Make dry barbecue chicken a thing of the past with these techniques

The struggle of barbecued chicken has always been in getting it to cook through without going dry or burnt first. In either case, there’s a reason we usually find it coated in a sticky-sweet sauce: misdirection.

This recipe from Top Chef Kevin Gillespie doesn't give chicken the chance to act up on the grill. He borrows from (and improves upon) a couple classic barbecue techniques, ensuring the chicken will stay juicy and flavorful despite any of our own failings.

The first trick comes from the late Cornell poultry science professor Robert C. Baker — the man who invented the chicken nugget, but is more tenderly associated with Cornell Chicken.

In Baker's recipe — still a regional favorite near Ithaca, N.Y. — the chicken is basted every few minutes on the grill with a sauce made from an egg, oil, poultry seasoning, and a full pint of cider vinegar. In this year's Saveur 100 issue, the magazine's editors called it "one of the juiciest, most complex barbecued chickens" they'd ever tasted.

But Gillespie takes the concept even further, by turning it into an overnight marinade — a coup in its own right.

Acidic marinades can help with flavoring and tenderizing meat, but only to a point. Food science writers love to debunk their effectiveness: high-acid marinades can only penetrate a few millimeters per day, and before they have a chance to get very far, the surface will have gone mealy and unpleasant.

But Gillespie’s take on Cornell Chicken decreases the vinegar substantially relative to the amount of oil, and goes all egg yolk — both of which cushion the vinegar and slow it down, allowing the chicken to hang out in the marinade longer and get that much better, without the texture suffering.

The salt and herbs have more time to seep in; the resulting chicken is tangier, moister, less destructible. And Hervé This presents a theory in Kitchen Mysteries that marination actually does have deeper effects — by protecting the surface from spoilers while the interior ages (much like dry-aging a steak).

Once you fire up the grill, you’ll rake the coals to one side (or on a gas grill, just make one side really hot) and start the chicken over indirect heat, then move it in toward the hot side, flipping and basting every 10 minutes with an Alabama-style white barbecue sauce (some of which you’ll have held back to serve on the side). According to Gillespie, Alabama-style sauce, first developed by Big Bob Gibson in 1925, “is absolutely the way to go” with lean meats like chicken.

So yes, this recipe asks you to make two mayos. But if you have a food processor, this is a near-instant task — blend the yolks, vinegar, and seasonings, then drizzle in the oil till you “hear the sound change to a whop, whop,” Gillespie writes (about a minute).

If you're nervous about food safety, you can try doctoring up prepared mayo à la these kebabs for the sauce to serve on the side, but otherwise you should be just fine with this recipe, as long as you've handled the chicken and eggs safely (buy good eggs, keep the sauce in the fridge until you're ready to use it, make sure to cook the chicken — including the last round of basting — through to 165 degrees).

And really, after the marinade and basting have done their work — unlike with every other barbecued chicken you’ve ever had — you won’t need any extra sauce at all. But it sure is tasty.

Kevin Gillespie’s Barbecue Chicken with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

Adapted slightly from "Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking" (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

Serves 4

For the Alabama White Barbecue Sauce:

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

2 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1 1/8 tsp fine salt)

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 cup grapeseed oil

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, garlic powder, cayenne, and black pepper and process until the yolks fluff a little, about 30 seconds. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil; the mixture will bend and emulsify but won’t be as thick as the marinade used for the barbecue chicken. You will again hear the sound change to a whop, whop; it should take about a minute.

For the Chicken:

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsp. poultry seasoning (or make your own — we used 1 1/2 tsp. each of dried marjoram, oregano, thyme, and rosemary, plus 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)

2 Tbsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 3 1/2 tsp. fine salt)

1 cup grapeseed oil

6 chicken leg/thigh quarters

1 1/2 cups Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, blend the egg yolks, vinegar, water, poultry seasoning, and salt until the yolks fluff a little, about 30 seconds. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil; the mixture will blend, emulsify, and resemble a thick mayonnaise. You will hear the sound change to a whop, whop; it should take about 1 minute. Spoon the marinade into a large zip-top bag, add the chicken pieces, and massage until the chicken is completely covered with the marinade. Zip the top closed, pressing out any air as you seal the bag. Set the bag in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 24 hours.

Pour 3/4 cup of the Alabama White Barbecue Sauce into a bowl to use for basting. Heat a grill for indirect medium-high heat. On a gas grill, just leave one side of the grill unlit. On a wood or charcoal grill, rake the coals to one side. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat completely dry. Scrape the grill clean and coat with oil. Place the chicken, skin side down, over the unheated part of the grill and cover with an aluminum pan or tent with foil. After 10 minutes, flip the chicken pieces, moving them to a hotter part of the grill, but still over indirect heat. Cover again with the pan or foil. After 10 more minutes, baste the chicken with the sauce, flip so the skin side is down, and baste again. Cover with the pan or foil, cook for another 10 minutes, and then baste, flip, and cover one last time, for a total cooking time of 40 minutes, or until the chicken — including the last round of basting — reaches 165 degrees. Discard the basting sauce. Remove the chicken from the grill and rest, tented with foil or a foil pan, for 10 minutes. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: http://food52.com/blog/10678-kevin-gillespie-s-barbecue-chicken-with-alabama-white-barbecue-sauce

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