Smoked Chicken (LONG post)

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One of the things I’ve wanted to make for a LONG time is BBQ Smoked meat. Ideally ribs but really – I’m not too fussed just what. I’ve always held my self back though, being perhaps uncertain of the process or not having the time or any of a number of other reasons. Yesterday I took took the plunge…

Walking through the local supermarket looking for lunch I came across a whole chicken on sale. I’d just been looking at BBQ Pitboys and I’ve got the urge. So I gone done bought that bird;)

Reading around a bit, it became apparent that this was a whole new adventure. Terms like ‘brining” were appearing and there was little old me thinking it was all about just burning meat. Well – it’s not.

“Low & Slow” is the order of the day.

I brined the chicken in 5l of water in which was dissolved 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Yes – I know I should give weights but tough – all the recipes you find will be in American so live with it;) This took 24 hours in the fridge. A little tip I discovered was to use the salad drawer in the fridge. Also a good excuse to clean it out.

Once brined and washed under cold running water, I left the chicken to dry for an hour. This gave me time to get the fire going AND soak the wood chips.

How to dry a chicken?

How to dry a chicken?

Laying out the fire for smoking is a bit different than regular BBQ. The idea is to be able to get a constant low heat source somewhere int he region of 100 deg C to 120 deg C. This sounds low but it isn’t. Some sources give even lower temps but I’m a bit cautious here. Also as this is going to take a long time and your coals will burn out, you need to think about how to add extra fuel during the cooking time (and wood chips for that matter, after all, you are smoking right?). You also need a heat sink to stabilise the temp AND capture the fat from the meat. An aluminium try with a liter of BOILING water was what I used.

My Weber has a few useful features when it comes to this. The first is that the fire grate has some movable “walls” that allow the fire to be retained to one side of the BBQ. The second is that the grill has liftable sides that you can drop things through, like fuel and wood. Cool:) After looking at a few examples of other folks fires and what not I decided to partition off the fire, lay a layer of briquettes and put my fire on top of those. It all looked a little bit like this:

An unlit bed of briquettes. Use a starter chimney - brilliant device.

An unlit bed of briquettes. Use a starter chimney – brilliant device.

Make sure the water is boiling to begin with.

Make sure the water is boiling to begin with.

So far, so good. What about the bird?

There are many ways to cook a chicken on a grill. Some of them involve stuffing the bird, others use a beer can etc etc. In my case, extra moisture for the cooking process was to be provided by the aluminium water tray and as this was a first go – I didn’t want to mess around with stuffing and such like. I just wanted the heat to get to the meat. Consequently, I cut the bird in half lengthways:

Cut in half and seasoned, after drying of course.

Cut in half and seasoned, after drying of course.

It is possible to marinade the meat. In my case I just used rub of salt and pepper on the inside and Weber BBQ Beer Can Chicken on the outside together with a little olive oil. The oil helps the skin go golden brown and crispy. Perhaps I should have not used any rub the first time, possibly, but I’m sure this won’t be the last one  do.

Now comes the fun part…

After waiting for an hour and getting the fire laid out, lit etc, it was time to let the meat meet the fire. OK – not so fast there Hoss. One of the things to remember is that this low and slow. And that the temp needs to be LOW. Here’s the thing, it’s not easy to to that. It takes practice and experience. This was the first time I attempted cooking this way. With hind sight I used too much fuel and so the temp was too high. As it was already after 6pm and I knew it was going to take a long time, I took a gamble and went ahead. The temp gauge was showing around 150 to 170 deg C. Oh well…

I’d prepped the grill with a rub of veggie oil before putting it on the coals. I’d also positioned the fire to be perpendicular to the handles. This is an important point. If you have to move your Weber then the handles don’t need to be hot. Also I suspect the heat probably isn’t too good for the plastic.

This is what it looked like now:

Note the fire is away from the handes and the meat away from the fire.

Note the fire is away from the handles and the meat away from the fire. You can also see the hole left for feeding fuel through. The sausages were an extra:)

I added the wood chips (Weber FireSpice Apple chips) that had been soaking for an hour. How much wood? Probably you need four handfuls. Put on half the chips to begin with. This will give a LOT of smoke but thats ok. You have the lid on and the meat is most receptive to the smoke before it is cooked.

A side note about temperature regulation. It needs to be learned and it needs to be done slowly. On my Weber, there are vents top and bottom. If they are fully open then a lot of air can get in. If there is a lot of air, the fuel burns quicker and hotter. This is not good. To keep the temp down and fire going slowly, I closed the vent at the bottom almost all the way and left the vent at the top only a little open. You wouldn’t think it at first that this would make a difference – but it does.

Top vent is almost closed and smoke is coming out. Very nice:)

Top vent is almost closed and smoke is coming out. Very nice:)

Then comes the waiting…

It’s hard to do, but it’s well worth it. I didn’t crack the lid for at least an hour. When I did – this is what it looked like:

The fire was still probably too hot even at this point.

The fire was still probably too hot even at this point.

I added some more wood chips to smoke again and left it for another 30 minutes (sans sausages – hey – I had to eat at some point). After another 30 minutes I added some more fuel on top, even though probably I shouldn’t have. The temp was now much more acceptable – around 120 deg C. But of course the temptation to mess with the air settings came in and I opened it up and the temp went up. All things to learn for next time.

After around 3 1/2 hours and some more adding smoke etc, the end results:

The skin was crispy and whole. The meat beneath looked succulent but...

The skin was crispy and whole. The meat beneath looked succulent but…

It looks good and smells awesome. The taste?

I don’t know yet:(

I have left the meat to rest (under foil) and as it’s now really quite late, I will taste it when it’s cool:) Breakfast will be interesting.

Read part 2 tomorrow to find out how it tasted, what it looked like and allow me to bore you with my findings.

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