Saturday, September 10, 2016

Baptist Chicken

It took me a while to admit to myself that my favorite meat is chicken. Well, grouse is better than chicken, but they're pretty close to the same thing. My favorite way to cook chicken is what we have termed "Baptist Chicken". That is, chicken that's first grilled then immersed in sweet sauce. The key is to coat it by immersion only after it's fully cooked.

It's real barbecue: we cook it in smoke at around 200° F. But chicken cooks pretty quickly: a whole chicken is completely cooked somewhere between four and six hours. When we're doing Baptist Chicken, we generally use legs and thighs.

With the Big Joe, Baptist Chicken has become the perfect slow-cooker meal. The Big Joe maintains its temperature beautifully – it once went 35 hours for me at a constant 215°F – nothing could be easier than throwing some chicken onto the Joe and ignoring it for four hours or so.

Let's address the first issue: rubbery chicken skin. Conventional wisdom says you'll get rubbery chicken skin if you cook chicken that low. That's only kinda-sorta true. The key is to cook the chicken directly over the fire, rather than using "indirect heat". On the Big Joe, that means I generally don't use the ceramic heat deflectors for chicken.

The mistake to avoid with barbecued chicken is saucing it too early. You don't want to even think about getting any sort of sugar- or tomato-based sauce on that chicken until it's at least safe to eat, if not fully cooked. If you sauce it too early, you'll get burned sauce on your chicken.

Once the chicken is entirely cooked, you want thin coats of sweet sauce on it. If you just want to use barbecue sauce from a jar (there's nothing wrong with that), then you'll want to thin it. I prefer to thin it with an eastern North Carolina style of sauce, but you can thin it with vinegar or a combination of vinegar and water. The key is to get it thin enough it'll coat the meat evenly.

So here's how I do it:

  1. I coat a bunch of chicken legs and/or thighs liberally with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic for almost every grilling application. Not for souvlaki...
  2. I set up the grill. With my grill, I know that a one-inch opening on the bottom vent plus the daisy wheel set about half-open on the top gives me almost exactly 200°F, depending on the weather.
  3. The chicken goes into the grill, directly over the fire. No heat deflectors, no indirect heat.
  4. I close the grill and ignore it for about four hours.
  5. I thin some sweet sauce. I've had good results using a combination of Kraft Original and Carolina Treet: almost any sauce should work, and a home-made sauce might be best.
  6. I put the thinned sauce in a mixing bowl and immerse the cooked chicken in it, then return it to the grill so the sauce will caramelize.
  7. You can repeat that last step as many times as you like, but you're going for thin coats, not large globs of sugary sauce on that chicken.

We have church pot lucks twice a month, and I live a short walk away. So my new potluck dish is Baptist Chicken. I put it on the grill first thing in the morning, and ignore it until just before lunch. A quick coat and back on the grill, the chicken is ready to eat almost on time.