Lets start with the stuff you'll need for real barbecue chicken
PatienceLow and slow is the real secret to great barbecue chicken recipe. We're talking temperatures of 230/250°F (110/121°C) for an extended cooking period. This is not the fastest method, but the "bestest"! You'll need a bucket of this virtue when cooking barbecue chicken on the grill. Figure about 2.5-3.0 hours.
Gas Grill To cook barbecue chicken on a gas grill, you will need at least a good two burner model. You will use the indirect heat cooking method.
Spices We use rubs on our barbecue chicken and enjoy putting together our own with these basic fresh ingredients:
Salt (Kosher is much preferred)
Sugar (turbinado or brown)
Paprika (Hungarian much preferred for best flavor)
Pepper, black (fresh ground!)
Garlic, granulate or powder
Hardwood chunks/chips Use only hardwood for any barbecue like pecan, oak, Mesquite, cherry, Apple, etc., or a combination, to your taste. When it comes to smoking chicken, we found Hickory a little strong, but great!
Disposable aluminum pan For a gas or charcoal grill, you need an aluminum pan, filled with at least an inch of water, to place under the chicken.
Smoker box, or pouch Some grills come with a Barbeque Smoke Box for the wood chips, but if your cooker does not have one, just make an envelope/pouch from heavy-duty aluminum foil, and put a couple of handfuls of presoaked, drained (in hot water for about 10-15 minutes) chips on the foil. Fold into an envelope/pouch shape, and poke several holes in the top to release the smoke.
Chimney Starter For the charcoal smoker folks this is by far the best way to start, and maintain, the coals. If you've never used one of these ingenious tools, you're going to love the experience! Our favorite top performer is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Lot of chimney starters out there, but this is the best we've found.
Rib Rack This tool is the answer to cooking halves, or pieces of chicken, with limited grill space! You need one that is strong enough to hold the chicken upright, and regardless of price, few do. We found one that fits the bill with Steven Raichlen's Ultimate Rib Rack. A little pricey, but it works great!
Great barbecue chicken recipes start with a rub!
The chicken is first "rubbed", with a simple, dry, spice accented rub
recipe and then smoked slow, with low indirect heat. All for that
unforgettable tender, perfectly seasoned, eating experience!
when time is a factor, we will use the readily available "Lemon Pepper"
seasoning from our favorite purveyors. Works great, but for more fun
Let's start with a classic rub that will impart
all of the flavors your drooling chops are hankerin' for. Do not let
the simplicity of this basic rub fool you. It works great, and you can
adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours".
Basic Rub Recipe
Mix together thoroughly the following:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed). We prefer "turbinado sugar" for ease of use, but either one works fine.
1/4 cup sweet paprika (Hungarian, if you can get it)
You can see other simple dry rub recipes that work wonders, at our dry rub recipes page.
Now, let's prepare the meat...
NOTE: Chicken should be always kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4° C) before preparation.
Pieces or halves? We love to barbecue chicken halves because they require less attention and handling. Ah, but that's a guy thing. Pieces must be watched more closely but are certainly easier to serve, and you can choose what you wish to cook.
Take the thawed chicken out of the refrigerator, clean and rinse all pieces thoroughly - pat dry.
Apply the rub generously over the pieces, all sides and under the skin, if you can. We like to do this at least a couple of hours (up to a day) before cooking for the maximum effect, and remember to keep the chicken in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it on the fire.
We leave the skin on our birds for the best flavor, and to keep it moist throughout the cooking period. If you wish to have skinless chicken, remove the skin after it is cooked.
We know that barbecue chicken breast skinless is a favorite with many cooks, and we have barbecued our fare share, with one adjustment - we brush olive oil on the pieces, and then apply the rub.
Get the Barbecue Grill Ready...
On a gas barbecue grill, fire-up all burners and get the temperature to hold at 230 - 250°F (110 - 121°C). We found it to be imperative that a good oven thermometer, placed on the meat side of the cooking grill, is the only way to ensure that the cooking temperature is true. Note that the lid thermometer will indicate a higher temperature, and that number should be used only as a reference.
Now place the chips (pre-soaked in water for about an hour) in the smoker-can, or the prepared smoker pouch, over one burner (far left or right) and shut down the other burner(s).
Close the grill and let the smoke get started. This will be the last time, during the cooking cycle, you will have anything to do with the smoke. Too much smoke makes the meat bitter tasting, and smoking is actually done in the first couple of hours.
NOTE: Please, if you use charcoal lighter fluid, allow the coals to burn to a gray ash coating. There are several good "fire-starters" on the market that will not taint the meat, or impart potentially dangerous chemicals to the food.
On a charcoal barbecue grill, fire-up the charcoal...we like the chimney charcoal starter because it's the quickest and easiest way to start the coals. When cooking chicken on the grill, you'll need to replenish the coals occasionally to maintain the ideal temperature of around 230 - 250°F (110 - 121°C).
Start with about 60 briquettes. Let them get a to white/gray color and they will be ready for the grill. You will need to add more unlit coals (about 6 or so) right after you have the coals placed in the cooker, and several times during the cooking cycle, to maintain the temperature. Watch the temperature, and anticipate this with about a 15-minute lead.
Place a pan with an inch or more of hot water (no sense wasting fuel to heat the water) under the meat.
When you barbecue chicken on a charcoal grill, control the temperature with the bottom/side vents on your grill. Open the vent for more oxygen (heat). Adjust the top vent to half open and leave it alone.
Put a couple of handfuls of drained chips/chunks of hardwood (pre-soaked in hot water for at least 20 minutes) on the coals.
Now, close the grill and let the smoke get started. This will be the last time, during the cooking cycle, you will have anything to do with the smoke. Too much smoke makes the meat bitter tasting and smoking is actually done in the first couple of hours.
NOTE: Always use tongs! Never use the forked, sharp, pokey thing that seems to come with all backyard barbecue tool sets. It will pierce the meat and allow the juices to run out.
When the temperature has reached 230-250° (110-121°)...
Place chicken on the grill, opposite side of the fire, skin side up (meatier pieces closer to the fire), to begin cooking. Avoid the pieces touching. When you barbecue chicken on a grill, never let the meat overlap the fire. You cannot undo crispy or burnt chicken! Close the lid and...
Resist peeking! You're loosing precious heat and smoke. Open the lid only far enough to do the job.
With tongs in hand, check the chicken for the first time in about 90 minutes. Make sure the temperature is holding no lower than 230°F (110°C), add briquettes (about 8-10) for a char-grill, and rotate any pieces that may be cooking too quickly, away from the fire. You will need to check again in about 45 minutes to ensure the grill temp has not dropped below 230°F (110°C), add coals if needed, rotate the chicken.
You have time! If you have judiciously maintained the cooking temperature, peeked, and turned the chicken quickly, you can leave your station several times before the bird(s) are done. When you barbecue chicken on the grill think 2-1/2 to 3+ hours 'til end-of-shift. At the 2-1/2 hour mark grab that instant-read meat thermometer and...
Check the chicken at the meatiest parts (breast), between the bones, looking for 160°F (71°C) to be the magic number. When the temperature is right, remove the bird and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. This allows the juices to return to the center of the chicken.
Barbecue chicken has a wonderful, natural flavor, but if you wish (or if you must) you can now bring out your favorite BBQ sauce and baste during the last half hour of cooking. We do not cook chicken on a grill with barbecue sauce as this interferes with the smoke absorption, and there goes your fame!
Warm, and for the Cookin' Cousins" taste, eat 'em just as they are, but... many folks like a "finishing sauce". This is nothing more than a barbecue sauce, of your choice, served as a side dish (or two), for the folks who would like to add more flavor to their barbecue chicken.