Gosh, it has been a very long time since the last post here… In the gap, I’ve started a part-time barbecue business. Fun stuff! It’s called Egghead’s BBQ & Grill.
But this post isn’t about Egghead’s… it’s about some serious freaking chicken! Although most of what I do with Egghead’s is traditional southern barbecue (whole hog, brisket, etc.), lots of the folks I cook for also want chicken. I have a Paprika Chicken Thigh thing that is tasty and that I use a lot, but I’ve been wanting to expand the chicken horizons, as it were.
In my barbecue travels (yes, I can actually take tax deductible business trips to research barbecue now!) I’ve noticed a lot of “half chicken” menu items, so I figured that was a good place to start. I get a whole chicken, and cut it in, well, half. It’s not terribly complicated if you have a big knife… ahem… and remember to cut out the backbone. Sometimes it is easier to do this with shears, but I like the knife. I cut through the breastbone, then open up the cavity and cut down each side of the spine. Remove it (save it for stock, or whatever you do with chicken bits).
Then, some simple seasoning. I make a little mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. You can use whatever ratio you like, I go with 3:3:3:2:2:1 respectively. Keep in mind that there are three teaspoons to the tablespoon, and the ratio makes a little more sense.
Okay, so chicken cut in half, backbone out, each half seasoned well on both sides. I just built a steel fire pit for my Egghead’s adventures (it’s 4 feet by 6 feet, 2 feet tall, to accommodate lots of whole pig!), and I like to play around with it even for small batches. But you don’t need a fire pit… any charcoal, lump, or wood fire in a grill-like enclosure will do nicely.
I decided to also char up some corn on the cob and a few sliced peaches (actually found some tree-ripened peaches!). Here we have the starting arrangement on the grill. The racks slide back and forth, so it’s easy to control how direct the heat is. Although all the picture shows are the charcoal briquettes, there are a few fist-sized chunks of hard wood in there, too (two chunks of apple, two chunks of pecan), because, well, because I love smoke!
I start the chicken halves skin-side down to make sure they get nice and crispy!
There’s all sorts of debate about how to grill corn. Some folks suggest soaking the whole ear, husk and all. Some folks suggest removing the husks and grilling it “naked” for maximum char. Personally, I take a middle approach. I remove most of the husks, but leave enough to still cover the cob. This lets me still get char on the kernels, but also means it won’t burn to a crisp if I leave it on a little too long… yeah, distractions happen!
After a while (in this case it took about 20 minutes, but your grill may work differently than mine) the skin will have turned a nice golden brown. This is the time to flip the chicken over and add the peaches! Note the nice color on the corn, too… not burned, but getting plenty of heat and smoke.
Hmmm… chicken skin… is there anything it can’t do?
As the chicken continues to cook, I like to rotate it every so often on the grill (about every five minutes) to make sure it is heating evenly. This also lets me keep tabs on the internal temperature (I don’t know what I’d do without my ThermaPen). Once the chicken has reached a safe internal temperature (165F is what I go by, and I check it in a few spots, since the halves are relatively large), it’s time to flip it again to get the final color and crispness on the skin.
Then, all that’s left to do is plate it up and chow down!
Sakes alive… crispy, salty skin… super moist meat… smokey goodness on the corn… sweet charred peaches! Wah! I’m getting hungry all over again!
I like to dress the corn with butter (duh), but also a little lemon or lime juice, followed by salt and pepper. Alternately, you can make a very simple chili-lime mayo (just add a little lime juice and chili powder to some mayonnaise) and spread it on the corn for super yumminess. The peaches? I don’t put anything on them. Although I’ve heard that a little vanilla ice cream is quite tasty on top, if you’re into that sort of thing.
There we are. Pit roasted chicken with grilled corn and peaches. Cheers!
Is there any doubt that food binds a community together? Whether it’s Christmas dinner or a 4th of July picnic, our best dining is generally part of an ecosystem of relationships… our relationships to one another, and to the food, in preparation, presentation, and ingestation. Although I work for a relatively large company, our “branch” location in the metropolis of Skowhegan, Maine, is a close-knit group. There are roughly 30 of us there. We all know each other well. We’re friends and family. We know each others’ kids.
So when we found out that a friend and coworker was coming back to our campus for a visit, well, it was time to eat!
I wanted to reprise my smoked paprika chicken, as I had tweaked the recipe a bit to give them more kick. Check, that’s on the menu. However, some of the folks wanted a reprise of the Great Brisket Experiment of 2012. That involved an overnight stay at the office (our Big Green Egg is courtesy of our friends at our corporate location in Nashville), and lots of mistakes! Well, why not? One of the blokes got his hands on 15 pounds of rib eye roast… let’s get that again… 15 pounds of rib eye roast! And I, I took the road traveled by the freaking butcher! The thing was beautiful… and was delivered Wednesday morning for a Thursday lunch.
Okay, so letting it be suspended in mid-air to age for a week was out… I decided to go with a variation on a wet rub I’d used before… based mostly on sweet Vidalia onions, which I thought would stand in nice contrast to the now spicy paprika chicken. Why not a simple dry rub? Well, because I wasn’t in the mood for that.
Lunch had to be served at 1pm. I wanted the roast to rest for 45 minutes prior. I wanted to “reverse sear” the roast for 30 minutes before that… and so on. I had to determine when it need to go on the BGE. I knew I wanted to smoke it between 220F and 250F for at least several hours, but to answer the question of when to put it on, I had to turn to Isaac Newton and his Law of Cooling. I’m going to write a whole separate post about that, because I love math… and I got to combine differential calculus with rib eye roast! How much more perfect could applied mathematics really be?
Well, here’s what I did:
Make onion glaze. Cut hash marks in fatty side of the roast. Rub glaze all over that roast. I mean, all over. Yeah, there. Ooh, there too! Turn roast fatty side down, cover and sit it in fridge overnight. Remove from fridge 2-3 hours before smoking.
Ingredients (for onion glaze)
2 Vidalia onions, cut into rough chunks
1 c dark brown sugar
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
4 T fresh ground black pepper
2 T kosher salt
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
Put all ingredients into blender. Slowly pulse until you can run it on blend or puree, or whatever setting you like. I like to leave it a little chunky. Glaze is done.
So, on the Big Green Egg, I filled up the fire box and got it all going. Got it hovering at 300F, then threw on two big hand-fulls of mesquite wood chips. Immediately put down the drain pan (which also acted as an indirect heat diffuser) and the grill, then added the roast, and closed up the Egg. This was at 06:30. I had been in the office since 04:00, doing work while waiting for the roast to come up from 38F internal after all night in the fridge! Then began the “it’s been 30 minutes… time to check the Egg” process. Only a few adjustments were needed.
At 11:45, I pulled the roast off the Egg, got it up to 500F, added more mesquite, and put the roast back on. The smoke billowing from the chimney just made me feel happy… and at this point in the morning, I smelled entirely of smoke! I closed all the vents, and just let it stew in smokey goodness for another half hour, at which point I removed it from the Egg and brought it inside.
Once inside, it went right onto a cooling rack (a rack is important to not steam the bottom of the roast, thus opening passages for the loss of juices) over a tray, and it sat uncovered for 15 minutes. It was now 12:30… right on schedule! For the remaining 30 minutes, the roast sat under a foil tent… and once everyone started to arrive, well, we just had to cut into it, didn’t we?
[Photo credits: Derek Price (me and the Egg), and Wanda Clowater (the sliced roast)].
So, our corporate office was super sweet to us and bought us a Big Green Egg last year. It took a little while for us to start using it (Mainers are traditionalists, if nothing else), but once we did it caught on in a big, green, eggy way!
Although my personal favorite work on the BGE was one of my first efforts, over-night smoked brisket, a very close second is this (relatively) fast and (very) easy strategy for chicken. The base recipe is from fellow BGE enthusiast Kevin Jett, and I tweaked it a bit for simplicity (because Mainers like simplicity, too).
First, choice of chicken… I love the thighs. They are juicy, flavorful, cook up quickly, and you can get them boneless. There really isn’t a down-side! So, use thighs. Don’t like thighs? Well, make up grilled leeks or something.
Obviously, this strategy is going to be BGE-specific, but you can use any smoker/grill, or even your kitchen oven. There’s about 15 minutes of prep, and an hour of cooking, but if you’re using wood chips (I recommend applewood) you’ll want to pre-soak them for a couple of hours.
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 T smoked paprika
1 T Mrs. Dash (regular)
2 t kosher salt
Pre-soak applewood chips for a couple hours.
Get BGE up to 350F (for ours, this means the smoker lid is on, but wide open, and the lower vent is 80% open), prepared for indirect heat. Once it’s up to temperature, before applying the heat diffuser, toss in a handful of applewood chips.
Toss chicken in enough olive oil to lightly coat.
Mix the dry ingredients, and sprinkle over chicken in large bowl. Massage and work the spices into the meat.
Set chicken on smoker, and cook for about one hour (until internal temperature reaches 165F), turning at about 45 minutes. In final five minutes, brush a little honey onto each thigh.
Excellent when served with grilled zucchini and corn on the cob! (Photo credit: Wanda Clowater).