Barbecue Chicken Thighs 3


At least for the foreseeable future, my barbecue posts will probably reference Mike Mills’ book, Peace, Love, and Barbecue; and generally without using any of his recipes directly. That’s because the book’s strength is its cooking tips: Mike spends many pages discussing barbecue techniques, and the recipes are simply examples. The book might be a little weak handling fish, but for the other meats, it is the only barbecue book you’ll ever need.

With that, I’ll start with the template of this recipe, which was inspired by the Super Smokers’ Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wings, which can be found on page 199:

  • Wood chips for smoking poultry;
  • Roughly three-and-a-half tablespoons of salt-based barbecue rub;
  • A half cup of fruity barbecue sauce; and
  • About two pounds of chicken parts.

You’ll also need a disposable aluminum pan for this recipe, about 9 by 13 inches.

The basic recipe is simple: start by covering your chicken with your barbecue rub, and let it marinate in your fridge for at least an hour. More is better; you could let the chicken sit overnight. Then, heat your barbecue up to 250 degrees (Fahrenheit), and add the wood chips and the chicken. You’re not placing the chicken directly over the coals; you’re smoking with indirect heat.

(I’ve got a barrel-style grill. The fire goes on one side of the grill, and the meat goes on the other.)

After about a half an hour, open up your grill and add more wood chips. At this point, you’ll want to rotate the hot side of each of the pieces away from your fire. To be clear, this rotation is not about the usual axis that you’re used to — this isn’t turning the chicken over. You can turn the chicken over, too, but that’s not as important as getting an even heat through the whole piece of chicken.

About a half an hour later, pour that cup of barbecue sauce into a sauce pan and heat it up. All you’re doing is breaking down the sauce’s viscosity, so that it’ll coat evenly for the next step. It shouldn’t take that long.

At this point, you want to get that disposable aluminum pan. Take the chicken from the grill and place it in the pan. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces, then turn over the pieces with your tongs until the sauce coats the chicken.

Then take the pan and put it back on the grill. Add some more smoke, wait 30 to 45 minutes, and you’re done.

That’s the template. Here’s what I use:

Wood Chips. Because I’m using a sweet barbecue sauce, I like balancing it with the robust flavor of mesquite.

Salt-based Rub. I use my own blend, dubbed Texas Skeeter Dust. It’s got a zillion ingredients, so will get an entry all its own. I used a slight modification of the Super Smokers’ the first time I made this, and it worked out fine:

  • 1.25 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 0.5 tablespoons onion powder
  • 0.5 tablespoons chili powder
  • 0.5 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 0.25 tablespoons kosher sea salt

Fruity Barbecue Sauce. Here’s where being married to Auntie Pasto gives me an advantage. In June, she made a Zesty Peach Barbecue Sauce using the recipe from the yellow book (also known as the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving). As you can probably guess from the sauce’s name, it’s sweet and fruity, but it’s also mildly spicy.

Well, mild for me, anyway.

If you don’t have access to this sauce, you can try getting an off-the-shelf substitute with the same sort of flavor profile. (Like, say, “Jalapeño Peach”.) The Super Smokers don’t even go that far, though — instead this sauce, they take one part hot barbecue sauce, and mix it with two parts honey. (I haven’t tried that; they’re going for a super-sweet profile on their wings, so it’s probably too much honey for the taste I’m going for.)

About the only warning I have for selecting your barbecue sauce is to avoid one that’s “smoky”. The whole point of the grill is to add real smoke, and you don’t need to screw that up by adding a conflicting liquid smoke in your sauce.

Chicken. Well, given the name of the recipe, it should come as no surprise that I work with chicken thighs. What might be surprising is that I use organic bone-in, skin-on thighs. The “skin-on” part should be obvious: the fat from the skin helps keep the chicken from drying out while you’re smoking it. Once you go skin-on, there’s no cheap reason to avoid the bone.

The “organic” part deserves a little bit more discussion. The industrial processes that are used to cut and clean “normal” chicken tend to spread diseases across the whole batch of chicken, rather than just one or two pieces. As a result, you should really follow the USDA recommendation, and cook your chicken to 170 degrees (again, Fahrenheit). Organic chicken, on the other hand, tends to be cleaner; you can usually get away with cooking your chicken ten degrees cooler.

(If you want to follow up on the subject, Robb Walsh spends a few pages talking about this in The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook.)

Finally, I should mention a great advantage to this recipe: because the chicken finishes cooking in that disposable pan, you can move it from your charcoal-powered grill to a gas-powered one (I’ve got the Brinkmann two-chambered grill), or inside to finish in your oven. While this move runs counter to the Zen of Barbecuing, it does mean that you can maintain a schedule with this dish even when your grill is running a bit cool.

Makes 4 to 8 servings.


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