While there are plenty of brand-specific kits out there to help you build a rotisserie, I wanted to try my hand at putting together my very own.

HUGH GARVEY – June 17, 2021

For years I’ve wanted a rotisserie for my grill, inspired by the sight of turning trompas of al pastor at street stalls everywhere from Melrose Avenue to Mexico City, spinning brined birds at open fire restaurants, and shawarma of all beasts. Spit-roasted meats hold some primitive power over me because of, yes, their evenly cooked, beautifully self-basted meat, but also for the sheer theater of glowing hellfire slowly transforming a mesmerizingly pirouetting piece of meat into a glistening, perfectly browned, transcendent meal.

I’ve never had the pleasure of possessing a rotisserie even though I’ve owned some seven grills since moving to Los Angeles two decades ago. Yes that’s excessive and no I’m not about to break the bank even further by buying a new rotisserie attachment each and every time. But then I got a Big Green Egg, fell madly deeply in love with it as people tend to, and I was ready to make the commitment. 

Problem is, Big Green Egg doesn’t yet make its own proprietary rotisserie attachment. But I was dead set on harnessing that steady ceramically insulated charcoal heat in the service of backyard rotisserie. How hard could it be to perch a four-foot-long metal spike attached to a spinning motor just the right height above a bank of blazing hot coals? It turns out not that difficult if you have a motorized rotisserie kit (available for $40 to $130 or so online), a sturdy set of sawhorses or other matched perches to mount the rotisserie to, a power source, and a high tolerance for risk. Word to the wise: There are plenty of brand-specific kits out there and if your grill has one, by all means, make it easy on yourself and go with its official kit. But I wasn’t in that position so I gave it a swing. 

How I Built Mine

Step 1: Buy a Big Spit

With dreams of multiple chickens and legs of lamb and maybe even suckling pig, I wanted a spit long enough to not only hold all sorts of meats but also long enough to have enough clearance on both sides of the grill for the motor and the receiving end of the spit. I’ve got the wide XL Big Green Egg so I went with a kit that included a 53-inch rod and cost only $80 bucks. Only Fire makes a range of kits for grills of all sizes.

Step 2: Build a Base

I was lucky enough to already own a pair of super heavy duty steel saw horses that can each hold over 1,000 pounds, so I was beyond confident that my 15 pounds of meat and metal wouldn’t tax the maximum load capacity. After a couple of attempts I got the saw horses at just the right height where they cleared the top edge of the bottom half of the grill by less than an inch.

Step 3: Mount the Motor

Mounting the motor to the stand was the trickiest part. My saw horses had sturdy handles I thought I might be able to wire the brackets to, but that seemed chancy. Instead I securely screwed the grill kit mounting brackets into two pieces of  scrap wood that I then slid into the handles snugly and securely. 

Step 4: Secure the Spit

I trussed the chicken to keep it from flopping around as it turned and carefully cut a hole down the center of the pork shoulder with a long bread knife. 

Step 5: Bank to Not Burn

Banking the coals at the back of the grill is critical to keep the rendered fat from dripping straight onto the coals and creating noxious flare ups.

Step 6: Place The Rotisserie Right 

Just as with chicken and steaks on the grate, you want the meat to be close enough to the heat to cook at a steady clip but not so close it will burn before it’s done on the inside. I put my hand near the fire and let it go to a six-second count before it got so hot I had to yank it away. Taking note of that distance I set my sawhorses up, secured the spit, and adjusted the rotisserie so the surface of the meat sat at exactly that 6-count spot. 

Step 7: Kind of Close the Lid

To trap some of the heat and help reflect it toward the meat I closed the lid most of the way and propped it open with a can of tomato sauce. The first time I did that it was perfect as I’d put the can toward the front of the grill far away from the cooking heat. Two chickens were cooked perfectly and I saved the can for another cook. But when I cooked a gochujang-slathered pork shoulder next I put the can toward the back of the grill and by the time the pork was cooked the can was swollen from the heat and might’ve exploded. This is one of those don’t-try-this-at-home caveats. Much wiser to use something solid that won’t react to the heat, like a piece of firebrick. That’s what I’m doing next time.

Step 8: Take the Temperature

Both times I cooked on the grill I did what I always do with meat no matter the cooking method: I checked the internal temperature of the meat to make sure it hit the target for ideal doneness. The chickens were succulent and browned at 160 and the pork shoulder was bronzed at 190. In both cases there was a just-right lacquered even doneness to both kinds of meat, they were beyond juicy, and there was just the slightest hint of smoke and char. I’m going to keep this up for the rest of the summer or until the rotisserie is rote to me.  


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