Barbecued chicken on the grill can be one of the easiest (or easiest to destroy) meats to cook in the outdoors. The biggest mistake folks often make is to cook the chicken at too high of heat, drying it out and burning the skin along the way. True barbecue is an art that pairs the flavors of the smoke, seasonings and sauces with the natural flavors of the meat that you’re cooking. If you want to avoid the backyard BBQ flare-ups, turn down the heat and actually barbecue low and slow, rather than throwing the chicken on a searing hot grill.
Starting with a good piece of meat, such as Amish chickens, which are less fatty and contain no solutions or fillers, is a great way to begin. As a professional BBQ competitor, the methods I use in competition can be used successfully by anyone in the backyard as well. Whether you cut up a whole chicken yourself or use leg quarters or thighs, start by preparing your bird with a nice rub. There are plenty of commercial rubs are available, or you can easily make your own to taste with some dehydrated garlic and onion, sea salt and a little chili pepper for some heat. Experimenting with different spices from the kitchen pantry can be half the fun!
Your grill should maintain a temperature between 250° to 270° F – you can achieve this by cooking over indirect heat in a gas grill with a low temperature setting or on a charcoal grill (my preferred method) by adjusting the air vents. The lower temperature will take longer to cook (about 2 to 2 ½ hours), but will allow the meat to slow cook, trapping the juices beneath the skin and infusing the flavors of your spice rub. Cooking at a higher temperature around 300° to 325° can speed up the process, but make sure your meat is not over direct heat to avoid flare ups and burning the masterpiece. Bank your coals off to one side of the grill or shut off the gas burner directly beneath the chicken. Don’t forget the smoke either! On a gas grill, use a smoker box with wood chips that you’ve soaked in water ahead of time or use lump hardwood charcoal or chunks of hardwood on the coals for that true barbecue flavor.
Maintaining the heat is the only work you need to do, perhaps adding a few more pieces of charcoal every half hour or so. Rotate your chicken half-way through your cooking as well to move the pieces that were nearest the heat to the edge of the grill and vice versa. Once your meat reaches an internal temperature of 165° (taken in the thickest part of the meat), you’ll see the skin of the chicken has formed a nice golden color, referred to as the “smoke ring”. Brush your chicken with your favorite barbecue sauce (shameless plug for my favorite, Croix Valley Garlic ‘n Herb Steak Sauce) and let the sauce “set” on the grill for about five minutes to adhere to the meat.
By using a true and simple method for low-heat and slow-cooked barbecue, you’ll discover the succulence of the meat, the smoke of the grill, the flavors of the spices and the finish of the sauce all combine for a true culinary delight. Those charred black pieces of dry meat will be a thing of the past and your family and dinner guests will be asking for your recipe time and again!
Keep on grillin’!