Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brining, Butterflying and BBQing a Whole Bird

Chicken is a slightly more sustainable option than beef, pork, or any other livestock.  Less water and grain go into raising them, they produce less hydrocarbon gases in their lives, and they come to harvest much more quickly and efficiently.  Also, BBQed chicken is extremely tasty.  A well marinated piece of chicken from the Q is much preferable, in my (ok, not so) humble opinion to an ordinary burger or dog.

While cooking meat over coals in your yard is not the most sustainable way to heat food, it happens to be delicious.  Also, there is a little trade off to cooking inside during the summer if your oven is competing with your AC.  Depending on where your oven and stove are located in your house, they can warm the place up as much as a fire place or small furnace.  This may be lovely in the middle of winter, but in the summer months it means cranking up the AC or suffering miserable consequences.  Getting out doors and heating your food there can help you avoid turning the AC on, perhaps even all day.

So here is my recipe, tested on a recent sunny day here in Oregon.  It came out absolutely delicious.  The brining adds tons of flavor and keeps the chicken superbly moist on the grill.  Combine that with the smokey aroma and the texture of the crispy grilled skin, and you have the ultimate BBQed  meat experience.

Brined, Butterflied and Barbecued Bird:

1 Whole Chicken, raw
1/2 Gallon Cold Water
1/2 Cup Kosher or Sea Salt (not iodized)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar or 1/3 cup Honey
1/4 Cup Vinegar
2 Bay leafs

Large Pot (~2 gallon) with Lid
Very Sharp Chef's Knife or Poultry Shears
4 Long Metal Skewers

(promise more pics the next time I make this)

The night before cooking, prepare the brine by mixing all of the above ingredients except the chicken in a pot large enough to hold everything.  Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.  It might be easier to dissolve these ingredients in a cup of the water and all the vinegar over a gentle heat, and then stir into the rest of the cold water.  Avoid heating the brine too much, however, it should be kept as cool as possible.  When brine is ready, add the chicken, upside down (legs pointing up).  Make sure that it is completely submerged, and that the cavity is filled with brine.  If there is not enough brine to cover the bird, add more water and salt at a ratio of 1 cup water to 1 tablespoon salt until the bird is covered.  The bird may have to be weighted down to remain submerged.  Cover and keep in the refrigerator over night.

The next day, remove the chicken from the brine and wipe of any excess liquid.  Discard the brine, do not reuse or incorporate into another recipe.  On a large cutting board, set the chicken upright and with a very sharp, large knife, cut out the backbone.  From top to bottom separate the spine from the rest of the bird first down one side, then the other.  Alternatively, use poultry shears to cut out the backbone.

With the spine removed, pull open the bird and flatten it out, so what was the inside is now down, and the meat is all up.  Press down firmly on the breasts, cracking the ribs to make the bird flatter.  This will allow for more even cooking on the grill.

Use 4 metal skewers to hold the bird in this flat position, and to hold the wings and legs as much as possible apart from the breasts and thighs.  Make sure that the bird can be lifted from these skewers and remain flat.  Cut a few slits in the thickest part of meat to speed cooking.  Coat the entire chicken, both sides, with olive oil, especially around the slits and where pierced by the skewers.

Sear both sides on a very high heat grill.  Next, move it to a medium heat part of the grill and allow to cook through, approximately one hour, turning and rotating every 15 minutes.  Covering will make heat more even, but coals will burn at a lower temperature, slowing cooking time.

Test for doneness by sticking a toothpick or another skewer into the joints between the leg and thigh, the wing and breast, and into the thickest parts of meat.  Test in several locations.  If any redness is still in the liquid that runs out of any test holes, continue to cook until all new test holes produce only clear liquid.

When it is done, remove from the grill and cut into breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks.  If any red liquid is found when cutting, put the pieces back on the grill, or wrap in tinfoil and finish in the oven.  If not, serve immediately.

You can add almost any herbs, dried or fresh, to the brine.  Check out Foodista for tons of brine recipes.  A little goes a long way, it will completely infuse the meat.

Smaller birds will work even better: pheasant, quail, and game hen.  They will cook much quicker, however, in proportion to their size.

Brined, Butterflied and Barbecued Bird (Chicken)

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