Ahhh, to be in the heart of Tuscany… the land of Michelangelo masterpieces (full frontal, ladies!), Da Vinci madness, Dante’s Inferno, chianti by the barrel full, crooked architecture, and wizened old Italian nonnas all lovingly tending hearths full of pollo al mattone. Unfortunately, I am stuck in southern Missouri, the land of giggin’ frogs, chasing storms, methamphetamines and Yakov Smirnoff dinner shows. Things aren’t all bad, however. I do have a case of twist top norton wine from Stone Hill Winery, a Silver Dollar City hand-crafted cast iron skillet, a Gateway Drum, a Nelly mixed tape, and a whole chicken begging to be given the Missouri meets Italy treatment.
For some reason competition cooks look at chicken skin in a way that chicken skin was never intended to be looked at. The pantheon of great chicken cooks is defined by who can make the skin tender and bite through leaving it almost as an afterthought. We want to leave the skin on to prove that we aren’t scared of it, but we don’t want the judges taking time with it or thinking too hard about it. It is a ridiculous standard chased after by ridiculous people, myself included.
Chicken skin deserves better than that. When prepared properly, it becomes much more than an after thought. It becomes the bacon of the bird world. That old Italian nonna knows something that competition BBQ hasn’t quite figured out. Birds are better when their skins are crispy and made the star of the show! Chicken cooked under a brick over a real flame is a simple way to get it done.
You will need
- 1 whole chicken
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 stick of butter at room temperature
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- Smokin’ Guns Hot BBQ rub
- 2 bricks wrapped in foil, or a heavy cast iron skillet
The first step in this endeavor is to spatchcock our chicken. What is that you say? Basically it means you are going to butterfly the bird by removing it’s backbone, but I just like saying spatchcock better. The best way to remove the backbone is to lay the little fellow breast side down on a cutting board and use some kitchen shears or a sharp knife to cut along the spine. You will be busting up some ribs as you go so it will take a little force. Don’t worry, your bird is already dead so just muscle through it. After you remove the bone (saving it for stock, of course), I like to give the breast a little push on the edges giving that keel bone a pop so the bird will lay out nice and flat. Give your newly spineless fowl a rinse and dunk it into our standard Gateway Drum Blog chicken brine (1/4 kosher salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar, dissolved in 1/2 gallon of water and chilled). Let it brine for 2 hours.
While you wait on the brine, make a Smokin’ Guns garlic butter. Put 2 tablespoons of the rub into a bowl with a stick of butter and the garlic. Give this mix a good stir until it is well incorporated. Set the butter aside and wait for the brine to work it’s magic. After 2 hours have passed, pull your chicken out, rinse it well, and pat it dry with several paper towels.
A fun game I like to play while cooking that helps me maintain my stellar physique is called hide the butter. Chicken is a lean protein just begging to be stuffed and rubbed with lots of butter. Loosen the skin of your chicken by running your fingers under it around the breast and thighs and start stuffing it full of your compound butter. I used about a 1/4 cup of our butter total making sure to give the top of the skin a good rub while I was at it. Give the bone side of the bird a good coat of rub, flip it back skin side up and do the same to your buttered skin.
Put a grate on the middle rack of your Gateway Drum dialed in at 300 degrees American. Put your chicken skin side down on the middle of the drum, put a spoonful more of the butter on the back of each side, and cover the chicken with your heavy pan or bricks.
Let this go for 45 minutes or so before pulling the bricks off the cooker and giving your bird a flip being careful not to lose any delicious skin on the grate. Let it go until your thermometer reads 160 degrees in the breast and 165 in the thigh, about 15 minutes longer.
Take your bird inside and “sauce” it with a little bit more butter. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so and tear right on in! If you melt a little Guns hot butter and dip your bird crab leg style, I won’t judge. As always, enjoy! And if you give it a shot, tell me how you did in the comments.