"It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Frank Perdue
Smoked chicken is like liver. You either love it or hate it. In the South, you can start a fight by voicing a preference for either smoked chicken or fried chicken. For me, it's all about the skin. Fried chicken is worthless unless it crunches. Smoked chicken, Georgia style, is big, bold, and assertive, but the skin, although it is packed with flavor, is not crispy. The only way to tell which side of the chicken wire fence you're on is to try it. Fortunately, it's easy to make. This method will produce a delicate, moist bird if you don't overcook it, so there is no need to even consider brining it.
Makes. Enough for 2 to 4 people
Takes. 5 minutes to get ready, and about 2 hours to cook
1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons of Meathead's Memphis Dust, approximately
About the Memphis Dust. In Georgia this could get me thrown in the Okefenokee Swamp, but you could remove the skin and dust it with my Simon & Garfunkel Rub instead of Memphis Dust. Savory and low fat. OK, I'll shut up now.
1) An hour or three before cooking, split the chicken in half by cutting it with heavy shears. Dig out all that brown goop nestled along the spine (kidneys). In fact, I usually just remove the spine, rinse out the kidneys, toss the spine in a bag, and save it for making stock. Sprinkle the chicken with salt. This is called dry brining. The salt migrates into the meat, and helps season it and hold onto moisture. Wet the chicken and dust both sides thoroughly with the spice mix but remember, spices don't penetrate far (I discuss this in my article on marinades).
2) Preheat your smoker to 325°F. If you are using a grill, set it up for 2-zone or indirect cooking. At 325°F, you can render more fat and crisp the skin a bit.
3) Put the meat in the smoker or on the indirect side of the grill. Add less wood than you normally do. Resist the urge to add more. After you've tasted it you can decide if you want to use more wood next cook. But chicken doesn't need much smoke. Cook for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until the temp in the thickest part of the meat without touching bone is 165°F.
Crisp the skin. When you're done smoking, but the meat is slightly undercooked, say 150°F, move it to the direct heat side of a hot grill, skin side down. Or put it under your kitchen broiler skin side up. That should do it. Take it up to 160°F.
Make pulled chicken. When the meat is done, you can pull the meat off the bones and rip it to shreds, plop it on a bun, and crown it with a dollop of sauce. Voila: Pulled Chicken! Or when the bird is raw, remove the skin. Smoke it alongside the meat. It will get crisp, like cracklins. Then pull the meat off the bone, put it on a bun, just a little sauce, sprinkle the crackins on top, and serve.