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.
- 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.
Grill or smoker; immersion blender or standard blender