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“Flashing Chicken”

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away …

Er, wait. Wrong script.

A not-so-long time ago, in the fine city of Hamilton, there was a take-out and delivery place called “Hamilton Barbeque”. Two things made the place memorable: The fleet of red delivery cars – each with a flashing light inside a big plastic chicken on the roof – and the quality of the barbeque bird. It was stupidly good.

The place is gone now, and it’s tragic to think that there is a whole generation of Hamilton kids out there who will never point and yell “Flashing Chicken!” at the top of their lungs when one of the cars go by. It’s even more tragic to live in a city where people now think that Swiss Chalet is actually decent food. Sadly, there is nothing I can do about the cars. But I can do my bit to fill the gaping void when it comes to good barbeque chicken.

So – in honour of the late and much-lamented Hamilton Barbeque, I offer to you “Flashing Chicken”. There are no big secrets here, just a simple brine and a hotter-than-you-would-think turn in the smoker. And if you don’t have a real barbeque pit you can still play along, either with a grill or even in your oven.

Ready? Chicken awaits …

To get yourself into a feed of old-school barbeque chicken, you will need:

8 chicken quarters (see note below)
4 litres of water (that’s 16 cups, more or less)
1 cup of kosher or sea salt (not table salt)
1 cup of brown sugar
your favourite chicken rub [1] (see note below)
your favourite barbeque sauce [2]

A Note About Chicken Portions: This recipe is easy to scale. The brine amount here is for eight chicken quarters, but the ratios work for virtually any amount of chicken. Just remember that for every half a chicken (ie: two quarters) you want to use a litre of water and a 1/4 cup each of salt and sugar. You can make as little or as much as you want. And I hope that I don’t have to remind you that chicken quarters have the skin on and the bones in. Sawdust eaters need not apply.

A Note About Chicken Rub: For obvious reasons, I am suggesting True North Chicken Rub [1] here. However, if you don’t feel like making up a batch or you are intimidated by that whole process, you can substitute a commercial brand of adobo seasoning here. It will cost you a fraction of what the barbeque store is going to soak you for a pre-made rub, and for this recipe it works incredibly well. I prefer the “Adobo with Pepper” from Goya [3]. Most grocery stores stock at least one brand of adobo these days, so look in the mexican food section.

About an hour and a half before you want to cook, make your brine. Boil the water and pour it over the salt and sugar in a big bowl. Stir well to dissolve, and then stick it in the freezer. Brine works best when it is icy cold. If you don’t have room in your freezer for a big bowl ‘o brine, make it two hours in advance and put it in the fridge.

When the brine is cold, and at least one hour before you want to cook your bird, pour the brine into a big sealable container (I use big-ass plastic bags) and add your chicken. Stick the whole mess back into the fridge for one hour exactly. No more, no less.
While the chicken absorbs the magic of the brine, get your fire ready. Contrary to all barbeque logic, you want your pit to be hot. As close to 200 degrees C (that’s 400F) as you can get it. I like to use apple wood for my fire when I am cooking chicken, but free free to experiment. When the hour is up and your fire is hot, remove the bird from the brine and pat each piece dry. Dry is key. Apply your rub liberally to each piece and let it sit for five minutes or so to get rid of the chill.
Put your chicken into your smoker or pit skin side down and let it roast away for 20 minutes. Then open up your pit, apply your favourite barbeque sauce to the non-skin side, turn the chicken over, apply sauce to the now-exposed skin side, and close the pit back up. Let the chicken roast for 25 minutes more, and voila! Dinner is served.

Grillhead alert: If you don’t have a smoker or a barbeque pit, you can do this just fine with indirect heat on a grill. Get your grill up to the required temperature by heating one half, put the chicken on the side that doesn’t have the heat under it, close the lid, and follow the instructions above. This works insanely well on a Weber kettle grill with a good quality lump charcoal.

Faux Q Alert: If you have no outdoor cooking apparatus at all, you can do this in the oven! It’s true! Use the exact same times and temperatures listed above, just make sure the chicken is on a rack and not directly on a tray or pan. Obviously you want to put a pan under the rack to catch drips. And while you won’t get the smoky goodness of true barbeque chicken, you will get some spectacular roasted bird. Which, as they say, is nothing to turn your nose up at.

However you make this, I think you are going to enjoy it a lot. Brine can be a mysterious and vaguely confusing thing to get into and hopefully this takes away some of the hesitation you might have about using it. It’s easy, it’s pretty much foolproof, and it will make your friends and neighbours think that you are the True Master Of Chicken.

That’s a title you can wear with pride.