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Chicken experiment

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    Chicken experiment

    Short and sweet post. I thought I would try just putting a chicken on the cooking grate rather than hanging it. I spatchcocked it, lit the PBC and got the usual temp range (spike towards 400 then the fall back to 300). The chicken took a little under an hour to get to 150 in the breast. I flipped it, breast side down, and continued the cook for another 15 minutes. Breast was well in the 160's at that point, legs in the 180s' skin crackling crisp and no burn marks anywhere.

    No photos, but I just thought you might like the feed back. It turned out exceptionally well, and took barely an hour.


    Sounds great Matt. Have you noticed a difference vs hanging them in your PBC?


      I thought about trying this, but ended up doing 2 birds which wouldn't fit on the grate. Good to hear that it works well.


        Time! That's about it. Using a very harsh light, the skin may not crisp all over as much, but the areas exposed to the direct heat after flipping were a match for crispness with a top notch cook. The PBC really does birds well, this was no exception.

        'Conventional' hanging takes the best part of 2 hours (Ernest's hanging technique gets them done in an hour). The direct heat hitting the underside of the flattened chicken accounted for the faster time. Because the grate is so far above the coals, there were no scorched areas at all, just a really enjoyable chicken.

        Considering that you get excellent chicken / turkey hanging, and you get excellent birds lying on the grate, I'm almost out of ideas about how to screw one up. I think I am going to try a whole one, on the grate, to get a conventionally good looking bird - the kind that Sylvester the Cat sees every time he looks at Tweety Pie. (FYI - I have young children, hence the reference).



        • Guy
          Guy commented
          Editing a comment
          LOL been a long time since Sylvester and Tweety Pie for me. Grandkids don't care about that one.

        I was surprised when I did a bird on my WSM 14.5. I thought I'd get a burnt bird without the water pan/heat diffuser but no, just a perfect chicken.
        The distance between the coals and the grate on the WSM 14.5 is much short than that on the PBC.


          Like many other PBCers, I'm still chasing the elusive chicken skin crispness holy grail. Some cooks=crispy, some cooks not. I have found that my split/hung birds cook in 1.25 hours if I keep the temp around 300degF, regardless of whether I use Kingsford Competition or Kingsford Blue. I also find I fiddle with the lid cracking method just as much with Competition as I do with Blue.

          What I get with skin crispness is hit/miss. Some of it depends on where the bird is hung on the rebar. The birds that are more toward the center have crisper skins. Some birds have crisp skins in some parts (like the legs and the section of skin that stretches between the leg and the torso) but not in others (the mid breast area). For pre-treatment, I always rub a mixture of baking powder and rub on the skin, let the skin dry in the fridge 4-24 hours, and rub skin with oil just before putting in the PBC.

          I've tried the method of cracking the lid when the bird temp reaches 150 to encourage skin crisping as the internal meat temp approaches 160. The problem with this is that after 1.25 hours of work, the fire is not as responsive to cracking the lid as it was in the beginning, so it's difficult to get a smoker temp much over 320 or so at this point.

          All of this is to say, Matt, that I appreciate your clever idea of laying the chickens on the grate in an effort to crisp the skin. At this point I'll try anything to get reproducibly good chicken skin crispness with each and every cook.

          I still prefer the method of hanging any meat vertically in my PBC, but I think I'll try taking the birds off the rebars and laying them on the grate, skin side down, for the last 15 minutes or so of the cook to see what happens.

          Thanks so much, Matt!



            Kathryn - I say go hot early, and stay there! Consolidating various comments and my experience:

            1) Leave the chicken to 'dry out' over a day or two in the fridge - with a dusting of salt perhaps. Once the skin is translucent, you are going to be on to a good thing.

            2) Add a fat (butter / goose fat, whatever) prior to applying the rub - I usually do this just before cooking.

            3) Get that PBC hot, and keep it there. Ernest keeps his at 380 to 360 according to his post. Mine starts at 400 or so, then falls back - but never much lower than 300 right at the very end as it tails off. For chickens, I'm aiming for the average temp to be 340 - 350. That knocks them out in an hour or so.

            With those three things, I think you'll get pretty consistent results.

            (Side note - the difference in temp profiles between Ernest and I - he removes a bar which keeps the PBC hotter longer. I start high and let it fall back then either crack the lid or use the pipes to keep it hot. Removing the bar is probably a lot simpler!).



              Matt, I think I follow all of your guidelines when possible. But,
              • Often I smoke chicken on the spur of the moment when 24-48 hour drying of the skin in the fridge is not possible. If that singlehandedly tanks the option of a crispy skin, then I guess I'm doomed from the outset.
              • I always dry brine. Always. I first rub the meat under the skin with oil and PBC AP rub, then rub the skin with baking powder mixed in with some PBC AP rub. After that is when I put Mr. Bird in the fridge. Just before putting in the smoker, I rub some oil onto the skin. If that dry brining method tanks the option of a crispy skin then I'm doomed again.
              • Keeping the PBC above 325 is tough for me unless I babysit it constantly. I have no probs getting it up to 400 but it almost always wants to settle back to 290.
              • I can't keep a rebar out, usually, because I smoke 2 or 3 chickens at once, usually with some ribs, sausage or other meat going as well. I think, as others have reported here, that mixing fatty meats with chicken in the smoker enhances the flavor of the chicken. That's a subjective observation, though, based on my taste bud feedback plus the type of compliments received when I serve smoked chickens to my guests.

                Therefore I must crack the lid to make the temp go up. Sometimes that works well, but as I said earlier, toward the end of the cook, not so much.

              I wonder whether the volume of chicken that I smoke at one time affects the skin crispness. Meat volume= high humidity levels. (Ask Jerod.). Maybe if I just did one bird smokes I might achieve consistent skin crispness despite the potential "doom points" that I noted above.



              • Guy
                Guy commented
                Editing a comment
                Kathryn, what do you do with all of this meat. Do you have a whole house full of people? It is just me and my wife so I have a hard time getting rid of meat I cook before it spoils. I love to cook and my wife loves for me to of course but there is a lot of meat cooking three times a week like Spinaker says he does. I would be obese.

              • fzxdoc
                fzxdoc commented
                Editing a comment
                Guy, I feel your pain. I would use my PBC way more than I already do if we could eat all that I cook. Usually when I smoke on my PBC I have guests for supper. That takes care of some of the food. Plus I always send some of the leftovers home with my guests.

                Secondly, I freeze a lot or use the smoked food for meals later on in the week.

                For example, on Sunday I smoked 3 chickens and 36 sausages. We (my husband and 3 guests) ate 1.5 chickens and about 15 of the sausages--well, some of the sausages were taken home by our guests, so we didn't actually eat that many in one sitting. That leaves me with 1.5 chickens. My DH and I will eat .5 chicken tomorrow night with steamed veggies. I used 7 of the sausages tonight in a spaghetti meat sauce that I made for supper. I froze the remainder of the sausages for future gumbo. Tomorrow I'll make green chicken enchiladas with all of the leftover chicken and serve it on Thursday to my DH and some friends. I'll also make homemade chicken broth from all of the chicken carcasses and use some of it in my enchilada sauce.

                So by Friday we'll either eat leftover spaghetti or I'll freeze that sauce for a future night when I'm too lazy to cook!

                So that's my weekly Materials Management Plan.

                Last edited by fzxdoc; January 20, 2015, 07:06 PM.

              The problem with cooking chicken as well as beef or pork is that chicken needs a different heat profile for optimal results vs. pork and beef. I've cooked thousands(maybe tens of thousands) of birds in my time. As your pbc, like most bbq rigs,is just an oven, really; one uses similar techniques for chicken in the "q" as you would in the oven. Moderate heat, 325-375 works well. For beef and pork, 200-250 works well. You can cook the chicken at the lower temps, but the skin will not be crisp, which started this whole thing. For multiple cooks, remove the chicken and crisp in your oven, or on another rig. As the flavor in the chicken is already established, this will work well. We have to do this in the restaurant all the time. If you are cooking multiple chickens by themselves, raise the heat to 350. Don't over think it. Just season, and cook. We never pre dry our chicken at work, and they turn out perfectly every time. Why? Heat.More heat. If you have a ton of fowl in the oven, there will be a lag from starting to maintaining the desired temp because of the mass the oven must overcome. Just turn up the heat till you start to see the reaction, in this case browning, that you desire, then back off a bit. It sounds a lot harder than it really is. This process helps to mitigate humidity issues. We will sometimes turn the oven to 450 to start the process, then back down to our preferred 325-350. You rarely need this for a single or pair of chickens, just for a full oven. I hope this helps.


                Thanks, Strat! "Dialing" the heat up/down in a PBC takes a bit of finesse, but I get the drift.

                You're right about overcoming the initial mass to get all of the chickens (and the sausages) percolating along. That's the main reason why we PBCers start out at 400 or higher. Then the PBC settles down to a manageable 300-325. I haven't seen that bumping the temp back up at the end of the cook to crisp the chicken skin(as recommended by the PBC company) is very effective. The PBC is known for its high humidity, which is why it can be used without a water pan. I think that humidity possibly interferes with the skin becoming crisp, especially in a cook where there are lots of birds in one PBC.

                I'll keep your recommendations in mind as I continue to strive for crispy chicken skin for each and every cook. Right now I'm at about 75%--3 out of 4 cooks result in nice skin. I'm just pushing for 100%!



                • Strat50
                  Strat50 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I should have added the caveat that I have not cooked on a PBC, but have used barrel fish smokers. They are not the same, and I should have taken that into account when I made my statement. Your stated issue sounds definitely to be humidity. Raise the heat more, I guess, but maybe using a different cooker might help. I myself would be too stubborn to do that! I would persevere till I got what I wanted. Of course, I'm crazy. Just ask the folks I cook with! lol


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