Americans fell out of love with rotisserie grilling shortly after 1950’s, seduced by hibachis, then kettle grills, followed by inexpensive gas grills.
Rotisserie continues to be popular in Europe, and in the Middle East no picnic is considered complete without an impromptu rotisserie to cook a whole lamb, often two or more.
Also in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey and Greece there is the vertical rotisserie to cook sliced lamb on a thick rotating skewer. The fire must be charcoal, placed on layers of shelves for even heat distribution. Nowadays, often-electrical elements replace charcoal-fired vertical rotisseries (a k a doner) but old-timers claim that the taste of traditionally cooked meat is better.
Rotisserie involves grilling, roasting, smoking, and basting all at once. It produces superlative skin crisping of birds and melts out the fat of meat. Rib roast comes out dark and crusty on the outside, rare and juicy inside, with vivid flavour, better than those oven roasted. Chicken acquires crackling crisp skin and uncommon succulence on a well-designed rotisserie, and even common baby back rib is transforms into an excellent meal by the gentle rotation in front of the intense heat.
The steady rotation bastes the meat both internally and externally, resulting in exceptional moistness. Drippings collect in a drip pan making rotisserie grilling cleaner than direct grilling and oven roasting. It Is easy when spit roasting to add smoke flavour by putting wood chips on the fire.
Rotisseries are particularly well suited to poultry; the skin of a chicken or a game hen will be even more crackling crisp than that of a bird roasted in a conventional oven. When cooking a chicken a rotisserie, the fat melts and the skin browns evenly due to the rotation of the whole carcass.
Rotisserie cooked ribs tend to have a crusty succulence and the meat is slightly chewier, rather than fall-off-the-bone tenderness and mushiness.
In Europe, rotisserie chicken is considered a delicacy sought after by millions who can afford such luxury. In fact, not too long ago, chicken was considered to be a festive food served on weekends, at celebrating dinners and during family get-togethers.
In developing countries, you can still buy live chickens or even turkeys in specialized stores. The birds are killed and plucked while you wait or continue to shop for other foods.
Rotisseries come in a variety of models, but all have three main components; the spit, the motor, and the heat source. The spit is a long, slender, flat-sided metal rod equipped with removable pronged meat holders that secure the chicken or roast. The motor keeps the spit turning (some motors are adjustable for slow or regular rotation). The heat source varies from design to design. The classic configuration is to have the fire parallel to, behind, and level with or below the spit. In home-use rotisseries , the spit turns in front of the heat source; other designs have the heat source at the button which allows dripping fat to burn, and addition of chips for smoke.
Commercial rotisseries may be of elaborate designs to cook up to 100 chickens at a time, or even an oxen as is the case during the world-famous Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich, the capital of the State of Bavaria, in Germany.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu