Akron, Ohio When cook and chicken meet at the grill, there’s no guarantee the end result will be a steaming platter of fall-off-the-bone barbecued bird.
Often the results are one of two disappointing scenarios: chicken that’s nicely browned on the outside but still pink and rubbery inside, or chicken that’s cooked so long it resembles the briquettes it was roasted over.
But with some time, patience and a few grilling tricks, perfect barbecued chicken is only as far away as your backyard.
Chicken is one of the most affordable meats to cook, and it’s even cheaper when you steer clear of boneless, skinless cuts. For the best value, look for whole chickens you can cut up yourself at home, or chicken pieces that still have their bones and skin attached.
“Unfortunately, we have become this boneless, skinless chicken breast country,” says Fred Thompson, a North Carolina-based food writer and author of “Barbecue Nation” (Taunton Press, $18.95) and the newly released “Grillin’ with Gas.” (Taunton Press, $19.95)
Cooking bone-in chicken on the grill will take about 45 to 50 minutes, compared with the 20 minutes it takes to cook boneless breasts, he says. Bone-in chicken will cook more evenly because of the way the bones will conduct heat. The skin provides a layer of protection to keep the meat from burning, and the fat from the skin will baste the chicken while it cooks.
For those with health concerns, Thompson suggests cooking the chicken with its skin on and then peeling it off before eating. For those who won’t use bone-in meat, Burns suggests boneless skinless chicken thighs, because their dark meat is a bit fattier and they won’t get as dry as boneless breasts when grilled.
When selecting chicken for the grill, look for hens labeled “fryers” which weigh about 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 pounds. They’re the perfect size for making grill favorites like beer-can chicken.
Before putting chicken on the grill, consider marinating it to increase its flavor and juiciness. Be careful with vinegar-based marinades. Chicken doesn’t need more than an hour or two in these because the vinegar can start to break down the meat and make it mushy.
Thompson recommends an overnight soak in low-fat buttermilk to turn out juicy chicken breasts on the grill. Because it’s not as acidic as vinegar, you don’t have to worry about the meat drying out as it brines.
Brian Bailey, co-owner of the Old Carolina Barbecue Co. in Canton and Massillon, says another trick for turning out moist, juicy chicken on the grill is to cook it partially in a water bath.
After searing both sides of the chicken pieces, about three or four minutes, place the chicken into a pan with seasoned water or apple juice. Allow the chicken to cook primarily in the water bath, where it will soak in the flavorings and won’t dry out.
When the chicken is almost done, return it to the grill to sear it again and baste it with barbecue sauce. Bailey says he learned the technique when he and his partner, Tim Hug, were on the competitive barbecuing circuit.
Buttermilk-Brined Chicken Breasts
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 1-lb. bone-in chicken breasts
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground sage
Your favorite sauce for chicken, barbecue or otherwise (optional, see note)
Pour the buttermilk into a large zip-top bag. Add the salt and the chicken breasts. Close the bag and squish the liquid around the chicken breasts. Put in the refrigerator and let sit overnight, turning the bag several times.
Combine the 11 herbs and spices in a small container with an airtight lid. You won’t use all of this mixture for this recipe, but use the extra within 6 months.
Oil the grill racks. Preheat your grill using all burners set on high and with the lid closed for 10 to 12 minutes.
When the grill is hot, cut off the center or back burner and adjust your heat to medium-high. Remove the breasts from the bag and discard the brine. Pat the breasts dry and then sprinkle about a tablespoon of the rub on each breast, gently messaging the rub into the meat.
Place the chicken breasts, skin down, over the direct heat section of your grill, close the lid and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until nicely seared. Turn and sear the other side for 3 to 4 minutes. Move the chicken breasts to the indirect area, cut your burners to medium, and close the lid.
You want to maintain about a 325-degree temperature. Grill-roast for about 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 170 degrees in the thickest portion of the breast.
During the last 5 minutes, glaze the chicken with your choice of sauce on the skin side only. Remove the breasts from the grill to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.
Makes 4 servings.
Notes: Thompson recommends his recipe for Virginia Pruitt’s Barbecue sauce for this chicken.
— “Grillin’ with Gas,” Fred Thompson
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup homemade white sauce (recipe follows) or pepper gravy mix, prepared as the package suggests
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Thin with a little water if it gets too thick. Serve on anything your heart desires. This will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup whole milk
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring almost to a boil and cook until thick, about 5 minutes.
Makes about 2 cups.
— “Barbecue Nation,” Fred Thompson