notes from the mexican kitchen
Mexican Weekend/

Make Mexican Roadside Chicken and Leave the Burgers Behind

POST_170x177When everyone else is grilling burgers and hot dogs over the long holiday weekend, you’ll be presenting this triumphant Mexican roadside chicken.

Here, we take our cues from those ubiquitous roadside stalls in Mexico serving Sinaloa-style chicken — that’s a butterflied bird marinated in classic Mexican spices and slow-grilled over charcoal — and bring it to the backyard grill.

The marinade adds an interesting, complex punch of chile, citrus and spices, while a long stint over indirect heat contributes flavor and succulence to the chicken.

Perhaps best of all, this dish is relatively low maintenance — just remember to baste from time to time. If you’re using charcoal, you’ll have to replenish with more coals after about 30 minutes to maintain the temperature.

Pollo a las Brasas con Cebollitas
Though folks in the north and west of Mexico think the most flavorful, most succulent, most compellingly seasoned roadside chicken comes from Sinaloa (confimed by the vast number of roadside stalls in other states advertising “Sinaloa” birds), truthfully, there is really great charcoaled chicken to be tasted all through Mexico. I think of the standard Sinaloa-style marinade as similar in flavor to chorizo sausage—ground dried red chile, vinegar, a host of spices. Straightforward Mexican. So is this cooking method of slow-grilling a split bird (for reasons I can’t explain, most Mexican cooks split their chickens down the breast; the back is more manageable for me). Slow-grilling in Mexico is directly over a bed of hardwood charcoal that’s quite distant from the chicken; we achieve a similar result by heating only part of a gas grill or by banking live coals to the sides. A good number of Mexican chicken grillers are rotisserie jockeys, so if you’re an aficionado of the rotisserie attachment for your grill, you’re in good company.
Servings: 4


  • For the marinade
  • 1 1/2tablespoons ground ancho chile powder (available from national companies like McCormick, Mexican groceries and internet sites)
  • 1teaspoondried oregano, preferably Mexican oregano
  • A big pinch of cloves
  • 1/4teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
  • 3tablespoons vinegar (apple cider vinegar gives a Mexican flavor)
  • 1/4cup orange juice
  • 1teaspoon salt, plus a little more for the onions
  • For finishing the dish
  • 1 large (3-pound) whole chicken (what some butchers will call a large frying chicken, others will call a small roasting chicken)
  • 2 large bunches green onions, preferably the ones with large (1-inch) white bulbs at the end (these “knob” onions are available at Mexican markets and many farmer’s markets), roots and wilted outer leaves removed
  • A little vegetable or olive oil for brushing the onions
  • 1cupRoasted Tomatillo Salsa (for serving)


In a small bowl, mix together all the marinade ingredients.

Light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with white ash (and about medium hot); bank half the coals to one side of the grill, half to the other.  Or, heat a gas grill:  You’ll need a grill with three burners, so that you can turn heat the outer two to medium and leave the center one off.

While the grill is heating, remove the giblets (if there are any) from the cavity of the chicken.  Flip the chicken onto its breast.  Using poultry shears, cut down through the backbone from tail to neck, staying as near as possible to the center of the bone (to keep the skin attached).  If you don’t have shears, lay the bird on its back, insert a long heavy knife into the body cavity and press down hard with a rocking motion to cut through the length of the backbone. Open the bird out onto your work surface, breast side up.  Make sure that the legs are turned inward.  Using your fist or a mallet, wallop the bird on the breast—hard enough to dislodge the center bones and flatten out the breast. Twist the last joint of the wings up over the breast and then down behind the “shoulders,” tucking them in firmly to keep them in place during grilling.

Smear both sides of the chicken with the marinade.  Lay in the center of the grill (it will not be over direct heat).  Cook without turning, basting from time to time with any remaining marinade, until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced deeply with a fork (an instant-read thermometer should register about 160 degrees when inserted at the thickest part of the thigh), about 45 minutes.  If you’re cooking over charcoal, you’ll want to add more charcoal to the fire every half hour or so—the internal temperature of the grill should stay at about 325 degrees.

About 10 minutes before the chicken is ready, brush or spray the green onions with oil and sprinkle with salt.  Grill directly over the fire, turning frequently, until tender and browned.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board.  It will loose less juice is you cover it loosely with foil and let it rest 5 or 10 minutes.  Cut into quarters (or smaller pieces).  Transfer a portion to each of 4 dinner plates.  Top with the grilled onions and you’re ready to serve.  Pass the salsa separately.



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