Sunday, May 8, 2011

Five Tips: Smoked Chicken & Best In Smoke

Best In Smoke
Food Network's new barbecue competition show starts tonight (Sunday) at 10pm and runs for 4 weeks.  Six teams with renowned pitmasters compete through a series of cooking challenges, vying for a $50,000 prize.  Friday I had the opportunity to discuss the show with host, Chef Bryan Caswell, in a conference call with a few other bloggers.

The show clearly is not intended to be a behind the scenes look at a KCBS style BBQ competition.  This doesn't mean a lot to most people but some competitive barbecuers will declare, "That is NOT BBQ - it's grilling" if it isn't ribs, chicken, brisket, and pork done low and slow.  Chef Caswell took that question straight on and said that there was no way to make everyone happy.  Bbq means a lot of different things to different people and gave a great example of how both his grandmothers make gumbo.  Both say theirs is the best and the other doesn't know how to make gumbo.

The show challenges do involve live fire, wood, and a protein, "mostly smoking".  The pitmasters get to use their own smokers, which is a good thing in my opinion.  There will be some dramatic moments for sure and Mother Nature gets a bit snippy along the way.  One very interesting comment that Chef made was that he thought the major regions of US barbecue were represented well but then threw in an "except for _________".  The interesting part is there was someone representing that region in the competition so I guess the implication is that he/she/they sucked.   You have to tune in to find out what that is all about.

I'm looking forward to the show tonight.  I'd like to say I'm impartial, but I'm not.  I'm pulling for Chris Lilly and Ken Hess to win it all. 

Five Tips for Smoked Chicken
[My Five Tips series are not how-to tutorials.  These are meant to be quick tips that I would share if we bumped into each other in the grocery store and you said, "Hey, I'm grilling/smoking ________ tomorrow, got any pointers?"  These are ideas that consistently work for me, regardless of the recipe I'm doing.] 

All that talk about barbecue made me hungry, so I smoked a couple of chickens that afternoon.  We have grilled a bunch of birds this year but it has been a while since I smoked some.  When I bit into the finished product, I remembered why it is worth taking the 3-4 hours extra.  The heavenly hint of smoke and the tender, juicy meat got raves from the whole family.

Hanging out in my Big Green Egg.

Soaking your bird for 3-4 hours in a seasoned brine helps ensure a moist chicken and adds flavoring.  For two birds I use 3/4 cup salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp peppercorns, 1 Tbsp dried minced garlic, 1 Tbsp fennel seed, and enough water to fill a 2 gallon container.  

Beer butt chicken my arse.  Chicken on a throne is cute I guess (unless you're the chicken) but it is a set up for uneven cooking temps.  You're putting the breast (most likely to dry out) in the hotter/higher part of your cooker.  A spatchcocked or butterflied bird lies flat and in a narrower range of temperatures for more even cooking.  Just my opinion, but it's the right one;)

Wood You?
A lot of people will tell you to use a mild fruit wood for smoking chicken because poultry takes on smoke easily.  Some will specifically tell you not to use hickory or oak.  I disagree, I like hickory for chicken and turkey.  I like to use 2-3 fist sized chunks of hickory and 1-2 chunks of cherry buried in my coal for grilling chicken.  

I don't bother mopping my ribs, brisket or butts but I religiously mop my whole chickens every 30 minutes.  This literally cooks on layer after layer of flavor.  The mop should be thin, not thick.  My favorite mop is 1 cup of KC Masterpiece Southern Style BBQ Sauce (or your favorite commercial sauce), 3/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup light beer, 1.5 teaspoon of salt, 1.5 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 tablespoon of chipotle/garlic hot sauce.  

Smoke It Up
I smoke my chickens at 250f for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.  I take them out when they hit 160f in the breast and 180f in the deep thigh.  
Bird 1
Bird 2

Blogger Get Together
It's hard to believe that our East Tennessee blogger get together at Larry's is just over a month away, on June 19th.  
Double click on the above for details of our upcoming blogger party. We discovered that we scheduled it for Father's Day, but decided to proceed - treat Dad to a day trip to Almost Heaven South. Several folks have already committed, but we'd like to hear from everyone by June 1 who plans to attend - email Larry at We want to be sure we have plenty of food, but don't want to overbuy.