We like to serve this smoked chicken with an Alabama-style, mayonnaise-based White Barbecue Sauce. If you prefer a smoked chicken salad, cut the meat into bite-size chunks and toss it in just enough sauce to coat it.
Special equipment: You’ll need a charcoal grill to turn it into a smoker (or better yet, if you have a smoker, use it). You will also need long heatproof tongs, matches or a lighter, newspaper, 1 disposable aluminum 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, 1 disposable aluminum 8-inch square pan, a baking sheet, 2 oven mitts, 2 buckets of water (one to soak the wood chips and the other to refill the aluminum loaf pan), an oven thermometer, and a meat thermometer.
A chimney starter, which looks like a large beer stein, is handy for lighting charcoal. They can be purchased at hardware stores or online.
Lump charcoal is preferred because the charred pieces of wood burn hotter and cleaner than briquettes, the uniform black pillows made from carbonized wood and a starchy binder. If you do buy briquettes, avoid the self-lighting ones, which are laden with chemicals.
Buy pure, resin-free, bark-free wood chips. Choose your wood chips based on the origin of the ingredient you are smoking. For example, use cedar chips for Pacific salmon and hickory chips for Southern catfish. For this chicken, we recommend hickory, but any wood will do. Wood chips can be purchased at most hardware stores and grocery stores during the summer months, or online.
This recipe was featured as part of our smoking project.
- 6 whole skin-on, bone-in chicken legs (about 4 pounds)
- 3 cups hickory wood chips, plus more as needed
- 8 quarts lump charcoal, plus more as needed
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus more for basting
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups White Barbecue Sauce (see recipe intro)
- 1Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes to dry while you prepare the grill.
- 2Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in a bucket of water for at least 15 minutes.
- 3Prepare the grill: Remove the cooking grate and set it aside. Fill a chimney starter three-quarters of the way with charcoal, then pour the unlit charcoal onto one side of the charcoal grate. Using tongs, stack the charcoal in a slight slope against the side of the grill bowl. Remove 1 cup of the wood chips from the water, shaking off any excess, and lay them in the middle of the unlit charcoal. Fill the chimney again halfway with charcoal. Place the chimney on the charcoal grate next to the unlit coals. Twist two or three sheets of newspaper, form the twisted paper into rings, and place them under and inside the chimney. Light the newspaper through the holes at the bottom of the chimney. After about 5 minutes, the charcoal should be red and flames should have appeared toward the top of the chimney.
- 4Carefully pour the lit charcoal onto the pile of unlit charcoal on the grate. Use tongs to stack the lit coals on the pile. Top the lit charcoal with another cup of drained, damp wood chips (you should have 1 more cup of wood chips left for regulating the smoke as the chicken cooks). Set the empty chimney aside. Place the 8-inch square aluminum pan next to the hot charcoal (this is the drip pan). Set the cooking grate back on the grill. Fill the 9-by-5-inch aluminum loaf pan three-quarters of the way with cold water and place it on the cooking grate over the hot charcoal (the cold water is needed to keep the grill temperature low). Set an oven thermometer in one of the grill lid’s vent holes or on the cooking grate near the edge of the grill and opposite the charcoal. Cover the grill, making sure that the bottom and top vents are open and that smoke is coming out of the vents. (If smoke is not coming out, check your fire to make sure it is lit. If it’s not, relight it, using tongs to transfer the warm charcoal from the grill back into the chimney starter.) Let the grill heat until it reaches at least 250°F, about 15 minutes.
- 5Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Rub it all over with oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Place chicken skin side down on the cooking grate over the drip pan (not over the lit charcoal). Cook, covered, making sure the lid’s vent is over the chicken (not the fire), for 30 minutes. Check the grill temperature: It should be between 250°F and 350°F. If it is too hot, add more water to the loaf pan (it evaporates) and close the lower vent by half. If the temperature is too low, make sure the bottom and top vents are open, or you may need to feed your charcoal by lighting more in the chimney. If the smoke has died down, carefully remove the steam pan and transfer the cooking grate (with the chicken on top) to a heatproof surface. Add the remaining 1 cup drained wood chips to the charcoal. Return the cooking grate to the grill and set the steam pan back over the burning charcoals. (Alternatively, slip the wood chips through the cooking grate so they fall on the charcoal.)
- 6Baste the chicken with more oil and season with additional salt and pepper. Rotate it on the grill and flip it skin side up. Continue to cook, covered, until the internal temperature reads 170°F on a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (make sure it’s not touching the bone), about 25 to 45 minutes more, depending on the temperature of the grill.
- 7When the chicken is done, remove it from the grill and immediately baste it with sauce. Serve, passing additional sauce on the side.
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