Chicken is the first meat that a cook turns in at a BBQ competition and, believe it or not, we have a pretty good idea how our day is going to go after taking that first bite. Wander among the teams at your next competition and utter the words “chicken skin” and you are sure to be answered with a filthy look and a string of profanities. Achieving the perfect balance of tenderness, juiciness, sweetness and spice has been the bane of many masters of the pit. I’m not going to give you every secret I’ve learned over the years, but what I am going to do is tell you how to use your Gateway Drum Smoker to achieve the elusive holy grail of competition BBQ – tender, bite through skin every single time.
You have no interest in competition BBQ you say? Good! You are one of the sane ones, but stay with me. These techniques will make your woman swoon and your neighbors cower in fear over your new found weekend backyard prowess. Best of all, your Gateway Drum will make it so easy that you can put the chicken on, go in and start the game and soak in the accolades of your perfect BBQ during the halftime extravaganza. Let’s get this chicken started.
- Gateway Drum Smoker
- Lump Hardwood Charcoal
- Half-sized Foil Pan
- Aluminum Foil
- Small sauce pan
- a chunk or two of your favorite smoking wood
- 8 Bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 stick of butter/margarine (can substitute 1/2 cup of chicken stock.
- Your favorite rub
- A bottle of well balanced BBQ sauce
I get two main questions about my chicken during my social rounds on a BBQ Friday night: Do you scrape skins? And do you ever cook white meat?
My time is valuable. Anything that takes me away from my well worn spot on the couch is looked at with some sincere disdain. Plain and simple, I want to keep my chicken prep to a minimum so I can go about doing whatever it is that I do. Therefore, I refuse to remove the skins and scrape the fat off of them. Plus, chicken fat is one of the most delicious things on God’s green earth. Cook some diced potatoes in a little chicken fat and I promise you, it will change the way you think about our fowl little friend. The good news is that you can leave on all of that succulent fat and still achieve the desired results leaving you plenty of time to give that big screen TV the attention it deserves.
Chicken thighs naturally have more fat and connective tissue than chicken breasts keeping them juicy and flavorful while giving you a wide margin for error. This makes them the perfect cut of bird to use for BBQ chicken. If I am cooking them at home, I do very little prep. I just clean them up a bit and cut them square. If I am trimming for competition, I while remove the noticeable tendons and veins and pay attention to cutting them to a similar size.
Either way, when I am finished trimming, I pull the skin tight and wrap it around like I am making a little chicken burrito and that is it! Reward yourself with a beer! Chicken prep is done.
When you are ready to cook, sprinkle both sides of your newly formed chicken burritos with rub, place them in the foil pan and put in the butter. If you don’t like the idea of a half cup of butter heading straight to your waist line, feel free to substitute chicken stock. I’m already fat so I don’t worry about it!
Put your chicken pan in a cool place while you tend to the fire. You will want to run your Gateway Drum at 275-300 degrees. Drop your wood chunks in the fire and set your chicken pan on the top rack. Shut the lid and let it go for about 45 minutes. After the 45 minutes is up, open the lid and put the foil tightly on the pan. It is important to get it tight. At this point you are trying to steam the skin tender (yes, that is the big secret… I could have saved you a bunch of time and put it in the first paragraph!). Go for 1 more hour. when you have about 10 minutes to go, heat your sauce gently in the sauce pan just to warm it. After the hour is up remove the foil and dunk your chicken in the sauce. At this point you can put it back on your Gateway directly on the rack (or use a cookie sheet) for 5-10 minutes just to tack up the sauce. Pull them off the grill, grab another beer, stand back and watch them get devoured by anyone lucky enough to be at your house that day.
Give this a try and let me know how she goes in the comments section! I promise, you will be the BBQ chicken king of your neighborhood in no time at all.