Barbecuing is the perfect method for cooking fatty cuts of pork or beef, but relatively lean chicken is another story. For barbecued pulled chicken with a smoky flavor and moist, tender meat, we'd have to come up with some tricks.
Brining the birds kept the white meat moist and juicy, and arranging the chickens on the grill with the breast meat farther from the heat source than the dark meat evened out cooking times.
We tweaked our favorite barbecue sauce to better complement the chicken, increasing the vinegar to balance the sweetness and swapping the root beer for coffee to boost the smoky flavor.
BARBECUED PULLED CHICKEN
Servings: 8 sandwiches
Start to finish: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus 1 hour to brine chicken and 1 hour and 15 minutes to prepare sauce
1 cup salt
2 (4-pound) whole chickens, giblets discarded (We prefer to halve the chickens ourselves, but you may be able to buy halved chickens from your butcher.)
2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 cup brewed coffee
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
Dissolve salt in 4 quarts cold water in large container. Remove backbones from chickens and split chickens in half lengthwise through center of breastbone. Using metal skewer, poke 20 holes all over each chicken half. Submerge chicken halves in brine, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove chicken halves from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and season with pepper. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked wood chips in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.
Meanwhile, heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in broth, vinegar, coffee, molasses, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and garlic powder and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture is thick and reduced to 4 cups, about 65 to 75 minutes. Stir in liquid smoke; reserve 1 cup sauce for serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
- For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into steeply banked pile against side of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.
- For a gas grill: Place wood chip packet over primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s).
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken halves skin side up on cool side of grill with legs closest to heat source. Cover and cook until breasts register 160 F and thighs register 175 F, 75 to 85 minutes. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard skin. Pull meat off bones, separating dark and light meat. Roughly chop dark meat into 1/2-inch pieces. Shred white meat into thin strands.
Add chicken to pot with sauce and cook over medium-low heat until chicken is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve on hamburger rolls, passing reserved sauce separately.
Nutrition information per serving: 320 calories; 56 calories from fat; 6 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 115 mg cholesterol; 894 mg sodium; 26 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 21 g sugar; 37 g protein.
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