Smoky, juicy, tender, and flavored with a carefully calibrated homemade sauce, this pulled barbecue chicken is way better than just about any version we've ever had before.
Why this recipe works:
- Dry brining the chicken overnight with a mixture of salt and classic barbecue spices seasons the meat while keeping it juicy.
- Slow smoking the chicken over indirect heat allows for maximum smoke penetration.
- A thin barbecue sauce soaks into the chicken, flavoring it throughout without being overly saucy.
- Yield:Serves 8
- Active time: 2 hours
- Total time:10 hours
- For the Chicken and Rub:
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 whole chickens, halved and backbones discarded or reserved for another use
- For the Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 1 1/2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 fist-size chunk of light smoking wood, such as apple or cherry
- Sandwich rolls, for serving (optional)
- Coleslaw, for serving (optional)
- Type of fire: Indirect
- Grill heat: Low
For the Chicken and Rub: Mix together salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Season chicken halves all over with rub and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 12 hours.
For the Sauce: Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned around the edges, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup, apple juice, brown sugar, honey, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Puree sauce with an immersion blender, or transfer sauce to the jar of a standard blender, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If not using right away, transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator.
Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F. Add wood chunk to smoker following manufacturer's instructions, or set wood chunk on top of embers if using a grill. Place chickens in smoker or on grill over indirect heat, and cook until breast meat registers 160°F on an instant read thermometer, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove from smoker and let chickens rest until cool enough to handle.
Using hands or two forks, pull chicken into thin strands, discarding skin, cartilage, and excess fat.
Measure out 3/4 cup of barbecue sauce and set aside. Reheat remaining barbecue sauce in a large saupan. Stir shredded chicken into hot barbecue sauce and cook until chicken is warmed throughout. Serve immediately on sandwich rolls with reserved barbecue sauce and coleslaw, if desired.