Hello my darlings! Today I am thrilled to share a guest photographer, my dear friend Hannah Wahl. Labor Day weekend we enjoyed a foursome camping trip with Hannah and her fiance, Will, at gorgeous Baker Lake. It was the perfect final getaway of the summer, complete with breathtaking mountain views, a milky blue alpine lake, massive, mossy trees, copious amounts of good food and good company, even an impromptu raft adventure. Our two friends brought an entire chicken to spit roast over the fire, which inspired me to feature Hannah’s gorgeous photography along with Will’s recipe for the chicken. To that end, please enjoy our interview style conversation below (with my notes in italics). May it be an inspiration to future camping expeditions!
Q. Tell me a little bit about your philosophy as a camper.
A. Always remember the #1 rule of camping: “We’re roughin’ it.” My dad always said this when I was a kid, and while it annoyed me then, it becomes truer and truer every time I go camping. Roughin’ it means, you only bring what you absolutely need, you use what you have, and when you don’t have what you need, you improvise. Forgot to bring your spatula? Roughin’ it means using a wide, flat splinter of chopped firewood to flip those late-morning eggs.
Q. How did you become inspired to try roasting a full chicken?
A. Recognizing our busy lives and lack of time, we planned to buy a roast chicken at the local grocery instead of cooking it at home. But we were also planning to go camping that weekend. Then, as some time magically happens, two great plans merged together and we determined to roast our own damn chicken in the great outdoors.
Q. So what are the magic ingredients, and what kind of prep work do you need?
A. Well there are 2 most important ingredients: a whole chicken, and a stick.
1. You want a medium-to-small chicken, ideally under 5 pounds, which can be hard to find in this day and age when even the free-range, grass-fed, local all natural chicken farmers out there are trying to compete with the hormone-injected behemoths from the likes of Tyson. What I’m saying is, you’ll find a lot of big-ass chickens before you find a cute little guy that will cook faster and not leave an excess of leftovers.
2. The stick may be the single most important component of this recipe. This stick will allow the bird to rotate freely above the coals, giving it in death a flight it never knew in life. There are several vital stick properties: it must be as straight as possible, it must be strong enough to hold the weight of the bird and endure the heat of the flames without bending or breaking, and it must have at least two branches coming off of it, near each other in the middle.
You need a stick like this —>—. Such a stick may require a vision quest to find – into the depths of the forest, and into the depths of own soul.
Saw the stick off to around 3 feet long, with the branches right in the middle. Strip off all the bark and whittle it down a little so it is nice and smooth. Whittle down the branches into sharp points about 4 inches long.
Q. Once you are at the campsite, what is your method for the chicken?
A. Once you’ve prepared your stick, slide that thing right into the chicken’s (ahem, censored version) cavity, with the sharply whittled points away from the chicken’s body (sliding the chicken from right to left using the stick “diagram” above). Shove that thing as far in there as you can, so the points disappear inside the bird’s body cavity. Then, squeeze it a little bit and reverse the direction of the stick, pulling it back and hooking the sharp points on the inside of the body cavity. From now on, the stick will be stuck in the chicken, and they will turn as one above the coals.
Q. So once it’s on the spit, what then?
A. Get some spice rub all over that bird. I used chile powder, cumin, thyme, salt and pepper, but that’s anyone’s game. What ever kind of spices you use, just make sure to rub that good stuff all over the skin, in all the nooks and crannies, and if you still have some remaining, get it up inside the body cavity.
By this time you should have a nice bed of hot coals going. I like to make a square with 4 largish logs, flat side inwards, and build a bed of coals inside the square with much smaller, faster-burning pieces of wood.
Set the chicken-on-the-spit over the fire, close enough so it can really feel the heat. If you’re at a campsite with a metal fire pit, set up your spit by resting the ends of your stick on top of the sides of the metal pit. If you’re roughin’ it in the wilds, you’ll have to improvise with rocks, sticks and moose carcasses.
With the chicken hovering above the coals, safely impaled on the stick, that sucker is gonna need to cook for a couple of hours or so. During this time, be attentive and caring of the bird. Rotate it regularly so all sides are cooked evenly. After every rotation, pour out a little beer onto the top side that has just been rotated out of the heat. This will cool down the outside to prevent the skin from scorching, while also keeping the bird moist. Spin and pour, spin and pour, remembering to pour more beer into your mouth than you do onto the chicken. Enjoy the serenity of the great outdoors, and the conversation of your friends. Keep your coals going by feeding small pieces of wood onto the coal bed every 15 minutes or so, while fanning with a Discraft.
Q. How do you know when it is ready to eat? Any pitfalls to look out for?
A. After a couple of hours or so, the bird will be nice and firm on the stick. Pull it off the fire and check to see if the bird is done by sliding a sharp knife straight into the hip joint of the bird. If you see any pink, it must return to the heat until the juice runs clear, and the meat is all white. (The meat should not seem rubbery or translucent in any way – or if you’re the cautious type, test with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, but not near bone or fat. It should register about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. As an aside, if you have a – pardon the comparison – Christina Hendricks of a bird it may take longer than expected.) Once you’re sure the bird is fully cooked, take it off the fire and let it rest for 15 minutes. Your chicken has worked hard, and now its job is done. Use that time to finish off any side dishes, and transform your bed of coals into a nice crackling campfire.
As for pitfalls: obviously, don’t let your bird fall in the pit. That would just get messy. Don’t pour too much beer at once, or it will cool off your coals even more than your chicken. Make absolutely sure your bird is fully cooked before you eat it – if you get food poisoning while camping, then you’re reeeeaaallly roughin’ it.
Q. Any other advice to win at camping?
Lakes > rivers. Rafts > boats. Bring a lantern and some card games. Always pee downhill of your tent.
Thank you Will and Hannah! As a final note, you may notice that we used leftover chicken in our scrumptious tacos the following night! Win!