Beer-Brined Smoked Chicken

My in-laws came for a week-long visit and I took a few days off of work to spend some time with them on their “vacation”. I conveniently figured out a way to stay at home in the air conditioning, while everyone else sat up at the pool in the 115° heat and humidity. “Well, I thought about smoking a chicken, but I would have to stay here and tend to the smoker… but you guys go ahead and have fun at the pool.” Bingo. Classic son-in-law… avoid spending time with the in-laws while making it seem like you wanted to be with them during every second of their visit. Just kidding, of course… I love my in-laws. My father-in-law loves craft beer and going to brew pubs… and he also know his way around a barbecue. What better way to impress them than busting out the smoker and throwing a chicken on there? But… there’s a secret to maximizing the “impressive” factor and having the moistest, tastiest meat possible. Brining.

I’ve brined turkeys before for Thanksgiving… let them “marinade” in a spiced salt-sugar water solution. Osmosis pulls out the less salty “juices” out of the bird, then the salt-sugar water flows into the meat… the salt breaks down some of the proteins, which tenderizes the meat, and all the spices and salt ad a TON of flavor. And… I’m a fan of figuring out ways to sneak beer into recipes when ever possible.

This is a twist on Sean Paxton’s (The Homebrew Chef) recipe for beer-brined chicken. His podcast, The Homebrewed Chef, on The Brewing Network, is quite possibly a foodies dream come true. The show’s theme is cooking with homebrew and other craft/micro brews… but he uses that theme as a launching point for all things food… how to find a good butcher, making your own cheeses, summer food idea, beer and wine pairings, cooking techniques and theory… it’s awesome. I highly recommend giving him a listen… his podcast is available on iTunes.

The Brine:

  • 1 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Orange
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 2 quarts (5 and a 1/3 12-oz bottles) of beer (a good craft American Pale Ale… like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, something slightly hoppy, but has a nice caramel-sweet malt profile)
  • 2 quarts cold water

Add all the brine ingredients, except the cold water, to a large sauce/stock pot. Make sure to squeeze out the juice from the lemon and orange, then quarter the fruit and add to the pot, as well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat, and add the cold tap water to cool the brine to room temperature.

One 4-5 pound roaster chicken from the grocery store, thawed (set it out in the fridge for two days before brining overnight, then smoking the next day… so three to four days of lead time),

Butterfly the chicken… like this:

… then, put the chicken in a clean bucket. Pour the brine over the chicken, making sure it is completely covered. Then, put the bucket in the fridge. Optionally, use a small, clean cooler. Put in the chicken, and cover with the brine. Use ziploc bags of ice to keep the brine as cold as possible… you’ll have to switch out the bags quite often to keep things nice and cool… but remember, this is raw meat, so good food handling practices are a must.

Let the chicken brine at least 12 hours… 16-24 is best.

Take it out of the brine, rinse it, and pat the meat (externally, and in the cavity) dry with paper towels. Optionally, you could work your fingers under the skin of the breast, and get some rub worked up on the breast meat. Lay the skin back down and “stitch” back onto the meat with some toothpicks so the skin doesn’t fall off during cooking. It works surprisingly well… and you could rub some galric cloves, or whatever under the skin to change up the taste of the skin and the breast meat.

Next, smoke the meat. 250°F for about 4-5 hours… you’ll want to use a sweet fruit wood, like apple or cherry, not something “over powering” like hickory. Stick your probe thermometer into the thigh, without hitting any bones, and smoke until the internal temp reaches 165°F. If you’re having trouble hitting your temp, preheat your oven to 170°, take your chicken off the smoker, put it in a pan, cover with aluminum foil, and put it in the over until it reaches its temperature.

When it’s done, it’ll look like this…

That’s it, really… carve it up…

….and serve to your guests. They’ll love it, I promise. It’s so moist and tender and tasty that there probably won’t be any leftovers… but if there are, it’d go great mixed up with mayo, celery, onion, pickles, salt and pepper for a great chicken salad.

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