Basic 101 Grilling & Smoking Chicken for the Beginner

Have you ever cooked a perfect chicken? Were the breasts moist and tender and the leg completely cooked? Chances are, not always. Why is it so hard to get the dark meat cooked perfectly without over cooking the white meat? The reason is that a chicken is two distinctly different kinds of meat. The breast meat is very different from the leg, thigh and wing meat. This can create a real challenge when it comes to cooking the perfect chicken.

The make-up of a chicken:

At the biochemical level a chicken is a combination of approximately 3 parts water to one-part fat and one-part protein. Most of the meat comes from muscle fibers in the chicken, which are mostly proteins – notably myosin and actin. Because chcikens rarely fly but rather walk, they contain far more fat in their legs than in their breast, which results in the strong differences in texture between these sections of the bird – and the difficulty in making sure that all portions of the bird are properly heated.

The science of cooking a chicken:

As you cook the chicken, muscle fibers contract until they begin to break up at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Bonds within the molecules begin to break down, causing proteins to unravel, and the dense muscle meat to become tenderer. Collagen in the bird (one of three protein fibers that attach muscles to the bone) breaks down into softer gelatin molecules as it unwinds.

The dryness of a chicken is a result of muscle proteins coagulating within the meat, which can result if it is cooked too long.

Temperature differentials in cooking a chicken:

Part of the problem, as described above, is that the different nature of the light and dark meat in a chicken results in different rates to reach the coagulation of the muscle proteins. If you cook it too long, the breast meat has coagulated; if you don’t cook the bird long enough, the dark meat is still tough and chewy. Harold McGee, a food science writer, indicates aiming for 155 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast), but you want 180 degrees or above in the leg.

Common Myths:

Myth #1: You should wash raw chicken before cooking it.

Bad idea. In fact, the USDA advises against it. When you wash raw poultry, the pathogens get on your hands and in the sink. Cooking poultry thoroughly deactivates these pathogens, so you should avoid handling raw food as much as possible. If you use a cutting board, sanitize it and the knife properly, and discard the packaging carefully.

  Link to more Information:

Myth #2: Removing chicken skin and fat will help lower my fat intake.

 Not really. If you do this, your chicken will be dry and flavorless. Cook your poultry with all its skin and fat, and it’s fine to eat some cooked skin. In fact, it can be healthful if it comes from a well-raised chicken.

Myth #3: Yellow chickens have more fat than paler chickens.

 Not necessarily. A chicken’s pigment comes from the color of its feed. A chicken that eats feed containing xanthophyll will have more yellow hue than one that does not. Either way, chicken skin is not an accurate measure of its fat content, nutritional value, tenderness or flavor.

Myth #4: If the Chicken label says “fresh,” then it’s fresh.

 Not always the case. According to the USDA, any poultry stored below 0 degrees Fahrenheit is considered “frozen” and above 26 degrees Fahrenheit is considered “fresh.” However, a turkey at this temperature is neither “frozen” nor “fresh.”

Myth #5: Cooking a chicken until its “juices run clear when pricked” is standard poultry advice but, according to Cook’s Illustrated, it’s not a very dependable way to tell if your chicken is properly cooked

So how do you know when the smoked chicken is done?

  • Use a thermometer. It is the best way to know that your bird is safe to eat. Chicken is cooked at 165 degrees F but when smoking you want to overcook it. Test the temperature in the thickest part of the chicken breast. A good smoked chicken will be very tender, have a late summer tan, pink meat.


                     Cooking times and temperatures for chicken pieces:

  Temp  Time  Finish 
Chicken Thighs  250 1.5 Hr.  170
Whole Chickens  250 3.0Hr  170-Dark 165 White
Chicken Quarters  250 2.5Hr.  170
Breast (Boneless)  250 1.0Hr.  165
Wings  250 2.0Hr.  170
1/2 Chickens  250 2.0Hr.  170-Dark 165 White

Why is smoked chicken skin tough? 

 “The Chicken Skin Problem” One of the biggest issues with smoking chicken is the skin. Roasted at high temperatures, chicken skin will render fat and moisture and can become crisp and easily bitten through. Slow smoked, at a low temperature, the skin can become tough and  rubbery

How do you make smoked chicken skin crispy? 

Try bumping your temperature up to at least 350 when you smoke it. OR, you can throw it under the broiler for 2-4 minutes once you take it off the smoker. I smoke my chickens at 250 and use Three Little Pigs Championship rub on the skin and add a couple tablespoons of corn starch, never have much of an issue with crispy skin.

Why Brine Chicken?

  • Brining chicken not only adds moisture to the chicken, making it nice and plump, it also helps prevent it from drying out when you cook it. The result is a delicious, moist and juicy chicken.
  • Brining not only affects the texture and juiciness of your chicken, it also affects the taste. A few hours in a brine will let salt penetrate deep into the chicken meat, enhancing its natural flavor.
  • Of course, there is one disadvantage. All the extra water that ends up in the chicken can make it harder to get a crispy skin. Luckily, that’s easy to fix.

How Brining Works

Brining is a neat little bit of science at work. In this section, I’ll talk about what goes on when you brine chicken.If you understand what’s going on, it’s easier to modify the technique a little bit to suit your taste or apply it to a new situation.

       There are two major processes at work during brining:

Diffusion. This is when particles move from a region of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. For example, when you’re brining chicken, the brine has a lot more salt in it that the chicken. To balance things out, the salt gets absorbed by the chicken — not just on the surface, but all through the meat (although it does take a bit of time).

Osmosis. This is when water (or another liquid) moves through a membrane from one region that has more water to another region           that has less water. When you brine chicken, you’re creating just that situation: the brine has a lot more water than the chicken, so the water moves through the chicken cells, from the brine to the chicken. The result? Moister chicken!

On top of diffusion and osmosis, there’s another neat thing that happens when you brine chicken. When the salt gets inside the chicken flesh, it makes some of the protein’s molecules unravel. Then, when you cook the meat, the unraveled proteins interact and create a kind of shield that holds the moisture in.

More information on brining:

This chart can be used for general guidelines; however, in some cases recipes will specify different formulas and times:

Chicken  Cold Water Table Salt  Suger  Time   
1 whole Chicken  2 quarts 1/2 cup 1/2 cup  1 hour   
2 whole chickens  2 quarts 1 cup  1 cup 1 hour   
4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (whole breasts, split breasts, whole legs,thighs, and/or drumsticks)                
  2 quarts 1/2 cup 1/2 cup  1 hour   
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)     
  2 quarts  1/4 cup 1/4 cup  1 hour   

 How to Inject a Chicken, we all know that chicken tends to be a dry meat especially in the best area. This is a way to push moisture into your chicken while infusing it with great flavors at the same time. Just remember that this is a marinadeso it will need some time in the meat to get the flavors.

5- Points of Injections Chicken. 

Different “Whole” Chicken Cooking Methods

Beer Can Chicken:

  • Beer can chicken the only thing beer can chicken does is wastes a perfectly good can of beer.
  • The 12-ounce can insert into the rear end of a chicken does not distribute beer flavor, nor will it boil and steam the bird cavity and make it moister. The product tastes delicious because roasted chicken cooked over hot coals tastes delicious.
  • The chicken cooks uneven due to the breast being set high on the stand into the heat verses the legs and thighs cooking lower.
  • The beer can, snugly nestled in the cavity, blocks heated air from flowing through the bird. As a result, there is the very real danger the interior will not cook quickly enough to prevent bacteria from developing.
  • Beer can interiors are coated with an epoxy that contains Bisphenol A (BPA). Is the popular method of cooking a chicken perched on an open beer can really a good idea? Some studies have linked BPA to cancer and other harmful health effects.
  • For those who have any remaining concerns, there is always the vertical roaster, which works just as well and cleaner as a low-tech option.

Spatchcocking Chicken, A spatchcock chicken (also called “butterflied chicken”) is a whole chicken with its backbone removed. The chicken is then opened like a book and laid flat before smoking. (And it’s a whole lot easier than it might sound.)

Benefits of Spatchcocking:

  • Cooks Faster: Flattening the Chicken out exposes more surface area to heat, so overall cooking time is reduced. A 10-pound spatchcock turkey was done in only 2 hour 45 minutes at 250º F. Compare that with the 4 to 4½ hours it takes to cook an unstuffed whole chicken at the same 250º F.
  • Crisper Skin:  All the skin is exposed evenly to the heat, with none of it hiding on   the underside. That means it all crisps up evenly. And who doesn’t love crispy skin?
  • Juicier Chicken: Chicken has two different kinds of meat that are cooked through at two different temperatures. And there’s the problem. Breast meat starts drying out after it reaches 150° F, but dark leg meat isn’t thoroughly cooked until 165° to 170° F. People try all kinds of tricks to keep the breast from drying out while the legs are still cooking, but simply opening the turkey and cooking it flat brings both kinds of meat to doneness at the same time. Problem solved.

How to Spatchcock a Chicken:

  • Place the chicken breast-side down with the tail facing you. Using kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone, then repeat on the other side of the backbone.
  • Turn the chicken breast-side up and spread it out on the cutting board. Press down on the breastbone with the palm of your hand to flatten the chicken.
  • Use a chef’s knife to split the chicken into two halves if you like
  • Trim any large pockets of fat.
  • Season both sides with olive oil and rub.

Link to Video on Spatchcocking: How To Spatchcock a Chicken

 2 Part Video on Grilling a Spatchcock Chickens.  

Video 1 the Preparation:

On the Preparation process the chicken was spatchcocked (Backbone removed), Rub Some Butt Carolina  Mustard BBQ sauce was applied to front and back of the Spatchcocked chicken and Three Little Pig’s Memphis  BBQ rub was applied to both sides. Then I used a Jaccard tenderizer to puncture the skin on the breast side to help render the fat to force flavor deeper in the chicken.

Tools Used: 

  1. Three Little Pig’s Memphis BBQ Rub
  2. Three Little Pigs Mustard BBQ Sauce
  3. Jaccard Tenderizer
  4. PK360 Grill
  5. Grill Grates
  6. Lump Charcoal

 Video 2 the Finish: 

I added the Chicken on the PK360 Grill, once the temperature reached 350 degrees and maintained that temperature the entire cook. I grilled the breast meat to 165 degrees and the thighs and drums to 175 degrees. The dark meat will cook quicker due to higher fat content and not as dense as the breast meat. The Grill time was 1:20 minutes to hit temperatures running at 350 degrees.

Three Little Pig’s Boneless Chicken Breast Recipe:

Link to Pulled Chicken Breast Recipie : Chicken Breast Recipe

Pulled Chicken

BBQ Pulled Chicken with a tender whole chicken cooked on a smoker, grill, oven, or crock pot is so easy and convenient you will be amazed at results.

How to Make Pulled Chicken:

Pulled chicken is generally made one of three ways, cooked on a smoker or grill, cooked in an oven, or cooked in a slow cooker. They all have their merits but the making pulled chicken recipe no matter how in an oven is the easiest option that keeps the chunks firm and flavorful, the smoker and grill has the most flavor and zest  (the slow cooker is the easiest option but the meat will fall apart with served).

Link to Pulled Chicken Recipe: Southern Pulled Chicken

Chris Marks CBBQE (Chief BBQ Expert) Three Little Pig’s Rubs & Sauces

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