Chicken, Brined and Smoked

For about a year and a half, I have been a recipe tester for the America’s Test Kitchen publication, Cook’s Country Magazine. In that time I have tried many recipes, but one really has made it into my regular rotation. Their recipe for Smoked Chicken turns out perfect every time. The meat is tender, juicy and pink (from the smoke) with skin that, depending on the piece of chicken can range in color from light tan to mahogany.

The secret to this recipe is revealed in the title of this post, it is brined. Soaking a whole chicken that has been cut into eight pieces (wings, breasts, thighs and drumsticks) for 30 minutes in a gallon of cold water with a cup of sugar and a cup of salt dissolved in it makes all the difference. While the chicken soaks, there is just enough time to start the lump charcoal and wet the wood chips of your choice (I generally prefer to use apple for chicken, hickory for pork and mesquite for beef).

The last thing that needs to be done before putting the chicken in the smoker is to take it out of the brining liquid, pat it dry, rub a small amount of neutral tasting oil (I use canola, but vegetable would do just as well) and season it with freshly ground black pepper. The oil helps make the skin turn the wonderful shades of brown.

By the time the chicken is ready to go into the smoker, the charcoal and smoking chips should be ready. Once the chicken goes into the smoker, the hard part begins…the wait. The nice thing about smoking chicken versus a pork butt or beef brisket is that the wait is much shorter. It usually takes about 90 minutes while keeping the temperature in the smoker at about 225 degrees. The chicken is done when the internal temperature of a breast is 160 degrees and that of a thigh or drumstick is 175 degrees.

One additional thing that I like about this recipe is its versatility with side dishes. The bold smokiness of the chicken matches well with a variety of options, running the gamut of a tossed salad to cole slaw to almost any warm vegetable. Tonight we enjoyed this delicious bird with creamed spinach. To top off the evening’s experience, my older daughter, Evie, hugged me and told me that I smelled good, like the smoker. Perhaps I will have an assistant during this BBQ season.

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