Friday, January 4, 2013

Chickens - first smoke of the new year

I had hoped to fill the 22.5 Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) with chickens for it's inaugural smoke. Unfortunately the grocers have not cooperated. The best price I can find for whole chickens is 89¢/lb and they were small at about 4 lb. I went with a pair of birds from Sam's Club at 99¢/lb and about 6½ lb. What I didn't realize was that they were so called enhanced birds. As I rinsed the birds prior to brining, I noticed the skin over the breast peppered with little holes. I looked carefully at the cryovac the birds were packed in and saw they were enhanced with up to 12% "natural broth." Ugh! I had already prepared the brine so I went ahead and put the birds in. They will be double brined I suppose.

OK, here's my gripe with Sam's Club. These are cryovaced birds packed two to a bag and then weighed and labeled. On the left is Sam's Club sticker. Note at the top it states "TWIN WHOLE CHICKENS 1009% NATURAL" You would think that means no 'enhancement'. You (and I) would be wrong. The inner packate states "Flavor and Tenderness enhanced with up to 12% Natural* Chicken Broth" On the other side the broth incredients include (in addition to chicken broth) 2% or less of Sea Salt and carageenan. Sea salt and carrageenan do not naturally occur in chicken! I really need to start reading these labels a lot more carefully. So... 1/8 of my chicken is salt water that probably had some chicken bones (and other 'parts') waved over the pot.

Weather at start is 35° and sunny with wind brisk at 17 mph. (I'm using the covered gasser as a wind block.) Near finish temperature has dropped to 31° and wind is down to about 14 mph.

I made a gallon of brine using water, a ping of apple juice, juice from two lemons, juice from 5 desiccated limes (I hesitate to use the term 'fresh' as the skins were like leather.) Added to this is a cup of pickling salt and ½ cup sugar. Birds went into the brine about 11:30 AM and came out about 3:30 PM. I didn't do any more seasoning of the birds preferring to rely on the smoke for flavor.

This is going on the mini-WSM. I used mostly Grove Lump and a little blue bag briquettes. For smoking wood I chose apple, cherry and a little mesquite. It turned out that there was insufficient clearance for the chicken under the lid so I split the bird on the top rack.

I'm using my ET-732 for the first time on this cook. I'm also not working at controlling temperature. Both top and bottom vents are wide open and there is no water in the bowl. After closing the cooker the temperature spiked at about 360° and has settled to about 330° a couple minutes later. It still seems to be dropping.

timetemp comment
3:40 PM
Birds on!
4:00 66°/324°

4:47138°/349°Moving right along...
5:38158°/322°Almost done.
5:53162°/318°Cooker seems to be dropping faster than the bird is gaining. I'll stir the fire a bit. (There were still plenty of coals.) The skin on the leg on the split bird was just starting to pull back so I'll give it a couple more minutes and call it done.
6:03163°/302°Time for the split bird to come off. I'll move he meat probe to the whole bird.
6:36167°/349°Bird done and off.

The birds came out good. Skin was not crisp but far from the rubbery texture that a low 'n slow produces with fowl. It was noticeably salty but not unpleasantly so. It took on a light amber color and pleasant smoky flavor.

Next time read the labels more carefully! also consider dropping the top grate an inch or so to provide additional head space under the lid. The relatively high heat cook seems to be fine for the bird. I didn't really see deficit compared to slowing the cook down. 

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