Surf & Turf and Global Grilling. There’s even a Grilling Boot Camp, which is being offered for the last time this year in August. Go get grilling!