BBQ Smoked Chicken

To many people, the term “BBQ” is applied to the cooking of food over a gas or electric grill doing the process at high heat and in a hurry. BBQ in the southern USA, and to those of us who have a connection to that area, is a very different beast. Colloquially referred to as “Low and Slow” cooking, BBQ done this way is done in a pit, which can be massive or a small backyard affair, but is always done over wood or charcoal at a temperature of between 225 and 250°F and the time for many cooks is measured in hours. I once watched a fellow in Florida smoke 80 chickens on a “portable” (meaning it was hauled behind a truck like a trailer) pit for a company picnic!
I’ve been smoking food on backyard smokers for over 30 years. My first smoker was a very inexpensive Meco stainless steel affair that I had lots of fun with smoking everything from meat to poultry to fish (including in one memorable instance my own caught salmon!). The problem with the Meco was that it had no control over the air flow, which is why in summer I could do a chicken in 1.5 hours on it (it half grilled and half smoked the birds), where in October or November a turkey would take 10 hours or so.
Ten years ago, when I retired from my job in education, Norma bought me a real backyard smoker for Father’s Day. It is a Weber Smoky Mountain and it is similar to the Meco (but better built) with one even more important difference – the Weber (or WSM as it’s lovingly referred to by enthusiasts) has complete control over airflow. It has a vent on top that acts as an exhaust pipe, but most importantly it is sealed at the bottom and has three vents to control the airflow, and so the temperature of the smoker. Where the Meco had a dial that had three “temperatures” on it (warm, ideal and hot), the WSM has an actual thermometer in the dome that tells you the temperature of the smoker. By opening or closing the vents on the bottom, you can control the smoker and have the meal smoked to perfection at whatever desired temperature you wish.
This week, we had a couple coming over to have a socially distanced meal, and I decided to do an “anniversary” (of the WSM) cook and go to my roots and make smoked chicken. I’ve put a bunch of images on my personal Facebook Page if you wish to see the whole process.
The chicken, which was spatchcocked (split in halves) took almost 3 hours at 225 to 250°F, but came out beautifully, with a nice smokiness that was matched with a Maple BBQ sauce, cornbread, potato salad and a green salad.
To me, and it could be my Virginian ancestry coming through some genetic food memory, smoked chicken done on the BBQ – meaning in a slow smoked BBQ pit in the backyard - is about as summer as it gets!
If you ever get the chance to sample real BBQ, stuff that’s never touched a grill, you’ll realize the difference, and you will join those who know what BBQ really means!