Hey all! Tank inquired with me about pulled chicken methods a few days ago and mentioned there aren't a lot of threads on the topic (offering info he was looking for). This evening, I had the opportunity to do a pulled chicken smoke, per my youngest daughter's request. The wife and daughter were obviously conspiring together on this being they picked up the poultry yesterday afternoon while I was still at work...LOL!!!...but I don't mind.
Anyway, if you smoke BSCTs for pulling, you may find some similarities with my methods, as well as some variations from how you do yours, so this may offer you some things to consider changing if you can't quite find that sweet spot. I don't always use the same methods, as I'm a tinkerer, but this is one of my go-to ways to make great pulled chicken with very little effort or prep time.
This is as easy as it gets, IMHO, for pulled chicken. I like easy, and I also like using reliable methods...I'll try anything once, twice if I liked it. Boneless, skinless thighs, trimmed semi-lean, rinsed, drained, rubbed, smoked, panned/tented with a little melted butter and lemon juice [~70/30 ratio] (butter to add a little bit more richness and to baste (or turn over meat into it) for keeping the surface moist a couple times after panning/tenting, lemon to add a bit of acidity to perk things up and get your mouth ready for the next bite) and finished to desired tenderness. I learned the acid ingredient trick from Chef JimmyJ, BTW...great source of info, he is...it's a little finishing sauce trick. Pull in the pan after resting for at least 15 minutes while covered (longer if using a baking dish with a lot of mass, although you can remove from the cooker a bit early as the mass will continue cooking the chicken for a bit)...(your fingers will thank you for resting it), then toss a bit to redistribute the liquids over the meat's surfaces and enjoy!
I use a bit different method for skin-on, bone-in, if I opt to leave the skin on, but I generally don't just so I can trim away most of the fat. If skin-on, I don't rub (usually) and remove the skin, then pull, and season after pulling and toss it all together...no lost rub on the tossed skin.
The rub I used tonight is a variation of Naked Chicks Dry Rub based on Red Bell Pepper (for skinless whole birds) found HERE, minus the cayenne and brown sugar, with slight ratio changes, being a bit lighter on chili powder, and one addition, being a 1/4 tsp of sage. I didn't want the heat of cayenne this time around or quite as much chili flavor, nor the extra sweetness of sugar with these smaller cuts, so that's the reason for those changes. The sage was a toss-in for a bit different overall flavor profile...sage chicken is actually pretty popular with some folks and there are tons of variations based on the addition of other main ingredients, but my thoughts are that a true sage chicken recipe needs careful formulation if you're trying to build one from scratch...I haven't gotten too serious about that just yet..maybe some day soon, but the wife isn't very fond of sage, so I gotta be careful with this one, if ya know what I mean (I sneak some into a spice blend once in a while just to see how she reacts to it). The rub this evening was reformulated as the original was for whole birds, where this smoke is dark meat only. Oh, and this was only approx 1/8 batch compared to the original recipe, as I had just 4lbs here to rub with a single application...don't want to go overboard.
So, let's see where this goes...I haven't made BSCTs for pulled chicken for probably more than 18 months......tonight was good excuse to do them again. Besides how hard can it be, right?
A few basics on pulling for those new to method:
We know that the easiest pulled meats have some fat content, some connective tissue is desirable to allow some collagen to release into the meat during cooking, and easily pulled meats/are finished to relatively high internal temps, usually at least 195*, but sometimes 200-205* depending on the cut, cooker, conditions during cooking and personal preference to texture...the hotter it gets, the softer it will pull. Lean cuts are not good candidates for pulling, however, in my past experiences, with some tricks, can still be done, but it generally takes ideal conditions which are not easily duplicated.
If a slightly chewier texture is to your liking, lower finished temps with a little more effort to pull the meat will be your route. If the pulled subject will be for reheating and serving at a later date, you may opt to pull at lower temps. This will cause more effort and be more difficult to remove unwanted tissues for a clean pull, but will be much more forgiving for reheating, as you can finish cooking when reheated and reach your desired texture, then reduce the cooker temperature to a holding temp of 140* if needed prior to serving. The reduced holding temp will stop the cooking process once the meat reaches lower temps, and 140* is safe for holding with a small margin for error. 135* is the absolute minimum recommended holding temp per 2009 food code, but offers no margin for error in thermometer readings, so I don't recommend or practice holding at that low of temps. (BTW, if this has been updated/changed, please feel free to drop a reply on me, as I haven't had time to look for revisions lately).
Trimmed, rubbed and ready to smoke:
Smoke Vault 24 is fired up (I know, the Vault??? Kinda big for a couple thighs, isn't it??? Just warming it up a for another all-night double packer brisket smoke tonight...LOL!!!) for a 225* smoke with a 60/40 blend of apple and hickory chips for a quick heavy smoke up front and letting it ride light and steady for another hour or so. I put 1/2 qt of water into my foil drippings catch over a pea-gravel filled water pan just for some added humidity for better smoke reaction...pea-gravel as the primary thermal mass for aiding in temp control. I could run mush higher chamber temps, but that would drastically reduce smoke reaction time on these small cuts, so I use less smoke wood for a shorter period with lower temps up front, then I'll bump these 250 after an hour, for another 20-30 minutes (this higher temp allows for more thermal absorption on the surface before handling so it continues cooking while I pan/tent the meat. Temps during panned cooking @ 250 for about 30 minutes or until the desired tenderness is reached (no set time for this, is about your preference and depends on your cooker). Periodically baste and check tenderness. The 250* panned temp will average closer to 225* with chamber openings. The lower chamber temp during smoking will aid in moisture retention in the meat along with transitioning to a dry smoke chamber later in cooking before they hit a tented pan to finish:
I decided to use a baking dish to finish the thighs, and preheated the dish @ 250* while melting the butter to mix a few dashes of lemon juice...into the "O" you go:
BSCTs, after 2 hours total in the Vault...1.5hrs @ 225*, 1hr 0.5hr @ 250*:
I also decided that since the weather is quite windy, and the "O" will already be hot, I'll use it (smoking is over, so what cooker I use doesn't matter...this is a cheat that makes no difference to me what-so-ever, and the food won't care either):
You may be asking yourself why I made no mention of checking internal temps on these...they're small and difficult to get reasonably accurate temps, except maybe with a therma-pen (which I don't currently possess), but these will definitely be well above the minimum safe internal temp of 165* because to reach easily pulled temps, being boneless, won't happen until around 180*...bone-in closer to 185-190* so that more of the connective tissues have melted away, but it all is dependent on the cooker and conditions during smoking. So, no special equipment needed to do your pulled chicken, even with whole birds, but I'll discuss that at a later date in another thread, probably on the 19th or 20th this month, so watch for a 8-bird pulled chicken thread.
***DROOL ALERT---COVER YOUR KEYBOARDS***
I flipped these over just once during finishing:
Iyanked the dish out of the "O" @ 1 hour, when a larger thigh probed fairly tender, but had slight resistance yet...I let it rest to finish cooking with the residual heat in the baking dish and begin cooling for 15 minutes...could have went for about 25, as it was way too hot to handle, but I managed OK..the girls were getting hungry and when I pulled it out of the oven...er, oops, the "O"...(LOL!!!), I heard comments about someone smelling something really good ring out through the house, so I knew I better get pullin' without too much further delay:
Lots of extra lemon-butter for whoever wants to add that little extra snap and richness:
How about a couple little rolled-style sandwiches, with a 1/2 Tbsp lemon-butter drizzled over each little heap of pulled thighs? Simple, tasty and all pulled BSCTs...tasty finger-food:
It's that easy and simple...hand-pulled for great sized pieces and a nice firm yet tender chew...we love it that way.
The lemon-butter had just a touch of lemon flavor to the overall profile...very nice way to finish a simple, but oh so good entree. The rub was actually very good too, but we are partial to any of the variations I've done with red bell peppers, so you'll have to try that to find out for yourself, if you're interested. The smoke combo was light and paired well with overall flavors of the meat and rub...nice way to bring it all together...hickory was not the dominant flavor, but added just a little snap to the sweeter apple smoke, which is what I wanted.
My oldest daughter heard through the grape vine that I was smoking her favorite and drove 140 miles from college to get here. The look on our faces when she opened the front door and walked in unannounced must have been priceless...GREAT surprise and we're all excited she's here! She's currently working on invitations for her wedding and the girls are putting that all together tonight...I think the BSCTs pushed her over the edge and she couldn't resist the drive, and the invitations were a side project...I know my daughter better than to think otherwise...LOL!!! However, it could have been a three party conspiracy, with everything that's going on...hmm...got me thinking now, but I'm sure they'd all deny it if I asked...LOL!!! Oh, this is as far as I got before I had to get briskets trimmed and separated for a smoke tonight...I asked her if this was a planned thing and she said nope, I was lonely, but I did hear about the pulled chicken, too.
Enjoy your smoked pulled chicken thighs! If you're not quite happy with your results, just make a change or two...you just may be pleasantly be surprised how far it might take your next pulled chicken smoke. This particular method may not be to your liking, maybe because of the butter, but there's no law that says you must use butter for pulled chicken, a little splash of olive oil or whatever else pulls your trigger will do fine, or no added fats at all, just some water with lemon juice, maybe even apple juice or cider if used sparingly. Just think about what you like on chicken...we just happen to enjoy lemon with chicken, so this made for a great match for us. lemon isn't your thing, think soy or worsty sauces, teriaki...you get the point...it's customizable, just like your own dry rub blends...have fun with it!
Same thing goes for your finishing method...maybe you like some bark on the meat...if so, don't pan it to finish...stay on open grates and let that bark go wild. Some toss the thigh into a muffin pan and tuck it all in for a nice snug ride...helps for moisture retention, I suspect (never tried it, so just guessing on that.
Great smokes to all and to all a good night! Oh, wait I just started another brisket smoke...maybe I'll stick around for a while yet...LOL!!!
Edited by forluvofsmoke - 4/14/13 at 7:20am