A rotisserie delivers an even and slow roast, so it's the perfect way to cook large pieces of meat.
The slow turning means the meat should self-baste, without losing too many delicious juices into the coals. But it's not fast food.
At The Builders Arms in Melbourne's Fitzroy, where different meats are roasted over coals every night, the fire for the rotisserie is lit hours before the cooking begins.
Head chef and co-owner Josh Murphy says rotisserie cooking is part theatre, part flavour.
"Cooking over coals produces a much smokier and woodier flavour than conventional roasting," he says. He also says the burning coals and the smell of roasting meat draws customers to the courtyard where the meat is cooking. After the cooking is finished, the staff throws on more logs to create a blazing fire.
Murphy and rotisserie expert and co-owner of Melbourne company BBQ Spit Roast Rotisseries, Rhiannon Peterson, have shared their tips with Good Food for getting the most out of a slow-turning roast.
Start your fire early. Build a generous fire with a strong flame and when it is established add some logs. Don't let the fire go out and keep an eye on it to make sure the wood is burning steadily. The aim is to develop a bed of hot coals, which can take 3 to 4 hours or longer.
When you're ready to cook, add some more fuel to create some flame. Learning to make a great fire takes practice, so if you're not confident, invite a friend over to help – everyone knows someone who's good at lighting campfires.
If a wood fire seems like too much work, Peterson recommends buying charcoal. You need about 1 kilogram of charcoal for each kilogram of meat, and should start your fire with about two-thirds of it, adding the rest of the charcoal as needed. A pre-bought charcoal fire needs about 45 minutes of burning before you can start cooking.
How high should meat be placed above the fire?
Rotisserie cooking is not a perfect science, but if you're not sure how far away from the coals the meat should be, Peterson has this handy rule of thumb: if you can't hold your hand over the fire for eight seconds, the coals are too hot and you need to raise your meat. If you can hold it for longer than 10 seconds, lower your meat or build up your coals.
Most modern rotisseries have a motor that rotates at about five turns a minute. If you have a manual rotisserie you need to aim for one turn a minute. Make sure the skewers can carry the weight of your meat and won't buckle as they turn.
With any fire used for cooking, avoid throwing anything into the coals that will cause a noxious smell or release toxins.
Preparing the meat
Murphy says it's very important to season the meat well when cooking larger pieces. Stronger flavours, such as woody herbs, garlic and salt need to be pushed into the flesh – the flavour needs to go deep into the meat. A stuffing, such as the one featured in the porchetta recipe below, helps flavour the meat from the inside out.
Meat destined for a rotisserie needs to be well-secured so it doesn't fall into the fire. Many butchers will truss your meat for you, or give you a quick lesson if you ask nicely. Remember, meat shrinks as it cooks, so the trussing needs to be really tight. If you can tie a knot, you can truss your meat – it doesn't have to look pretty.
Most rotisseries have adjustable heights – keep an eye on your cooking and you'll know if the meat is too far away or too close to the coals. Spreading the coals around with a shovel or poker will also help reduce the intensity of the heat.
Cooking times will vary depending on the size and type of meat being roasted. Lamb is cooked when the meat starts to fall away from the bone, but for other types of meat, a meat thermometer can tell you when it is ready. The website foodauthority.nsw.gov.au has a handy guide to correct internal meat temperatures and how to use a meat thermometer.
As the meat cooks, fat and juices may drip onto the coals. Peterson suggests moving the coals away from below the meat to avoid fat sparking flames when it hits the coals. Sudden high flames can scorch the meat.
A drip tray is a good way to catch the drippings, and the collected fat and juices can then be used for further basting.
As always, rest the meat for at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Using a rotisserie isn't set-and-forget cooking. You need to tend to your coals and regularly baste your meat. It's a social pastime – the process of cooking is part of the fun.
The Builders Arms' porchetta
2 kg boneless pork leg, skin on
100 g fennel tops, chopped
30g chopped garlic
100 g chopped brown onion
Zest of two lemons
1/4 tsp smoked chilli
1/4 tsp ground fennel
3 springs rosemary
200g pork mince
100 g chopped chicken livers (optional)
Salt, black pepper
Gently fry the onion and garlic in a pan with some olive oil until golden, then allow to cool. Add herbs, lemon zest, fennel and spices along with the mince and liver. Combine well.
Open up the pork leg and lay it flat on a board, flesh side down. Score the skin with a sharp knife, making a row of long cuts.
Flip the meat so it is skin-side down and flatten out the pork as much as possible. Season with salt and pepper. Spread pork mince, herb and onion mix evenly across the meat. Tightly roll up the pork so the skin is on the outside and truss. (If you take your stuffing to the butcher when you're buying your meat they may do this for you if you order in advance.) Generously season the skin with salt and pepper.
Slide the trussed pork onto a rotisserie skewer and place above the coals. Cook on the rotisserie for 1 to 1.5 hours until the pork is warm in the centre. Rest, then serve.
The Builders Arms serves this porchetta every Thursday night with steamed black cabbage, mustard fruits and spiced burnt butter.
Have you tried using a rotisserie at home? Jump on the comments and share your experience.