Hot Smoked Whole Chicken
The sun is out and it's BBQ time. Whole Hot Smoked Chicken it is then. People's reaction, when I tell them that I am barbecuing a whole chicken, is one of surprise. I have always thought of a BBQ as a hob and/or an oven. So why not roast in it?
You need to have the coals at the right temperature (no flames) and keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat (yes, that's sometime easier said than done). However, smoking is my new best thing. And the 3in1 BBQ charcoal smoker is my new best toy this summer! It impressed us with the cold smoked cheese and cashew nuts (interested? See the blog before this one).
Of course, you could just throw your chicken on the BBQ, and hope for the best, but I like to build in a few insurances! How can you insure flavour and a succulent juicy bit of meat? I hear you ask Well let me tell you. It's all in the brining. Let your chicken (or turkey) bathe in a chilled salt and sugar solution, it tenderises and saturates the cell walls of the chicken. So overcooking by a few °C, means you are less likely to have a rubbery or dry chicken, than you would, if you just slapped your bird carelessly on your grill.
Just like smoking, when you're brining there are many (too many) recipes saying very different things. Maybe I read too many recipes and I should just take the first one for granted! The main thing is to get the water, salt and sugar levels correct. Then I would just use my imagination with the flavours:
4.5 L water1/4 cup sugar (I used muscovado brown sugar, I though the caramel colour and flavour with lend itself to the smokey essence) 1/2 cup salt (I used table salt but they say it is best to use rock salt!)
Bring these three ingredient to the boil in a large pot. This is the base for your brine. Now you need to think what flavours you want your chicken to have. I went a little crazy and throw in loads of dry hard spices.
A handful of whole pepper corns
Four or six bay leafs (dry and fresh).
Handful of star anise.
Handful of whole allspice.
Three dried red chillies
A handful of dried rosemary (fresh should also be fine, I think!)
2 Garlic bulbs chopped in half through the equator
And now for my stroke of genius: 2 lapsang souchong tea bags (tra lah!) to give colour and a little bit of smoked tea flavour.
I think that's all that I managed to get my hands on! But you can add what ever spice you want, things like soya sauce, fish sauce, cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon, mace the list can go on and on!
Once the brine has come to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 mins. then let the liquid cool, the liquid has to be cool before the chicken goes in. You don't want the bird cooking before it's time! Once boiled, I took the pot to the sink which was filled with cold water. I wanted to cool the liquid fast, so that the chicken can have a good six hours in its bath. (Lucky chicken!)
With the chicken nestling in its cast iron dish (perfect size for the fridge and the chicken), I filled the pan up with the cooled brine. Making sure that most, if not all, of the spices went in. Then to the fridge it went!
I have BBQ'ed a whole chicken before: Butterflied and cooked on an open top. It was lovely but very BBQ'ed. I had been scared that it was under done, so I may have over cooked it a little. (I wish I'd used a brine!). This time, I want to hot smoke and barbecue the chicken. Not knowing what to expect with this new BBQ/Smoker, I was very exited to give it a go.
You must light the charcoal way in advance. I am not a fan of the self light stuff, as it tends to burn up and burn out very fast. But I am a big fan of the loose charcoal, (there are some very good British brands) that, for some reason, always takes longer than I want to get going. But I get there in the end. I use a charcoal chimney, that should (if done properly) speed up the starting time and allow you to light the charcoal with only a few bits of newspaper. ( However I always end up using about half a newspaper! If anyone has any tips please do share.).
Once the coals have started and the flames have died down, the coals should turn white or grey (this is very important). Now it is time to cook! The smoker has a water basin that sits above the coals with a rack on top for the food. There is another rack above this. Loads of space for smokey food. The water basin works in two ways: Firstly it catches the oils that fall from the chicken. This stops the coals from flaring up. Flames are you enemy when smoking! Secondly the water keep the temperature to a constant.
So, I understood the concept...but could I do it in practice?
After six long hours of brining, I poured the liquid away and popped the chicken back in the fridge for half an hour to 'dry'. I kept the spices aside, as I thought they would smoke well.
Coal ready, water in the smoker basin, chicken on the rack. I closed the lid and threw in some pre-soaked wood chips (soaked for thirty min). Such beautiful smoke billowed from the BBQ. I felt confident that this chicken would take on the flavour and colour from the smoke. Although confident about the flavour, I was terrified about the temperature, as I didn't want to poison my guests and the lovely Jonathan. I had spent all my time reading about cold smoking, but I hadn't read about the hot side of things! And I didn't know that the thermometer reading of 85 °C inside the barbecue was safe! I late discovered that this is a good temperature to hot smoke a chicken as the final internal temperature of a bird that is safe to eat needs to be 75°C. ( this is what i understand from reading. please take this higher to 85°C if you are feeding elderly, pregnant or infants!)
I decided to take the water basin out and finish the chicken on a high heat, more wood chips and the left over spices. This was a good call. The temperature rose from 85°C to 150°C straight away and the bird's internal temperature slowly but surely rose. With the meat thermometer set for 70°C, I only had to wait 20mins or so.
Once cooked I let the Hot Smoked Whole Chicken rest. It had had a hard day and a good rest would let all the juices relax inside the bird. Yumcars!
It was perfect, Not to blow my trumpet too much but I would say it could very much be the best chicken I have ever made (an eaten!) Check out the results