This article has been re-printed here with permission from:
(I apologize about the different fonts...it's weird because they all say that they are the same. I've added some line-breaks in where they are appropriate, too. Also, I've used the brine, and it is AWESOME! -- mythmaster)
Chicken is not a tough piece of meat and cooks in a fairly short period of time, so you don't have to worry so much about temperature spikes (for fear of burning the outside, and undercooking the inside) as one would with a brisket or pork butt. Chicken is fairly forgiving meat to barbecue. They are cheap and plentiful so don’t be afraid to experiment with new methods. There is no doubt that brining before cooking any kind of poultry has very distinct advantages.
It is preferable to cook chickens in halves, rather than whole. They take on a little more smoke and flavor and brown on both sides, which looks nicer. In you can apply a finishing sauce to both the outside and inside if you like. If you chose to present pieces of the chicken rather than the whole, carving these pieces will be easier if the chicken is already cut in half to start.
Some things to consider when selecting a good BBQ chicken:
- Do not select the largest chicken you can find. These chickens are often very fatty and do not yield a lot of flavor in the meat.
- Look for a chicken that has a skin, which is free of nicks, cuts and blemishes. This will help to ensure that your final product looks as attractive as possible.
- If possible select a chicken which has not been previously frozen.
- Although free-range chickens are more expensive, they are also more flavorful.
Take the whole chicken and remove the giblets and neck from the body cavity. If you plan to serve the breast meat in competition it is preferable to try and keep the skin between the two breasts intact to retain moisture during cooking. To accomplish this, place the chicken with the breast facing up. Insert a knife into the cavity and cut through the rib bones as close to one side of the backbone as you can. Repeat this on the other side of the backbone, and discard the backbone. Turn the chicken over and press down on the breasts flattening the chicken out in the process (It might help to make a small cut on the inside of the breastbone. If you want two halves, just cut the chicken in half through the breastbone and backbone. Wash the chicken off in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Chickens nowdays are raised very quickly to a market weight using carefully formulated feed. These chickens do not have the flavor of those old-time barnyard hunt-and-peckers. There is no doubt that brining poultry leads to a more flavorful and juicy end product.
The brining process forces water into the muscle tissues of the meat by a process known as diffusion and osmosis. This additional moisture causes the muscle tissues to swell and hold more water. The resulting water in the muscle tissues will make the meat more moist and tender. Any spices herbs or other flavorings you add to the brine solution will get taken deep into the meat with the water.
The following is a tried and tested chicken brine recipe;
1 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon each of dried tarragon, thyme, black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Start by boiling the water and then adding the salt and sugar, so that it will dissolve easier. Then add the spices to the hot liquid so that the flavors are extracted. Cool the brine solution.
Place the brine solution into a non-reactive container and immerse the chicken in the brine, weighting it down if necessary. (Use a heavy plate or a brick inside a ziploc bag as a weight). Place the container into the refrigerator and leave for 10 hours. You can also brine the chicken in an ice chest, by pouring the brine solution into the ice chest, immersing the chicken and weighting down. (Use ziploc bags filled with ice cubes, or "blue ice" to keep the brining solution cool during the brining process.
Upon completion of the brining time remove the chicken from the brine and wash twice for at least 30 seconds in fresh water. Dry the chicken with paper towels.
A few things that you need to be remember when brining:
- Make sure your brine does not contain too much salt. The salty flavor of a brine is typically offset by using some kind of sweetening agent such as sugar, honey, maple syrup etc.
- Do not leave the chicken in the brine for too long or you will end up with a very mushy and salty end product.
- Make sure you wash the chicken in fresh water for 30 seconds, at least twice after you remove it from the brine.
- Be careful about using acidic products in your brines as these will begin to ‘cook’ the meat and result in a mushy end product.
- Brining must take place at temperatures of 40 degrees or below. Only place your chicken into the brining solution once it is cold. You can cool the brining solution in the refrigerator or by using ziploc bags filled with ice cubes.
- Ensure that the brine solution completely covers the chicken during the brining process.
Some guidelines if you are not brining chicken halves are as follows:
- Chicken Parts 1 ½ hours
- Chicken Breasts 1 hour
- Cornish Game Hens 2 hours
It is not necessary to season the chicken with salt prior to cooking, as it has already been salted throughout as a result of the brining process.
Take some Italian salad dressing or olive oil, and rub it all over and under the skin. Get you hands real far up there, all the way to the leg bone.
Then, rub down with your favorite rub all under the skin also.
At this point you can also chose to inject your chicken with a marinade.
If you plan to let the chicken stand for any period of time, remember that you should put it back into the refrigerator to avoid bacteria forming.
Effect of Smoke
It is recommended that you use lighter flavored woods when smoking chicken such as cherry and apple.
Do not place too much emphasis on producing chicken with a deep ‘smoke ring’. The ring of color grading from dark on the outside to a pale pink deeper into the meat is not really a smoke ring at all. It is a chemical reaction of meat's constituents. The depth of color depends more upon the moisture of the meat than upon the density of smoke. It has no bearing on flavor and is not used as a judging criterion in competition.
Temperatures and Times
Chicken is not a tough meat and thus is not adversely affected by spikes in temperature. However the ideal temperature to cook chicken is approximately 250 to 300 degrees F. Cooking times may vary, but usually chicken halves will take 3 ½ hours. Place the chicken skin side up on the cooker and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. Remember also that brined chicken cooks faster than unbrined chicken. If you are using a cooker that has multiple racks, place the chicken on the top rack so that when you mop any other items in the cooker, the mop does not drip onto the chicken and spoil the appearance of the skin.
After an hour of smoking, brush the skin with Italian salad dressing or olive oil, and again after about 2 hours. This will help the skin from drying out.
It should not be necessary for you to wrap chicken.
Holding the cooked chicken in foil once it is cooked can help make the meat even more tender and juicy. However you do not want to leave the chicken wrapped for too long, as it will lose moisture in the process. If this does happen make sure that you reserve these juices and use them to baste over the chicken before you present it. If you do decide to wrap the chicken in foil do not put it back on the cooker, as it will steam in the foil and you run the risk of the chicken becoming mushy and falling apart. Place it rather in an ice chest and insulate with blankets or towels.
There are a number of ways to present chicken. You can chose to separate individual pieces, such as the leg, thigh, wing or breast. Then you can present 6 of the same cut or mix and match your cuts so that the judges have the opportunity to chose what they personally like to eat. Whatever you decide to submit, remember to cut it up in such a way that the nicely browned skin covers the white chicken meat for a neat presentation.
If you want to just serve breast meat, which will be the easiest for a judge to eat, and if cooked properly will be moist and flavorful. Carefully cut the breast meat and skin away from the bone and cartilage of the carcass, then slice diagonally at an angle, into 6 slices. Gather the slices back together, and reassemble the breast meat as neatly as possible.
If you have overcooked the chicken, the breast meat will likely be dry and you might consider entering thigh meat, which will be moister.
Once you have cut the chicken into the pieces you want to present, baste with any chicken juices that have accumulated through the holding process or while you were cutting the meat for presentation. Spray with apple juice just prior to submitting, which will moisten the meat and give it a nice shine.