Sunday, June 8, 2014

Whoa... Another post?! Recipe: Smoked Whole Chicken

Warning: This may be a wee bit rambly(Surprise!!!)  But useful, if you're interested in smoking/BBQ...

So I've been having a serious hankerin' for some GOOD smokey BBQ.

Hubs has offered to take me out for a belated B-Day Dinner and, when we go, it will be Trail Dust BBQ (bestest Q around here - IMHO).  But I'm not quite ready to call-in my rain-check, just yet.

Nope.  This past week, I decided to throw a chicken into the smoker, and I figured I'd share it here - because it is actually surprisingly easy to smoke a whole chicken!  Yeah, a bit of prep-work, but all things considered, it's *almost* a Set-It-N-Forget-It kinda venture...

This, coming from a person who was AFRAID to BBQ chicken - ever since the "Rocky The Range Chicken Incident".  Many years ago, mom bought a brandy-new gas grill with electric rotisserie.  I offered to cook and I ran over to the local gourmet grocery where I procured a rather expensive range-raised "Rocky" chicken.  I lovingly tended to Rocky for at least an hour, brushing him tenderly with BBQ chicken-marinade as he spun gently over the flames.  I had to leave Rocky unattended for THREE minutes - to run to the bathroom.  When I returned, Rocky was completely engulfed in flames (the rotisserie motor melted as Rocky was immolated).  Yeah, I was traumatized!

Well, last year, I got a Groupon deal for a BBQ class held at one of the local BBQ/Patio Stores.  The instructor was Big Ed of Big Ed's Buzzard BBQ in Santa Clara.  This was the Real-Deal BBQ: Shmokin'!

Ed gave an awesome (and entertaining) presentation; he covered all KINDS of smoking (ribs, chicken, brisket, tri-tip, pork roasts, fish, and even veggies!); answered all of our questions; *and* there was BBQ served for lunch (that, alone, was worth the price of admission!).  So if you're in the Bay Area and you ever see a Groupon for Big Ed's BBQ Class, I highly recommend it (and no, I get no spliff for saying so!)

I'd brought along a pencil and a composition book and took copious notes during the class.  Then I promptly moved my notebook to a Super-Secret/Super-Safe Location - Grrrr! (I hate when I do that!).

It's been hiding in that Super-Secret/Super-Safe location for almost a year now - but I did stumble onto it when I was shuffling some crap around on my desk - Yay!!  Then I quickly scanned it to a PDF (all twelve pages' worth of notes).  My PDF won't help anybody but me (my handwriting makes me think I should have been an MD!), but the point is: I found my notes - Yay - and I was able to smoke a chicken!

Here is what I did:

First off, I bought a fresh Foster Farm's Chicken.  I suspect FF is a California thing, but I'm sure other states have something similar.  Big Ed highly recommended Foster Farms because the chickens were *alive* the day before they arrive in the stores.  I'm thinkin' that's pretty fresh! (although I'll avoid commenting on "Factory Farming" - at this point. Obviously fresh, organic, range-fed purchased directly from the farmer would be better - but I digress....)

Okay. Got a Foster Farms 6# fresh bird.  Rinsed him twice under cold, running water.

First off, I brined him.
- 1 gallon of water
- 1/4 cup sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Ed's recipe calls for 8 oz of apple or cranberry juice.  I had neither so I dumped in a 12 oz. bottle of hard cider, and cut back about a cup of water.
- I also added a couple-three generous shakes of BBQ rub (probably a tablespoon or so)

Mix everything up in a bowl (I used a smallish bowl w/32 oz. water for the initial mixing, then added water - as needed) - make sure you get all of the sugar and salt dissolved at the small-bowl stage.  Then pour the mixed brine into a 2-gallon zipper bag, along with the rest of the water.  Add the chicken.  I find it helps to put the whole thing in a big dutch oven (and use a clip to "tie" the top corners of the bag together so it doesn't spring a leak and gooze nastiness all over the fridge) (yes, zipper bags *can* leak!).  Slide it into the fridge and let it soak.

Ed suggested brining for one hour per pound, and cooking within an hour (my bird soaked for just under 5 hours - I was *hungry!*).  If you brine overnight, or wait too long - after brining - to cook the bird, it tends to come out too salty.

Once you are done with the brine, dump it out.  Do not attempt to re-use it for anything else.

Next, I injected the bird.  I loosened the skin on the breast so I wouldn't have to inject through the skin (holes = places for the marinade to ooze out).  I used Creole Butter that I bought from Amazon.  They also have other flavors (Lemon Butter is quite tasty).

Notes on injecting marinades:

  • First, pour what you think you're gonna use into a separate container.  You'll use the injector needle to suck-up the marinade and you don't want to contaminate the jar-full of marinade. 
  • Second, make sure that any herbs/spices are well-mixed before you start trying to suck-it-up into the injector.  If you're making an injection marinade from scratch, make sure the herbs are crushed into teensy bits - otherwise, you'll jam up the injector.
  • Injecting the breast: Lay the bird on it's back (breast-side up), and work the injector under the loosened skin.  I managed 4 injections, per side, using only 2 holes, per side.  So left side, up toward the top of the breast, one hole and inject, then pull the needle almost all the way out, point it in a different location and inject again.  Repeat on the lower half of the breast.  Then do the same thing on the other side of the breast.  Total of 4 holes, 8 injections.  Then smooth the chicken-skin back down over the breast...
  • Then I squoze a couple more injections into the legs and thighs (don't bother with the wings).
  • Sorry, I didn't take exact measurements for the injector amts.  I think the syringe that came with the marinade holds something like 2 oz.  I probably used 4-5 "full" syringes, total (with the majority going to the breast zone).  You'll see, as you inject the bird, that the breast will "plump up."  If you inject too much, it will find a way to gooze out.  This definitely isn't a "science!"
I'm guessing there are probably YouTube videos on "how to inject" - and they're probably more useful than my instructions (and *definitely* more usable than my scribbly notes - which made PERFECT sense to me!)

Okay, so the bird is injected.  You can either roast him on his back in the smoker or stand him up.  I've got one of those beer-can-roaster stands (but I chose to skip the beer-can).  If you use a vertical roaster, spray it with oil before you shove it up his butt ;-)  It will make removal *much* easier!

I find it helps to twist the wing tips back behind the bird.  Keeps him as one solid unit, while cooking, so no black wing-tips.  Plus, he looks funny as hell!

Jes' chillin' before grillin'!
"You missed a spot!"

So yeah, after you've got him perched most-jauntily on his grilling stand, hit him with a light coating of Olive Oil (I used a spray-can of EVOO), then rub him oh so gently with BBQ Rub.  I used Bad Byron's Butt Rub from Amazon.  I've mixed-up some home-made rubs, in the past, but I find BB's Butt Rub to be tasty and simple (and yes, if you use any of my Amazon links, I *might* get a wee bit of spliff - although I haven't seen a penny, yet!)

I don't think it's *really* cheating to use a Tried-And-True BBQ Rub

Oops.  Let me back-up just a little.  About half an hour before I'm ready to start cooking, I like to soak my wood chunks in water (more smoke, less flame) - for, say, 15-20 minutes.  So before I injected, oiled and rubbed the bird, I grabbed a few chunks (and a lot of crumblies) of Applewood, put 'em in a disposable aluminum steamer-pan, and filled it with water...  Then I wrapped the big chunks in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and poked a few holes in the foil-wraps.  The crumbly bits were put into a smoker box.  About 15 minutes before the bird goes in (so right around "rub-time"), plug in the smoker and place the foil-wrapped wood-chunks between the electric heating elements, then balance the smoker box  full of wet-wood crumblies on top of that.  Let it heat up and start smokin'...

Smoker assembly: Mine is a cheesy-cheap Brinkmann P.O.S. Electric smoker, but it suits my needs just fine!  Bottom section is full of lava rock. The electric heating element sits on top of that.  The big wet-wood chunks are placed around the heating elements - but try not to have the aluminum foil touch the electric heating elements.  The smoker box got perched on top of all of that (and it doesn't matter if the smoker box touches the heating elements - at least I don't think so!).  Center cylinder is where the cooking racks and water pan go.  Water pan on the lower-supports (helps keeps the chicken moist).  I filled it with mostly water, a chunked-up onion, a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, and some pomegranate juice.  You can pretty-much dump whatever you want into the water pan.  IMHO, it imparts very little flavor on the bird...

Grilling rack(s) go above that (inside of the main cylinder).  I was only cooking the one bird, so I only used one rack in the lower position (directly above the water pan).  Additional food-safety note: If you're cooking multiple kinds of meat, do NOT cook chicken ABOVE something else.  

Then there's a lid that goes on top of the whole mess...

Once the smoker is heated-up and begins to smoke, place your bird in the cooker.  I had inserted a digital thermometer into the chicken thigh (from the butt-side, careful not to touch bone, nor the "injection zone."). 

This is the (mostly) Set-It-And-Forget-It part.  The thermometer receiver can be programmed to whatever your preferences are.  Chicken's default is 180* (I think), but I was able to tweak it down to 165* (per Big Ed's recommendation - the chicken continues to cook after it's taken out of the smoker).

Anyway, this is the part where I got to laze, with a cocktail, at the TiKi BaR and wait for my dinner to be done!

Once chicken reaches temp, you can remove him from the smoker, but wrap him in aluminum foil (and ideally, a towel), and let him rest for about 15-30 minutes.  Temp will continue to rise, and all of the juices should settle.

During cooking, you do have to keep one eye on the smoker to make sure that it's still smoking pretty-well for about the first hour to hour-and-a-half.  You don't want it BILLOWING, but you do want a nice steady stream of smoke (unfortunately, this picture doesn't show the smoke very well!).  After 90 minutes, additional smoke is unnecessary - the meat will take up all the flavor during the first hour to 90 minutes.  If, during the first 90 minutes, the smoker stops smoking, open the door and add more wood...

Two hours later, the thermometer beeped and I opened the lid to discover this tasty beast!

Those tanning beds'll kill ya!

Dinner was DELICIOUS!

The skin was just slightly crispy and the meat was tender and M-O-I-S-T!  Truly sublime!  That jar, in the background, is full of Trail Dust BBQ Sauce and, as you can see, my stash is getting dangerously low (another good reason to celebrate my B-Day at my favorite Q Joint!).

Final BBQ/Smoking Footnotes:
- One invaluable tool I've found is BBQ gloves.  You can grab the meat without getting burned (it was invaluable when I had to pull the rack out of chicken's butt!)
-Types of wood:  
  - Chicken works best with fruitwoods, and I am partial to Applewood.  
  - Pork is also best with fruitwood.  
  - Beef is better with Oak, Alder or Hickory
  - Fish is best with Cherry (or I'm partial to cedar-planked on the grill)
  - Ed doesn't use mesquite and, honestly, neither do I.  Too hot and "strong" in flavor
  - You can mix-up your woods, 50/50 if you like (50% Applewood, 50% Hickory)
-Aluminum Pans are VERY useful, when smoking.  I buy mine at a local restaurant supply store for appx $0.50 apiece.  They're nice and deep, easy for transporting messy food, and recyclable when you're done!
-Nitrile gloves are also quite handy ("handy" "gloves" Get it?!! bwahahaha!) during Chicken or Pork prep.  Thankfully, I've got CASES of these gloves lying around - leftover reminders of my Psoriasis/Eczema Days (which, for now are GONE - Glory Freaking Hallelujah!  More on that later...).  Anyway, food-safety cannot be downplayed when you are playing with a smoker.  Smokers, by nature, tend to cook Low 'n Slow, and if done improperly, you are inviting nasty stomach bugs!  Be safe!
-Lastly (unrelated to chicken-smoking) - Ed confirmed that Spreckles' the Fair Pig (actually *any* home-raised pork) is too lean for smoking.  My earlier endeavor into making pulled-pork out of Spreckles was a big-fat fail!  But I'm glad it wasn't "me" - it was just the fact that home-raised pork is too lean!

Okay, I think that's rambly enough!  If you've got a smoker, I would encourage you to give this recipe a try!  It was surprisingly easy and EXTREMELY delicious!



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