Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How I Make Barbecued Chicken Breasts

Our recipe for our chicken entry in competitions uses thighs.  But when it comes to serving the general public, I like to smoke bone in, skin on chicken breasts because most people like white meat. 

Breasts are what we used for the office party that we catered last week.   The potential downside to breasts are that white meat tends to be bland and can dry out easily.  We use a brine to add flavor and moisture.  To boost the flavor of the chicken, we paint layer after layer of seasonings from the start to finish.       

Barbecued Chicken Breasts

  • 3 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
  • 1/4 cup NMT Barbecue Rub [recipe]
  • 1 cup NMT Mop Sauce for Chicken [recipe]
For the brine
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar (substitute brown sugar)
For the BBQ sauce
  • 3/4 c ketchup
  • 1/2 c cherry preserves 
  • 1/4 cup Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 c cherry juice
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar 
  • 3 T cider vinegar 
  • 1.5 T Cholula chipotle sauce
  • 1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 t dried minced garlic
  • 1/2 t dried onion flakes
  • 1/4 t black pepper 
  • 1/4 t smoked salt
  • 1/8 t roasted cumin
  • 1/8 t corriander
  • 1/8 t liquid smoke 
  • 2-3 pinch chipolte powder
  1. Mix brine ingredients together and chill to 40f.  Place chicken in brine and refrigerate 8-12 hours.  Remove chicken from brine and pat dry.  [Note:  I do not rinse the brine off of the chicken.]  I like to use the Rubbermaid 1 gallon brining bin because it comes with a secure lid, is big enough for family portions, and it fits easily in most residential refrigerators.
  2. Mix all sauce ingredients together in a small pan, bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Preheat your smoker or grill set up for indirect heat at 250f.
  4. Season the breasts on both sides with the barbecue rub.
  5. Place chicken on the grates bone side down and cook.  This should take 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  
    1. Every 30-45 minutes, apply some of the chicken mop on the breasts.  [Note:  I don't actually "mop".  To avoid cross contamination, I put the mop in a squirt bottle and just lightly splash it onto each breast.]
    2. When the chicken hits an internal temp of around 150f, brush on the BBQ sauce and let finish cooking.
    3. When the chicken reaches an internal temp of 160f, remove and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  6. You can serve whole but these start out a pound of meat, so it's a bit much for one person.  I prefer to split them in half or remove the meat from the bones and slice into medallions. 
I was using the Smoke Hollow combo grill/smoker for this cook.  I preheat it by building a stack of small hickory and cherry wood splits (1" x 1" x 16") and pouring about 18 lit Kingsford Briquetes.  Once that burns down to coals, I start adding 1 -2 splits at a time to maintain a 250f cooking temp.

See how the smoke is light and almost bluish?  That is what you want for good smoking.  It took about 45 minutes of preheating to get to this stage.

If you see excess flaps of skin and/or fat, just cut them off with a sharp knife.

Sprinkle rub on the front and back of the breasts.  Be sure to get that gap between the breasts and the tenderloin, that gets the flavor deep inside.

You can make the sauce while you are smoking the chicken or make it ahead of time. 
Notice the splits on top of the fire box below?  I am preheating them so that they ignite quickly when I put 1 or 2 in the fire box.  I think it just gives a cleaner burning smoke compared to sticking cold wood into the pit, which might smolder too much and create creosote deposits on your food.  Not tasty.

The repeated coats of the mop onto the chicken builds a layered flavor.
 This is why you cook to temperature.  I thought these breasts were already done by their look and feel but they weren't.  Thanks to my trusty Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen, I didn't pull them too early.

It looks pretty with the coat of BBQ sauce but the real test is the inside.

I don't want to saw through my chicken with a knife.  One good whack with a cleaver splits the breasts, including the bones, perfectly.

The result of all of this is a juicy piece of chicken with a pleasant smokiness.  So good that you'll literally be licking your fingers.