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Foolproof Barbecued Chicken

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I’ve taken all the risk out of the recipe by moving the fire to the sides of the grill—away from where the chicken cooks. You still get that smoky live-fire flavor, but without the risk of the bird burning. Pit masters will recognize this technique as indirect grilling, and it produces some of the tastiest barbecued chicken this side of Memphis. And to make you feel like a pro, I’ve included a mop sauce (a thin vinegar mixture you apply to the chicken with a barbecue mop), so you can hold your own with the big boys on the barbecue circuit. The barbecue sauce is applied the last few minutes of grilling, then sizzled directly over the fire to set the sauce.

Note how the barbecue sauce is brushed on the bird at the end here: This lets the chicken skin become crisp and prevents the sugar in the sauce from burning.

 

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Foolproof Barbecued Chicken

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 1 to 2 hours for curing the chicken
  • Method: Indirect grilling
  • Equipment: 2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably hickory), soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained; poultry shears

Ingredients

For the Chicken and Rub

  • 1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 pounds)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed

For the Mop Sauce

  • ½ cup distilled white vinegar
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rub reserved from above

Recipe Steps

1: Remove the packet of giblets from the body cavity of the chicken and set aside for making stock or another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place the chicken on its breast. Using poultry shears and starting at the neck end, make a lengthwise cut along one side of the backbone to the tail. Make a second lengthwise cut along the other side of the backbone. Discard the backbone or set aside for another use. Open the chicken like a book, skin side up, and lay it flat. Using the poultry shears, cut the chicken in half through the breastbone. This will give you two chicken halves, which will lie flat on the grill. Place the chicken halves in a baking dish.

2: Make the rub: Combine the salt, paprika, brown sugar, pepper, onion and garlic powders, and celery seed in a small bowl and stir to mix. (Actually, your fingers work better for mixing a rub than a spoon or whisk does.) Set aside 1 tablespoon of the rub for the mop sauce. Sprinkle the remaining rub over the chicken on both sides, patting it onto the meat with your fingertips. Let the chicken cure in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 to 2 hours.

3: Make the Mop Sauce: Combine the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and remaining 1 tablespoon of rub with l/2 cup water in a nonreactive mixing bowl and stir until the salt and brown sugar in the rub dissolve.

4: Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat the grill to medium, then toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

5: When ready to cook, place the chicken halves in the center of the hot grate, skin side up, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and grill the chicken until cooked through, 40 to 60 minutes. To test for doneness, use an instant-read meat thermometer: Insert it into the thickest part of a thigh but not so that it touches the bone. The internal temperature should be about 165°F. After the first 20 minutes of grilling, using a barbecue mop or basting brush, baste the chicken with the mop sauce every 10 minutes while it cooks. Be sure to baste both sides of the chicken halves.

6: During the last 3 minutes, brush the chicken with about 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce. Move the chicken pieces directly over the fire to sizzle and brown the sauce on both sides.

7: Transfer the grilled chicken halves to a platter or plates and let rest for 3 minutes. Serve the chicken with the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.

Recipe Tips

This recipe calls for half chickens, but you could also use chicken quarters or chicken pieces, or even chicken breasts (you’ll have to reduce the cooking time accordingly).

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Steven Raichlen, a national barbecue treasure and author of The Barbecue! Bible, How to Grill, and other books in the Barbecue! Bible series, embarks on a quest to find the soul of American barbecue, from barbecue-belt classics-Lone Star Brisket, Lexington Pulled Pork, K.C. Pepper Rub, Tennessee Mop Sauce-to the grilling genius of backyards, tailgate parties, […]

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