If there's anything Alaskans know, it's not to let weather interfere with good food. Especially when it comes to grilled or smoked meats. Who says you can't fire up the grill or, in this case, the smoker, when it's -20 F outside? This guy.
This smoked chicken recipe takes some time (a three-step process, actually), so plan it for a day when you have little to do (like, say, a pandemic lockdown).
An important thing to remember with smoking any meats or fish is to appreciate the process; low heat and slow smoking to bring out the flavor of the meat, and the wood used for the actual smoke. Look for hickory, apple, oak, or cherry for a milder flavor, mesquite for a power smoke. Keep the wood burning and the temperature consistent, and you'll end up with the base to a wonderful meal.
I'll be talking up this recipe, along with a few sides, in my next appearance on Anchorage's KFQD radio later this week. Stay tuned, because you'll want to know what I usually pair with this fabulous smoked chicken.
First, the brine
The idea behind brining is to bring out a meat's juicy flavor. Tried and true, the extra step of brining before cooking will take a smoking game to the next level.
If you do not have a brinier there are several models on the market; “The Brinier” by Turkey Tom Products is my choice, but if you have a 5-gallon, food grade plastic bucket with a lid, that will work too. For that matter, so will a large zip-type bag, but in any case, be sure the meat you are brining remains submerged and it is kept at temperature below 40 F.
As far as brine mix, there are several brands producing a good formula, including Turkey Tom, but mixes are also available at local grocery or outdoor stores. If you are new to smoking meats, I suggest using packaged brine until you get the swing of things.
If you want to make your own brine, start with the basic and then add new spices as you gain skills. The recipe below is one that I have used with great success on chicken.
When not using a whole bird, I prefer to use chicken thighs for smoking. Fairly inexpensive and full of fat, this cut is very forgiving when it comes to smoking.
4-5 pounds chicken thighs (bone in preferred)
5 quarts water
½ cup canning salt or salt with no iodine contained in the package
¼ cup brown sugar
3 Tbs garlic powder
3 Tbs onion powder
2 Tbs ground black pepper
2 cups cranberry juice
2 cups orange juice
In a large pot bring water to a boil.
Add salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Stir well.
Boil for about 10 minutes and cool to a temperature of less than 40F <---- KEY. It must cool.
Once brine is cool, add to the brining device (bucket, bag, or actual brining device), then add cranberry and orange juices.
Remove skin from chicken and place in brine. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Use a thermometer to ensure the temperature of brine and chicken stays at or below 40 F. This is critical, as bacteria can grow on chicken very quickly and make you sick, then you can't enjoy your masterpiece. So, be safe.
Now, about that rub.
2 tsp dried parsley
2 Tbs onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs paprika
1 Tbs white sugar
½ tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste. Less is better in this case
½ cup vegetable oil, to brush on chicken so that is will hold the rub.
Mix all ingredients, except the oil, in a bowl.
Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Discard brine, do not re-use.
With a brush or paper towel, coat chicken in oil.
Dust chicken with dry rub.
Set on smoking racks.
The smoking process
Heat smoker to 230F (your smoker has a temperature gauge, follow it)
Wood used is a personal preference. For this recipe I used mesquite.
I prefer a Bradley Smoker, but use what you have.
Smoke the chicken at 230 F for three hours, with smoke running the entire time and the vent at the top cracked about ¼ inch. Venting is just a function of regulation, (remember, it was 20 below zero outside so I did not want too much heat to escape).
After 3 hours check the temperature of your chicken thigh meat; it should read 175F to be safe. <----There's that thermometer thing again.
Remove from racks, plate, and serve with sides.
*NOTE* If you are smoking meats in bear country (pretty much everywhere in Alaska), please be nearby to ward off any bruins that might come running when they smell this deliciousness. They can get their own dinner.
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