What Is a Charcoal Rotisserie?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell
A chicken before being rotisseried.
A chicken before being rotisseried.

A charcoal rotisserie is simple appliance used to cook meat by rotating it over an open charcoal flame. The most basic iterations are little more than a spit over a fire pit or outdoor flame, which can easily be made on an impromptu basis. More sophisticated charcoal rotisseries usually come in one of two varieties: either contained charcoal rotisserie boxes or spit attachments for existing barbecues. No mater how a charcoal rotisserie is constructed, it is always designed to be an outdoor tool. Charcoal fires are too hazardous to be set indoors, both in terms of their heat and the smoke they emit.

Rotisserie cooking is one of the oldest forms of cooking meat and requires very little to get started. A flame or other heat source is required, as is some sort of rotating spit onto which the meat is threaded, then rotated at slow, even intervals. Using a rotisserie is often a slow process, but the meat is often very flavorful and succulent. When done properly, it is also cooked evenly on all sides. A specifically charcoal rotisserie is unique in that it depends in full on the heat from a charcoal fire.

Charcoal is a carbon compound that, when exposed to alcohol or gasoline-based starter, will blaze consistently and at an even heat for quite a long time. It is desirable in rotisserie cooking in part because of its consistent heat output. Cooks do not usually need to worry about tending the fire beneath a charcoal rotisserie. So long as the meat is rotated evenly, it should cook evenly.

Modern cooks often find the old-fashioned crank mechanism too time consuming, which is where more updated equipment comes in. Dedicated rotisserie carts or trays keep charcoal contained. This aids in clean-up and prevents accidental outside contamination, as might happen should branches or ground brush catch fire along with the charcoal. Many professional devices will also rotate the meat at even, mechanized intervals. The spit height and spin speed can usually be customized according to meat type and weight, and cooks need do little more than occasionally monitor the meat's progress.

Most commercial charcoal rotisseries are capable of cooking whole animals or multiple cuts of meat at once. Personal rotisserie equipment is usually much smaller. Some of the most popular individual-sized tools are sold as attachments to ordinary charcoal barbecues. The rotating spit usually attaches to the sides of the barbecue basin or kettle, with a crank or handle that protrudes to the outside. Most of these must be manually rotated, though some will turn automatically, often through battery power.

A charcoal rotisserie is always used outside, and is generally uncovered. An outdoor rotisserie is a much safer option than an enclosed rotisserie oven whenever an open flame is involved. Covering or enclosing the cooking meat is not usually dangerous, but it can leave the meat tasting very smoky, which is not always desirable. In inclement weather or in very cold climates, lids fitted with vents are common.

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    • A chicken before being rotisseried.
      A chicken before being rotisseried.