Sweet and Tangy Barbecued Chicken

Published July 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

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Why this recipe works:

Indirect cooking is key, as it provides a hotter side for briefly searing the parts and a cooler side for them to cook through gently. Lining up the fattier leg quarters closer to the coals and the leaner white meat farther from the heat, as well as adding a water pan underneath the cooler… read more

Indirect cooking is key, as it provides a hotter side for briefly searing the parts and a cooler side for them to cook through gently. Lining up the fattier leg quarters closer to the coals and the leaner white meat farther from the heat, as well as adding a water pan underneath the cooler side, helped the dark and white pieces cook slowly and evenly. Applying a simple spice rub along with the salt deeply seasoned the meat and also helped it retain moisture, while brushing on a homemade sauce in stages allowed it to cling nicely to the skin and also develop layers of tangy-sweet flavor.

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Sweet and Tangy Barbecued Chicken

We’ve all had it: chicken with burnt skin, parched meat, and a coat of sweet, goopy sauce. By applying some barbecue know-how, surely we could do better.

Watch the Video

Serves 6 to 8

When browning the chicken over the hotter side of the grill, move it away from any flare-ups.

Ingredients

  • CHICKEN
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts and/or leg quarters), trimmed
  • SAUCE
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 5 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup grated onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal) or 2 disposable aluminum pie plates (if using gas)

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne in bowl. Arrange chicken on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle both sides evenly with spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

    2. FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, and pepper together in bowl. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic; cook until onion is softened, 2 to 4 minutes. Add chili powder and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in ketchup mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Set aside 2/3 cup sauce to baste chicken and reserve remaining sauce for serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

    3A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway and place disposable pan filled with 3 cups water on 1 side of grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over other half of grill (opposite disposable pan). Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

    3B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Place 2 disposable pie plates, each filled with 1½ cups water, directly on 1 burner of gas grill (opposite primary burner). Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature of 325 to 350 degrees.)

    4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, skin side down, over hotter part of grill and cook until browned and blistered in spots, 2 to 5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until second side is browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Move chicken to cooler part and brush both sides with 1/3 cup sauce. Arrange chicken, skin side up, with leg quarters closest to fire and breasts farthest away. Cover (positioning lid vent over chicken if using charcoal) and cook for 25 minutes.

    5. Brush both sides of chicken with remaining 1/3 cup sauce and continue to cook, covered, until breasts register 160 degrees and leg quarters register 175 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes longer.

    6. Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve, passing reserved sauce separately.

TECHNIQUE: Does Your Leg Quarter Need a Trim?

Some leg quarters come with the backbone still attached. Here’s an easy way to remove it.

Holding the leg quarter skin side down, grasp the backbone and bend it back to pop the thigh bone out of its socket. Place the leg on a cutting board and cut through the joint and any attached skin.

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