Monday, January 3, 2011

How I Smoke Chicken on my Cheap Offset Smoker (Brinkmann, Char-Griller, etc)

This weekend I had a craving for BBQ.

Now some of you might think I BBQ all the time, but last year the majority of what I did was grilling, fire roasting, "stir fired" dishes, and such. I wanted a proper old fashioned BBQ chicken dinner with barbecued beans, potato salad, and ABTs.

And since I was going old fashioned, I thought I would go "old school" and break out Trevor's Brinkmann Pitmaster Deluxe.

The cheap offset smoker is the first smoker that many people ever get. The cheap offsets include the Brinkmann Smoke n Pit (SnP) you can get at Home Depot or the Char-Griller at Lowes, both around $200. While these units might not be able to match the quality of high end cookers like Big Green Eggs, Stumps Smokers, or even a well made Ugly Drum Smoker, with a few modifications and techniques, they can meet the needs of the weekend backyard warrior. When well cared for, these units can last many years. Mine is going on seven years old.

The Modifications
These are only the ones I have done and are the easiest. (For the "bible on SnP mods," read more here: Smoke Ring.)

I installed a metal baffle (red arrow) to deflect the heat from coming directly out and up of the fire box. I also use a water pan (yellow arrow) to act as a heat capacitor helping to tame heat fluctuations and add moisture to the cooking chamber.

I added a raised cooking grid to increase cooking surface capacity by 324 square inches. I bought the grid at Lowes and some nuts and bolts, nothing complicated or expensive.

I lowered the bottom of the exhaust stack to the level of the grid. This evens out the temps in the cooking chamber. Before, the hottest gasses in the chamber escaped at the top yellow arrow. Now, those hottest gasses mix with the rest of the air in the areas where your food is cooking. To do this, just roll up a piece of flashing and stuff it up your stack. The tension of it trying to unroll will hold it in place.

The best "modification" for cheap offset smokers is great weather.

If you only ever intend to BBQ during the daytime in the summer, then these are the smokers for you. Seriously. If you are a fair weather kind of BBQr, then an SnP will be perfect for you and not break your budget. And let's be honest, that's 95% of people. Most people aren't idiots....errrr,ummmm... "hardcore" like me and my BBQ Brethren, who enjoy cooking in the snow, wind and rain.

The Cooking Process
Brine your bird or bird pieces in a simple brine for 3-4 hours (Multiply as needed to cover pieces/bird.)
1 quart water
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 bay leaf

Rinse and dry the bird thoroughly. Drying is a key step in avoiding rubbery skin. Season the bird with your favorite hen rub. My rock solid favorite for years has been Poultry Perfect Rub from Bill & Cheryl Jamison's book Smoke and Spice. It has the right blend of seasoning and enough paprika to get a gorgeous colored bird.

For my fire, I like to use the Minion Method which is basically adding some hot coals to a bed of unlit coals to create a low temp, long burning fire. I set my coals up like this. (The flecks of color you see are hickory, I was using Kingsford Hickory Briquettes).

Then I start a half chimney of coals and when they are burning hot, pour them into the void. The hot coals provide the initial heat and the unlit ones provide sustained heat as they gradually ignite. After dumping the hot coals in, have the intake vent barely open and the stack vent fully open like this. Notice the exhaust of the stack, you don't want thick white smoke, just a thin blue smoke.

Once the temperature of the smoker gets to 275f, add your chicken to the smoker. I normally BBQ/smoke at a 225f temp at the grate but I like to go a little hotter for chicken to avoid rubbery skin. On a cheap offset, a temp reading of 275f is about 250f-ish at the grate level.

Now "mop" the chicken every 30-45 minutes using my favorite mop sauce. True mopping literally uses a cloth mop dipped in the liquid and then dabbed onto the meat. You realize how careful you have to be with cross contamination, right? To make it simple, I put the mop sauce in plastic deli style condiment squirt bottle and just splash/squirt the mop sauce onto the chicken.

NMT Chicken Mop Sauce
adapted from Bill Martin

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup Kraft original BBQ sauce
1 ounce hot sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper

If your coals start burning out a couple of hours into the cook, "re-Minion" them by moving all of the hot coals toward the cooking chamber...

And add fresh ones on the other end.

If the ash starts to build up under the coals this will restrict air flow. I have a tiny garden shovel and a metal ash pail with a lid that I used to "clean a path" like this. (Quit making fun of my arthritic, bent up coal's the original one! He's got character. And he's only 7 years old, honestly, who picks on a 7 year old?)

Quit "mop/splash/squirting" the chicken when it hits an internal temp of 140-145f in the breast.

Pull the chicken when it hits 160f in the breast and 175 in the thigh. Let rest for 10 minutes so the carryover cooking will take it to 165f/180f. This has consistently taken right at 3 hours when you can hold a steady temp.

To finish, it depends on my mood. Most times, I leave it as is, but sometimes I like to give it a VERY LIGHT glaze of a premium BBQ sauce like Carnovire or Billy Bones.