Cooking Chicken with Rub on It

If you get grilled chicken right, it's pretty incredible.  But it's less forgiving than beef or pork, and unlike beef, you can't eat it rare unless you want to court physical disaster.

So you've got your chicken on the bone and you've got your chicken meat off the bone.  I like chicken on the bone.  I'll talk about cooking both, but the bone is good—it imparts flavor during cooking, and it provides you with a handy handgrip.  It's easier to cook sections of chicken meat, though, and I'm sympathetic to anyone who doesn't want to mess with whole pieces.

Skin...oh man, LEAVE IT ON if you have it.  ALWAYS.  Do not remove the skin.  Chicken skin is up there with bacon among the natural wonders of the world.

White meat...sure, it's OK.  I will take a thigh or a drumstick or several wings over a chicken breast one hundred times out of one hundred.  Humbly, I implore you to consider the gristlier, gnarlier, more complex, and ultimately more satisfying experience of eating these pieces of chicken.

Finally, I cook chicken pretty well-done.  I'm careful not to overdo the breast meat, but I'd rather overdo it a bit than undercook it.  I find it tough to overcook any other piece of chicken (thighs in particular), so I really do let them go quite a while.  I think the flavor is better when the interior of the meat is allowed to get nice and hot and leach flavor from the bones.

Cooking the Bird Meats

Grilling Basics covers how to set up the grill.  I like a medium-hot grill between 375 and 425°F.  I can manage with 450°F, but you're sure to have grease flare-ups at that high a temp, which likely will require some fancy tongswork to keep the meat from charring up too much. 

With chicken, it's particularly important for part of the grill to have no charcoal beneath it.  You'll use that indirectly-heated real estate to park chicken once it's been marked by the heat but is not yet cooked through.

How to Cook Chicken with the Bones Still in It

I love to salt poultry in advance of cooking it.  To do this properly, you need at least a full day...if you salt the chicken and let it sit for more than an hour and less than a full day, you'll just pull moisture from the meat and dry out your food. 

Therefore, I hope you are reading this 1-3 days before you have to cook.

If not, well, just dust the chicken with Midyett Premium Rub and skip the next part.

If you have the time to let the chicken sit, great. Sprinkle the chicken quite completely with Midyett Premium Rub.  You don't have to coat it with excess Rub.  Just get a good dusting on it.  Put the chicken in a food-grade plastic bag, and refrigerate it at least overnight or for as long as three days.  Turn the bag over a couple of times during whatever period you end up salting it.

Now you're ready to cook, right?  One way or the other.

You have your grill set up as per instructions above.  Put the chicken on the grill with tongs.  Get reasonable grill marks on all sides of all pieces, turning them as needed. 

Once the skin is marked, move the chicken to the part of the grill that isn't right over hot coals.  Shut the bottom damper of the grill.  Leave the top damper of the grill barely open, just enough to allow smoke to escape.

On average, I'd let loose chicken pieces go for six or eight minutes before I check them again.  I always have a sacrificial piece (usually a thigh) that I dig into at some point to check doneness.  When that guy is done, I know I'm close or there, and I'll have the rest of the chicken off the grill in a minute or less.

Let cool and eat.

OK, so...sections of boneless meat now...

How to Cook Sections of Boneless Chicken Meat

Get out your Midyett Premium Rub and give them...a very good sprinkling, I'd say.  I wouldn't coat them completely, unless it's a section of breast meat that is 3/4" thick or more.   But I wouldn't hold back too much.

Spread them out over the hot part of the grill (with the coals beneath it).  Let them go a bit...if you try to move them too early, you'll find the meat sticks to the grill.  If you wait a bit longer, the meat will char where it is touching the grill and release itself from it.

Don't be afraid to move the meat around from hot to cool spots on the grill.  Flip it as much as you like.  The key here is even cooking, and whatever facilitates it is good cooking technique.

If a piece seems about done, move it to the cooler part of the grill (with no coals beneath it).  Let it sit while you finish off the other pieces.  Move it around if it is getting too much heat, or remove it from the grill altogether if you like.

When done, let the meat cool and please eat it now, since that is why you cooked it in the first place (I assume).

Grilling Basics

What you need to do to grill things...go!

Get this stuff:

  • A grill (kettle, "egg"-style, something like that)
  • Hardwood charcoal and a little bit of hardwood (chips, a chunk, whatever)
  • Some food to grill

So there's grilling and there's smoking.  Grilling is cooking over a fire at moderate to high heat for a short time.  Smoking (barbecuing) is cooking over smoke at low temperature for a long time.  This here tutorial thingy is about grilling.

Now...if you have a gas judging.  I use 'em when they are around.  Just fire it up and grill the food.  If you have multiple burners and can afford to leave one unlit, do that.  You can move things over to that part of the grill to sit for a bit, if they get cooked enough and you need to catch up with other stuff or whatever.  And also ignore the rest of this thing.

If you do not have a gas grill...are they gone?  OK...good for you.  Man, who wants to cook on one of those things?  You might as well stay inside, right?  Don't you feel bad for those people?  Me too.  Ugh caveman cook food wood fire, me big caveman.  So anyway, let's move on with real grilling.

Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going.  Use hardwood (a/k/a "lump") charcoal, if at all possible.  Briquettes are a total drag for smoking, but you can get away with them when grilling.  Still, I don't recommend them.  They don't burn as hot as lump, they don't smell or taste as good, and they produce a ton of ash.

Now...if you are cooking just a bit of food, or you're cooking just veggies for some reason, or even cooking real thin stuff like bulgogi or cutlets, you might only want a half-chimney of charcoal. And I don't clear out the grill if there's viable charcoal in the bottom (as opposed to just ash, which I do trash)--if you have a bunch of leftover charcoal in there, then a half-chimney might be the ticket for your cook.

I use some kind of pulpy paper (newspaper is ideal) crumpled up to light the chimney.  Crumple the paper into balls, put it on a non-flammable surface like concrete or the bottom of your grill, light it on fire, and put the chimney with charcoal in it on top of the now-burning paper.  You can use a crumpled-up paper bag, as well, but it might not catch as quickly (hint: light a candle, drip wax on the paper, and light the waxy paper with the candle--wax is an accelerant).  You know what else works great?  Peanut shells.  Seriously great for lighting a fire.

Anyway, LIGHT IT, then let the chimney run until the top of it sees ash.  You should have at least a bit of white ash on the top of the charcoal in there.  Then dump the coals into the grill...

...ideally leaving about a quarter of the available space largely free of charcoal.

Why?  So you will feel smart when you have a steak or piece of chicken or charred pepper that is done early and you want to keep it warm but not full-on cooking for another five minutes.

The charcoal you have in there?  You ideally want it spread out evenly over the area you DID want covered.  That can be hard to do pouring charcoal out of a chimney.  Maybe move coals around with tongs to get it evenish.  Once you grill a bunch, you get good at managing the hot and cool spots, and maybe this will not matter much.

If you have wood to add here...add it.  Use only hardwood, and not too much.  You're only going to get a short amount of time with the smoke.  It's going to be an accent, not a primary element as in smoking.  Let it burn a bit before putting anything on the grill.

For grilling, I would suggest opening the bottom damper on the grill completely.  Get it hot.  And you may or may not be using the grill cover.  If I'm cooking sausage or hot dogs or burgers, I do those cooks with an open grill mostly (though I do smoke sausage at low temperature sometimes when barbecuing).  Steaks, I'll use the lid, but usually when I do put the lid on over steaks, I close off all dampers completely.

A note on burning grease and fat:  it's not a major flavor issue when grilling like it is with barbecue, mostly because the temperature of a grilling fire is so much hotter than a smoking fire.  The grease burns off more quickly and completely.  The food isn't lingering over the smoldering grease fire for many many minutes, soaking up the petroleum taste.  If anything, a little beef grease just adds some grilly grillness on the flavor front--but only at grilling temps!  You want to avoid burning grease completely on a low and slow cook.

Anyway, if your grill is hot, good job.  You're ready to grill now.

Smoking Basics

What you need to smoke meat:

  • Hardwood charcoal
  • Hardwood chunks (not chips)
  • Drip pan (large hotel pan)
  • Grill with a couple layers of grills (more on that later)

And's how you set up your grill to smoke meat.

We're talking kettle grills and kamado-style smokers like the Big Green Egg and so forth.  If you have something fancier like an offset smoker or whatever, good for you!  But you can figure that out on your own!

Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going. I'll assume you know how to use a charcoal chimney. Use hardwood charcoal, not briquettes. Briquettes are not pure wood. They have fillers like clay and other stuff in 'em. As a result, you're smoking your meat with whatever else is in the briquettes as well as whatever wood material is in there. Even if the fillers do not flavor the meat (they might), the non-wood stuff in there means they won't produce the same flavorful impact as hardwood charcoal. The filler also means briquettes ash a TON. Plus I don't think they last as long for low-temp cooks, maybe because they ash so much and kinda smother themselves or something, I don't know. I think they're a drag.

Fill the bottom of the smoker with unlit charcoal—”fill,” yeah…not FILL-fill. Just get a good one-chunk-thick layer of charcoal in there. Dump the chimney onto it once the chimney stuff is nice and hot.

Add 5-6 sizable chunks of hardwood to the fire—or less. I like a lot of early smoke myself, but you can overdo it, I guess. Spread the chunks out so they’re not clumped together.

What kind of wood? Hardwood of some kind. Hickory and oak are good for most everything, as are other nut woods like pecan.  Cherry is good for cuts of beef.  Apple is great for pork or chicken, just OK for beef (kind of light).  I like mesquite, but it’s strong--I wouldn’t use it all alone if you can help it, and I wouldn't use it at all on anything but beef.  A mix of wood will give you good, complex flavor.

The bottom damper on the grill should be maybe ½ way open and the top should be about the same. Just because that’s the middle and you can go up/down on either end from there.

Ideally you’ve got a thermometer on the lid of the grill. Shoot for 225°F or maybe 250°F tops. Overshooting is best to avoid—high temp wastes fuel and takes a long time to come down.

You’ll want to have some kind of two-level grill scene so you can put a drip pan between the fire and the meat. There is a variety of ways to do this—just depends on your grill deal. Maybe you have an offset smoker, and it’s a nonissue. But the drip pan should have a large surface, it should be pretty shallow (couple inches deep), it should not be right on the coals, and it should be maybe half full of water—room at the top for whatever grease falls into the pan.

The top grill goes above the drip pan—worst case, you can put the drip pan on the regular grill and balance a second grill on top of the drip pan. That would be wobbly, but I’ve done it and it works OK.

Just do not allow too much grease to get in the fire. It’s not like getting a little steak fat on the fire when grilling. A brisket, for example, puts out a lot of grease from the fatty point and the fat cap. If that grease gets into the fire to any great extent, you’ll end up with a hot-ass grease fire, greasy smoke, and meat that has this gross petrol taste. Even if other people don’t notice it, you will, and it will bum you out.

Once your drip pan is “secured” or at least there, with a grill above're ready to put on the meat.