I meant to write about grill smoked chicken breasts. Really I did. I love the dark side of the chicken so much, and I should really balance it out with some white meat chicken recipes.
And. And! My local grocery store had a sale on chicken breasts. Perfect time, right? Except…I thought I picked up two packs of bone-in breasts. Instead, I got two cut up frying chickens. Whoops.
(And yes, I’ll confess, the dark side is strong in me, and may have influenced my decision. But really! I had the best of intentions!)
This is my go-to chicken technique when I have white meat involved. Dark meat can stand up to the heat of the grill, but white meat overcooks so easily that I want to give it a wet brine. The brine seasons the chicken all the way through, and helps the meat hang on to a little extra water when it’s cooking, giving us an extra cushion.
As for the grilling itself – I grill-roast, using indirect heat. I never have any luck with direct heat and chicken pieces – the dripping chicken fat causes huge grease fires, and I get sooty outside and underdone inside on the chicken.
Indirect cooking also gives me extra time – which lets the smoke perfume the chicken meat. I get the best results when I use my charcoal grill and wood chunks for grill smoking. Gas grills have a lot of ventilation, so the smoke escapes quickly; my kettle grill traps the smoke in with the chicken. Two fist-sized chunks of wood (or their equivalent in smaller pieces) are just right to add smoke, without making the chicken taste like a bonfire.
My secret weapon for juicy chicken breasts is a probe thermometer. I stick the probe into the deepest part of the chicken breast, run the wire under the lid (and away from the coals), and set the temperature for 160°F. Then, I close the lid and walk away. When the alarm goes off, the chicken is done.
If I’m feeling adventurous, and willing to risk a chicken fat flareup, I’ll sear the chicken. I move the breasts to the platter – don’t want to overcook them – and then move the wings, thighs, and drumsticks over the direct heat part of the grill. A minute or two a side crisps them up – but I have to watch them like a chicken-hawk to make sure they don’t overcook.
I know this sounds complicated, but it is one of the simplest grilling recipes I know. No flipping, no checking – set up for indirect heat, close the lid, and come back when the alarm starts beeping. That said, simple doesn’t mean plain. Brined chicken, seasoned all the way through, and flavored with a touch of wood smoke is one of my absolute favorite meals.Print
Grill Smoked Cut Up Chicken. Pieces of bone-in chicken, wet brined and grilled with a hit of smoke. Simple and amazing.
- 2 fist sized chunks of smoking wood or 2 cups soaked wood chips (I used a mix of hickory and apple, but any smoking wood will do)
- 2 (3- to 4-pound) cut up chickens
- 2 quarts water
- 1/4 cup table salt or 1/2 cup kosher salt (3 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Brine the chicken: Dissolve the water, salt, and brown sugar in a container large enough to hold the chicken. Submerge the chicken in the brine, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 to 8 hours.
- Set the grill up for indirect medium heat: Set your grill up for indirect medium heat, 350°F, with a drip pan in the middle of the grill and the fire on the sides. In my kettle grill, I light a chimney starter 3/4 full of coals; when the coals are lit and covered with gray ash, I pour them in two piles on the sides of the grill, with the drip pan between the piles, in the middle of the grill grate. (If your grill comes with charcoal baskets, use them – they help keep the charcoal piles together.) Then I put on my grill grate and brush it clean.
- Grill the chicken until it reaches 160°F: Drain the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels – wet chicken won’t brown. Add the smoking wood to the coals in the grill. Put the chicken pieces on the grill, skin up, over indirect heat (that is, on the grate over the drip pan). Cook the chicken with the lid closed as much as possible until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160°F in the thickest part of the chicken breasts, about 50 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter.
- Rest and serve: Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes, then serve. (I like to cut the chicken breasts in half right before serving, because they’re too big for one person to eat as a serving…unless they’re really hungry.)
- For a charcoal grill, use wood chunks; If you’re cooking on a gas grill, use wood chips. The type doesn’t matter much, but I’d avoid mesquite if you can – it has a bad reputation. (It’s good for charcoal, but not as good as a smoking wood.)
- I don’t bother soaking my smoking wood – I’ve never noticed a difference. If you want to, go ahead, I won’t stop you.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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