After years of cooking chicken halves in many different ways using the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, I have reluctantly come to this conclusion:
I can get moist, tender meat. I can get smoky, flavorful meat. I can get beautiful skin that looks delicious. But all too often, the skin is soft and rubbery, especially on the breast and thigh. This is one of the biggest complaints that people have about chicken that's barbecued "low and slow".
What I've learned is that the problem has to do with the cooking temperature. Chicken skin has a thin layer of fat under it, and when it's cooked at high temperature, the fat sautés the skin. When cooking at "low and slow" barbecue temperatures, this fat just melts away without getting hot enough to sauté the skin.
The best way to achieve chicken skin that's worth eating is to cook the chicken at a higher temperature. Here are some photos I took on June 8, 2014 when I cooked high-temp chicken on the Weber Bullet.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Preparing And Brining The Chicken
Purchase two whole chickens weighing 3-4 pounds each. Remove the backbone and breastbone following the instructions on the How To Butterfly A Chicken page, then separate the butterflied chicken into halves (Photo 1).
About 30 minutes before cooking, generously sprinkle both sides of the chicken with a favorite rub (Photo 2). For this chicken, I used Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ All-Purpose Rub.
Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature while you fire-up the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.
Firing-Up The Cooker
Light a full chimney of Kingsford charcoal briquettes. Spread the hot coals evenly over the charcoal grate (Photo 3). Measure another 1/2 chimney of charcoal and spread these over the hot coals (Photo 4). When all the coals are ashed over, you're ready to start cooking (Photo 5).
Cooking The Chicken At High Temp
Assemble the WSM, but remove the water pan—you will be cooking the chicken directly over the hot charcoal.
Open the top vent and the 3 bottom vents fully and leave them that way throughout the entire cooking session. You want the WSM to run as hot as possible.
Place the chicken skin-side down on the top cooking grate (Photo 6) and replace the lid.
Add 2 chucks of mild smoke wood on top of the hot coals (Photo 7). Each chunk should be small, for example 3" x 2" x 2" or similar. I used cherry wood, but oak, apple, or other mild fruit wood is acceptable. There is no need to soak the wood or remove the bark before use.
Cook the chicken skin-side down for 30 minutes, then turn skin-side up (Photo 8). Continue cooking until the meat registers an internal temperature of 160°F in the thickest part of the breast, 170°F in the thigh. This may take an additional 15-30 minutes of cooking.
Here's how the temps and vent settings went during the cooking session.
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
Might Be The Best You've Ever Made
Toward the end of cooking, brush the chicken lightly with a favorite barbecue sauce. I used Kinder's Mild BBQ Sauce, a local brand in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
The chicken shown here took 1 hour to cook at about 310°F. If you can run the WSM even hotter, say 350-360°F, you may be able to shorten the cooking time even more.
Photo 10 shows the finished product. It had a beautiful mahogany color and looked very appetizing. The chicken was moist and tender, as expected, and had a light, smoky flavor with just a little heat from the rub and sauce. As for the skin, it had some nice charring in spots, the fat was well-rendered, and it was tender enough to bite through and enjoy.
When I served this chicken to my wife, she sat quietly and took several bites before proclaiming, "This might be the best chicken you've ever made." In my book, there is no higher praise than that, and I had to agree, it was pretty darned tasty!
So try this high-heat chicken method soon...I think you'll like it! We certainly did!
More Chicken Links On TVWB