I realize, now, that I had a lot to learn...
I bought my husband a copy of this book, but I've spent some time reading each recipe and appreciating all the great step-by-step photos, as well. This book convinced us to invest in a Weber grill, and we have grown to love it. We did buy a new gas grill, on sale, last summer. The gas grill is convenient, when we want dinner in a hurry-- especially fish and shellfish. For us, the Weber grill has been our first choice when we want to create barbecue that mimics slow-cooking over oak wood. We've perfected Santa Maria Tri-Tip, Ribs, Pulled Pork and Brisket by using wood chips and our Weber grill.
I should rephrase that last sentence. It is my husband who has perfected the art of grilling with the Weber. I'm very proud of how this self-proclaimed non-cook has become one of my favorite cooks. He still leaves baking, and most everything else to me, and I'm not complaining one bit.
Once again, it is America's Test Kitchen's/Cook's Illustrated's recipe on how to make Smoked Grilled chicken that had me summoning my husband to watch the video. In past years, I've had brined turkey and chicken and I didn't care for the texture. My skepticism began to soften as I saw that this brine only needs 30 minutes, up to an hour. It made sense that a sugar/salt brine would help the chicken to retain moisture.
What I really thought made sense, is that this recipe uses a cut-up, whole chicken (bone-in, skin on). The genius idea is that the larger pieces would be placed on the grill, farthest away from the heat source, while the thighs could go closer to the heat. The thighs can take the heat, and wouldn't dry out-- hence the chicken would all cook at the same time! I halved the recipe, by buying one 3-pound chicken (instead of six pounds), and asked the butcher to "pretty please" cut it up for me.
I whisked one cup sugar and one cup salt in a 6-quart plastic bucket, with a lid (easily found at restaurant supply stores). Into the fridge it went for an hour.
NOTE: (If you own a gas grill, I will give America's Test Kitchen's adapted recipe on the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.) While the chicken is brining, Craig fires up 3 quarts of briquettes and sets 2 quarts of unlit briquettes off to the side.
Once the briquettes are ready, he dumps them on top of the unlit briquettes (we are going for a low and slow grill here). Using a disposable aluminum pan, he pours in two cups of water. The water helps to stabilize the temperature, and helsp to create humidity, so that the chicken won't dry out-- as does the brining. The coals are ready in about 25 minutes or so.
My job was to dump the brined chicken into strainer to drain it-- but to NOT rinse it!
On a paper toweled lined baking sheet, I place the drained chicken, and pat it nice and dry. To create a golden skin, the chicken is brushed with vegetable oil.
The chicken is seasoned with pepper, only, since the chicken has soaked in a salt solution. Soaked wood chunks are what ATK recommends, to be placed on the coals as the grill is covered to heat. But, we don't have wood chunks. Instead, Craig makes a foil packet of soaked wood chips (apple) with a few slits. He places those onto the lit charcoals and then places the chicken on the grill. Notice the breast are out the edge, farthest away from the coals (indirect heat), while the thighs go closer to the heat source. I don't like chicken wings, so I let Craig place them wherever he wants them.
Here's the set up. Now, here's what's easy-- the top and bottom vent are opened to halfway, the grill is covered and we don't even look at the chicken for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. By inserting an instant read thermometer, we see that the grill's internal temperature is holding at 325F. Perfect!
With camera poised in my hand, Craig removes the lid. There is no Photo Shop here-- this is the color of the chicken! Isn't it beautiful?! This reminds me, a bit, of the Grilled Turkey we made for Thanksgiving.
So, we got the color I was hoping for. The real test is-- will the chicken taste good, and will it be moist?
I can see juice oozing out... and I'm famished!
I made a quick Garden Fresh Corn "Succotash" for a colorful and healthy side dish.
As I cut into the chicken breast, it's really juicy. My husband cut into a chicken thigh, and he could see a light ring of "pink" from the smoke.
TASTING NOTES: It was love at first bite. If you like the flavor of smoked food, this recipe delivers. I didn't think the smokiness was overpowering at all. My husband says he'd like to tone down the smoke taste a notch more. He says he'll decrease the wood chips to one cup, instead of two. I could go either way. As Craig ate his chicken thigh, juice kept squirting out! The texture of my chicken breast was really good-- so I just might be a brined chicken convert, after all. The skin was moist and soft, but I rarely eat chicken skin-- unless it's crispy.
Bottom line: This chicken was perfectly seasoned. The salt was just right, and not overpowering. I liked that this chicken doesn't need to be basted with sauce. If we can find oak chips, I'll bet this chicken will taste even better. If you don't like smokey flavor, I think the cooking method is perfect-- just don't use wood chips. I will definitely use this recipe again, for grilled chicken.
As always, a printable recipe card is at the end of this post. Once again, America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country has come up with a clever way to mimic foods that are cooked in a fancy (and expensive) smoker so that we amateurs can make it at home, too!