Monday, October 14, 2013

I smoked a chicken and nobody was harmed.

Grate marks add character, right?
I do OK in the kitchen. If I'm not particularly big on presentation, my food makes up for it in complex or interesting flavor profiles. Or at least is generally edible. However, when I end up with something that is flat out inedible or so bad that it might as well be - it's usually chicken. Breasts, thighs, legs - whatever. It's unevenly cooked, dried out, burnt - or just weird tasting. I had to debone a whole chicken in small galley of a boat at the age of 15, and I think I was traumatized by the experience. So, of course now that I've learned my way around my new electric (no propane or charcoal allowed, sadly) Brinkmann smoker - I had the bright idea to prepare a whole bird. And to my surprise, it worked out.

Mostly, I came across some whole chickens at Trader Joe's, and they were super cheap (under $5). It seemed like a good idea at time. I know my way around a roast turkey, but I've never prepared a whole animal of any sort without adult supervision (thanks, mom@ballsandpie). So, mostly I approached this as a little turkey, with a spice rub instead herb butter. Basically: Brine, Rub, Cook, Carve. It turns out that this is a reasonable approach. Mostly.

You'll need:
4 ~ 5 lb chicken

1 Gallon Water
1 Cup Salt
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tbsp peppercorns (telicherry or rainbow)
1 tbsp dried rosemary

1/4 Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Soy sauce
1 tbsp paprika (I like Hot Hungarian)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne

applewood chips
hickory chips

What I did:

24 hrs later, this is my nightmare.
To brine the chicken (allow 12 hours or so), you soak it in sugary salt water to keep it moist during cooking. This works well for turkeys and pork butt and most meats that you cook slow and low. As long as you're following the 1 Gallon/1 Cup Salt/1 Cup Sugar ratio, feel free to include anything you think might lend some nice flavor. Osmosis will force water into muscle, and carry flavor with it. Hooray for science.

1. Mix water, salt, sugar and spices together in a refrigerator friendly container. Anything not aluminum. 

2. Remove chicken from any wrappings, take out the giblets, and trim as necessary (you might have some bonus neck that you can do without. 

3. Immerse in brine, and refrigerate for 12 hours or so. I've seen figures between 4 hours and 1 day. Your goal here is to drive water into your meat, and after 12 hours, my bird held up nicely to 5 hours of cooking.

4. Remove and pat dry.

Again, no hard and fast rules. I put together a basic wet rub without salt or sugars, because the brine had that covered. In the future, I might add a touch of acid (apple cider vinegar, or maybe citrus juice).

1. Mix everything together.

2. Smear on the inside and outside of the chicken. Yes, inside. Where the stuffing would go on a turkey. If you're a novice, and totally grossed out by now, just wait, it gets better.

3. So, your chicken has skin. Right now, it should be well rubbed. Which is great, because cooked chicken skin is fatty and cripsy and delicious. However, you really want to season the meat, too. Which is great, because uncooked chicken skin is fatty and clammy and stretchy and gross. Don't be shy, find an opening by the neck and/or tail, shove your hands in and create pockets between the inside of the skin and breast on both side.

4. Take your hands out, get the rest of your rub, and go to town in those gross skin pockets you just made. Avoid tearing the skin if possible, but a little won't hurt anything.

5. You can probably give it an hour or two to soak in flavor, but I went straight to the smoker.

6. Sanitize everything that came into contact with chicken or chicken juice. Raw poultry is rife with salmonella and other food poisoning waiting to happen. Gross.

My smoker has an electric heating element sitting on "lava rocks." It works best with 1/2 hour soaked chips in a pierced aluminum pouch. I find that a rough 80/20 apple/hickory gets the best results with pork, so that's what I used here.

1. Light, ignite or turn on your smoker, and add wood as works best. I drop my pouches right on the element.

2. Place the chicken in the smoker, breast side up. I started breast side down, and discovered some lovely grate impressions when I eventually flipped it over.

3. Flip over after 1 hr or so. At least, this seemed to be recommended by the internet in a few places. Add new wood as necessary for the first 2 hours.

4. Smoke until the middle of the breast is 165 - 170 F (about 1 hr / lb). This is safe to east.

5. My chicken topped out at 155(ish) F. The juices were running clear (which is what you want), but to be safe, I finished off in the oven at 375 F for 20 minutes until it was up to temperature. I brushed with olive oil to crisp up the skin.

6. Remove, drain fluids from the middle (I forgot, and it got messy when carving) and rest for 20 minutes.

7. Carve* and enjoy!

Brined and dried
Rubbed ... everywhere.

After the flip
Ready for the oven

Despite not getting the most prettily carved pieces of meat off my bird, it tasted great. Cooked through, savory but very moist, with nice smokiness. The drums and wings had some nice pink (you want this in smoked meat), but the breast smoke ring was a little inconsistent.I'll probably tweak my smoking strategy next time around to make sure I've got more consistent smoke. And I had a lot of leftovers for a nice sandwich, or salad or soup something. That was the plan anyway, but the next day I made the mistake of snacking on a small piece, and then it was just all gone. Note to self: almost as good cold.


A plate of awesome

* It turns out I had no idea how to carve a chicken. It got ugly.

I had the wings first, and was less concerned about how pretty the rest looked.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure that by now you know how to do it, but here's a tutorial on carving chicken.