As a competition BBQ cook, I tend to get stuck in a box. This is especially true when it comes to competition style BBQ chicken. Judges like thighs and more importantly, judges like my thighs. Why on earth would I change?
In a long standing off-season Tuesday evening tradition, I cracked open my last bottle of wine and pontificated on chicken. What if there is a better way? What if I could make a piece of chicken that is as moist and tender as a thigh without all of the fuss? What if cooking this new piece of chicken was so simple stupid that it was impossible to screw up? What if I didn’t have to spend 2 hours every Wednesday night butchering thighs into little conforming nuggets that vaguely resemble chicken? With a dream in my heart and a severe need for some more wine, I hit the local grocery store. While perusing the meat aisle as I am prone to do, I stumbled upon a package of chicken legs. The entire 8-pack was ready to cook and only cost $3.17. Could this be the enlightened path to a better way? I tossed the container in my basket and proceeded directly to the express lane with $3.17 worth of chicken and $42 worth of wine. It was time to fire up the Gateway Drum and find out.
I am a firm believer in brining my bird. This is doubly true when you plan on exposing this delicate and quick cooking meat to a dry method of cooking such as an open flame. Brining adds flavor and moisture, but most importantly, brining adds a much needed margin for error. You can overcook a brined piece of chicken and not turn it into an inedible puck of stringy, chewy capon jerky.
For these legs, I went with my standard, go-to brine. I put 1/4 cup of salt and 2/3 cup of brown sugar in 2 cups of water over low heat until they dissolved. I then added this mixture to 1 pound of ice and 1 quart of cold water stirring it all together in a bowl before dumping in my legs straight out of the package. I cracked open a bottle of wine, stashed the chicken in my refer, and plopped down on my couch.
After 2 hours and another empty bottle of wine, I drained off the brine and rinsed my legs drying them well with paper towels. I seasoned both sides generously with a well known chicken rub ending with the skin side up for presentation purposes.
I cracked open another bottle of wine, poured a fresh glass and headed out to spark up my trusty Gateway Drum. I wanted a little heat to get the skin rendered and the chicken done as quickly as possible so it wouldn’t dry out, but I didn’t want it so hot that it would burn the skin before the inside was fully cooked. I settled my can in at 325 degrees and placed the chicken on over the direct flame with the presentation side up being careful not to smear the even coating of rub as it went on the grate.
After 30 minutes and another glass of wine, I carefully flipped the chicken over, slapped the lid back on and went back inside. Maybe it was the booze talking, but that chicken already looked good enough to eat. I gave the legs another glass of wine (30 minutes or so) before grabbing them off and bringing them in for a quick rest while I picked out a sauce. The top shelf of my fridge is a graveyard of partially used sauces and marinades. I try everything and throw nothing away. It is a horrible combination, but worked out perfectly this night. After a quick glance I settled on a classic, and put the rest of a partially used bottle into a saucepan to heat. I dumped the now warm sauce into a glass, grabbed the legs by the end, and gave them a dunk one at a time placing them on a rack. I put the rack back on my drum for 5 minutes just to lightly set the sauce.
The chicken was beautiful, but the real test is in the bite. In eager anticipation I grabbed a piece and took a big ‘ol bite. The skin bit through easily and my mouth was greeted by an explosion of juicy flavor. I couldn’t believe it. It was every bit as good as my best thighs with a fraction of the work! $3.17 and no prep had just beaten a case of chicken thighs and hours of trimming. I poured myself another glass of wine, had a seat, and went back to pontificating on the high art of chicken cookery. My mind had been blown.
After much thought, I realized in a haze. Only one question remained. Do I have the balls to turn in these gams under live fire? That answer will have to wait until the spring.