In the world of smoked BBQ, beef and pork cuts have been and will likely always be the kings of the pit but there is an often forgotten about third party! BBQ chicken offers a sense of added versatility as well as ease. BBQ chicken is a great place to start for aspiring PitMasters attempting to demystify the art of smoked meat. Manipulating the flavor of chicken can be much easier than that of pork or beef. With just about three hours and some flavor enhancers you’ll be well on your way to top notch BBQ chicken in a relatively short amount of time. Not only that but you can also reap many more health benefits. So it’s a no brainer when it comes to BBQ chicken. It’s good and it’s good for you!
Brining chicken almost always produces fantastics results ranging from excellent flavor to juiciness and tenderness. Depending on what you use and how deep of flavor penetration you’re looking for will determine whether you go for a more acidic brine or a saltier one. I prefer using some of my favorite beer for chicken brine over apple cider vinegar or heavy salt. I find that this keeps the flavor levels even and subtle in comparison to salt or vinegar. This way I’m able to layer other flavors from my dry rub onto the chicken without any conflicting tastes in the end.
The key to brining chicken is to not over do it. Many people believe that the longer you brine meats the better they will be. This may be true when it comes to beef or pork but it is absolutely not the case in regards to chicken. If you use any sort of salt for your brine and you leave the chicken in for more than ten hours then you’ll likely be dealing with an overly salty bird. If you use an apple cider vinegar based brine and leave it in for more than ten hours you’ll likely encounter a really acidic and hard to swallow bird once you’re finished cooking. For these reasons alone I prefer to brine my chicken in beer. I’ve found it nearly impossible to over penetrate the chicken flavor by using mid tier lager beer. Even if you slip up and brine it for an extended period of time it’ll still come out with a fairly subtle flavor.
A few of my go-to brine recipes in order from favorite to least are:
–Beer + Black Peppercorns
–Brown Sugar + Kosher Salt + Water
–Molasses + Apple Cider Vinegar + Water
Once your chicken has had the appropriate amount of time to brine the next step prior to smoking is the rub. The rub is where you can really kick the flavor profile into high gear. Just be cognizant of the amount of salt contained in the brine when the time comes to rub the chicken. A dry rub containing a large amount of salt will surely throw off the overall flavor of the chicken if you’re not careful.
Get It Here > Smofried BBQ Bird Rub
Of course this is the point where I’m going to plug my own Smofried BBQ Bird Rub mainly because its good and it compliments chicken like none other. The mixture of kosher salt with a few red pepper powders makes this rub a perfect combination for chicken or any other fowl for that matter. Smofried BBQ Bird Rub creates a nice crispy crust as the sugar in it crystallizes on top of the chicken skin. I realize that there is a large portion of the population that advises adding the rub beneath the skin but I find this to be an issue with keeping the skin intact throughout the entire cook. For this reason I prefer only adding my rub to the top of the skin and leaving the rest of the chicken how it is.
You’ll certainly want to be very aware of the type(s) of woods that you’re using as most will create a much too strong smoke flavor. The strongest wood that I’m willing to smoke a chicken with is typically hickory. Hickory tends to be a go-to wood source for just about anything you can think of. To avoid over-smoking make sure that the wood is fully ignited and very hot before you place your chicken in your smoker. Otherwise you may end up with rubbery and creosote stained skin.
In my experience I’ve found fruit woods to perform consistently the best. Due to their sweet makeup fruitwoods don’t impart a super smoky flavor into the chicken. This is helpful as chicken tends to absorb smoke like a sponge. Peach, cherry and apple wood are a few of the most commonly available fruit woods that can guarantee excellent flavor. Outside of hickory and fruitwoods, pecan wood is another very viable source for smoking chicken. Pecan will give you a smoke profile somewhere between hickory and fruit wood.
When smoking chicken you’re usually going to be cooking it at a much higher temperature than any other smoked meats. This is due to the makeup of the chicken. It’s a lean meat so there’s simply not enough fat, hard or soft that needs to be rendered. Also by cooking it low and slow you run the risk of drying out the meat. This may be your thing but I personally hate nothing more than dry chicken so I much prefer a bbq roasted chicken kissed with just enough smoke flavor.
A point of emphasis must be placed on the skin of BBQ chicken. Get it right and it’s the best thing in the world. Get it wrong then you might as well throw all of it into the trash! There are a number of thought processes on the best way to ensure that chicken skin gets crispy during the smoke process. The best solution that I’ve found is simply patting the skin dry with a paper towel prior to adding any dry rub. If you follow this simple step you will likely end up with a great crunch to your skin. One of the assisters in the crisping process will be the salt in your dry rub. This will draw any additional moisture out of the skin and leave it pleasantly crunchy.
When it comes to smoking chicken there are a variety of ways to get it done and to be honest no one is better than the others. It simply boils down to an individual preference. As a matter of fact smoking chicken is probably the easiest and quickest of all smoked meats. Generally a whole chicken will take longer than say just a leg or a thigh. The amount of time that you’re willing to spend will likely determine the method in which you prepare your chicken. Below are my four go-to methods whenever I’m in the mood for BBQ chicken.
Take the whole chicken and on a cutting board, remove the back bone using either a good pair of kitchen shears or a chef’s knife. Flatten the chicken out and apply rub as you see fit. Place the spatchcock chicken on the smoker with the breast side up and proceed to smoke for a few hours or until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in all parts.
>Beer Can Chicken<
Using a can opener remove the top of an empty beer can. Once removed add the likes of fresh thyme, sage, rosemary garlic and top it off with the leftover beer. Then place the beer can inside of the carcass of the chicken and place onto the smoker upright. Proceed to smoke for a few hours or until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in all parts.
BBQ chicken will continue to cook once you take it off the smoker. To prevent your chicken from overcooking, make sure to take it off the smoker once the breast and thigh temperatures both read 170°F and nothing more so that it will reach the perfect temperature by the time you are ready to eat. This will also ensure everyone’s safety as no one has time for the bad stuff that can result from consuming undercooked chicken!
>Smofried Chicken Wings<
If you haven’t had the luxury of trying a batch of chicken wings that have been both smoked and fried then you’re missing out on a major life treat. The process is rather simple. Just prepare the wings as you normally would for smoking then smoke them for slightly less time than you would if you were going to full temperature. After you remove them from the smoker drop them in a vat of hot oil and flash fry them for just a minute or two until the skin has formed a beautiful crispy crust.
If you ever feel the need to get really adventurous you should consider giving lollipop chicken a try. This requires a process of trimming away some of the inedible parts of a regular drumstick. Trim off a portion of the top of the drum stick and chop off a small piece at the bottom. Proceed to cutting a ring around the drumstick right beneath the meaty portion. Cut through all of the tendons then roll the remaining skin to the bottom of the drumstick. Using a regular kitchen knife work the skin away from the bone then go back and trim away any excess skin or tendons.
Smoke the lollipop drumsticks with the bone side up. Typically lollipop drumsticks only take about 45 minutes to cook all the way through at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the lollipop drumsticks are cooked you can dip them in a number of different glazes and sauces to really bring out the flavor.
If you chose to go with one of the whole chicken options you can simply slice it up or you can explore a number of options that allow for extended creativity. One of my absolute favorites is BBQ Chicken Tacos. Simply remove all of the skin, bones and gristle from the chicken and shred it using a solid pair of meat claws. This will give you a wonderful amount of shredded chicken for a variety of taco styles. But why stop there, you can also use the same shredded chicken for nachos or sliders.
Not to insinuate that BBQ chicken is lacking in flavor by any means, but adding a touch of BBQ sauce will pretty much always enhance the flavor for those of us with a certain level of appreciation for the sauce. I’ve found that a good BBQ sauce adds a cohesive dimension to BBQ chicken. Everything seems to work better once BBQ sauce is introduced. You get the juiciness from the brine, the enhanced flavors from the rub then the sauce ties everything else together and makes something that’s already wonderful just a touch better!