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Grilled Chicken- Low and Slow Grilling
The best chicken you and your guests will ever have off of a grill combines starting the bird with brining, adding aromatics and veggies to collect in an amazing gravy, and, of course, the low and slow smoked method described below.
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Charcoal or Gas?
The idea behind grilling is to get back to nature; commune with the outdoors. Live like our forefathers did, cooking over an open fire; using the flavors of wood and smoke to create a masterpiece worthy of those who blazed those early trails to the West! What could be more American than that!
I've used gas only a few times in my life, and only when forced to because I was at a friend's house doing the cooking. To me, gas grilling is simply taking your stove outside. Of course, I hear the arguments for gas: It's convenient; there's little mess to clean up; it doesn't choke me with smoke and soot. I can agree with is that there's little mess to clean. I've often found myself with a pile of ash on the patio while trying to be oh-so-careful getting rid of it from the grill. However, it's hardly a big deal. A hose washes those ashes into the grass. As for convenience? Well, I get the coals lit and go prep the rest of my food while they are getting hot. Now, the meat (pun intended) of the argument is the lack of smoke and soot.
Having read the first paragraph of this subtitle I'm sure it's obvious what side of this argument I fall! It's that smoke, soot, and those natural flavors that I prize in my grilling. However, I get that there are times that this runs afoul of the Good Neighbor policy. High-rise or close-quarter dwellers are right to be reticent to fill their neighbors house with the succulent smell of cherry wood smoke and charcoal. And, in that case, I will tell you that I'd rather see you grilling with gas than not grilling at all!
Stuck on Gas?
It's OK...The article will describe using charcoal, but you can make adjustments. Just remember that many gas grills can achieve indirect cooking if they have multiple burners. This blurb from Better Homes and Gardens describes it nicely (remember the drip tray!). If you don't have a multi-burner grill, you'll simply keep the flames low.
To achieve the smoky goodness that your charcoal brethren get, there are many commercial products out there. I prefer the cheap route of an aluminum foil pack. This article from Patio Daddio has all the info you'll need.
Bring the Heat!
It's time to set up the heat. This works equally for round or rectangle grills. First, in the center of the coal area, set up a drip tray. I strongly suggest a disposable, foil tray; just a few inches deep will do the trick. Fill it with about 1/2 inch of water. This will prevent the drippings from burning up when they hit the hot tray.
Set the coals equally on both sides of the pan. I strongly suggest using a charcoal chimney to start the coals, and then be careful as you empty them out in equal batches. Once the coals are going, close the lid for a few minutes so you can check the interior heat. If you have a meat thermometer, place the probe end so that it is in the center of the grill and you can close the lid with the dial facing outside. Of course, it's even better to invest $20 or so in a nice electronic, remote probe meter.
Time and Temp
It will be tricky to control, but you want to keep the temperature around 275°F. You'll keep the temperature up by adding 5 or so briquettes around every 20 minutes as needed. Use the thermometer to keep an eye on the cooking temperature.
The grill may vary from as low as 250° to a high of 325°F, but try to keep it in the middle. Too hot, and your bird will cook too quickly; missing out on the low and slow benefits of a great smoky flavor. It also risks drying out the meat. If it's too cold, it will take a long time to cook.
At the right temperature, a 3-4 pound fryer will take from 60-75 minutes. You want the center of the breast meat to reach 165°F. Use a thermometer starting at the 45 minute mark.
Thank You For Smoking
Smoking will add even more flavor to your chicken. With a gas grill, refer to the previous subtitle above for instructions. With charcoal, I simply keep a batch of mesquite chips soaking in water for about an hour, then sprinkle a handful on either batch of coal. Keep in mind that, when they dry they will start on fire, adding more heat.
I like to use a full handful of chips about 10 minutes into the start of cooking, then sprinkle a bit more when I add more briquettes. It's important to keep in mind that every time you lift the lid to work the coals, you are releasing heat, moisture and smoke. This increases cooking time, so that's why I add chips when I add charcoal; it reduces the times I lift the lid.
Let it Rest!
When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the grill and place it in a shallow pan. Now, leave it a alone for 10 or 15 minutes. That's called "resting". It allows the heat to even out and juices to disperse into the meat. Otherwise, those juices and flavors will be all over the cutting board instead of in the chicken.
The Big Moment- Carving the Chicken
There are plenty of videos and instruction for carving a chicken. Be careful when removing the thigh/leg and wings because the meat will be so moist and tender that you are quite likely to pull the bone out of the meat. My preference is to use a sharp chef's knife and split the bird in half, serving each guest a half chicken.
Those who haven't had meat cooked slow and low and smoked will often be concerned that they received an undercooked piece of chicken. What they see is a pinkish tinge in the outer portion of the meat. This is caused by the smoking process and called the smoke ring.
Take a Bow!
Your guests are now enjoying some of the best chicken they've ever had. Crack a cold one and enjoy the accolades!