Chicken BBQ, American style

Actually, you don’t need a barbecue to enjoy barbecue sauce. My mother used to prepare tasty ‘barbecued chicken’ by baking chicken pieces in a bright red barbecue sauce in the oven.

A chef slices succulent, marinated pieces of barbecue chicken. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
A chef slices succulent, marinated pieces of barbecue chicken.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
 ‘Everyone agrees that barbecue is a distinctly North American delicacy,” wrote Steven Raichlen in The Barbecue! Bible. “More and more barbecue joints are serving chicken, a reflection of the general lightening up of the American diet.”
Each person has his or her favorite way to prepare this perennially popular entrée. The chicken might be seasoned with a spice rub or soaked in a savory marinade before being grilled, or might be brushed with a thick barbecue sauce while it grills.
Actually, you don’t need a barbecue to enjoy barbecue sauce.
My mother used to prepare tasty “barbecued chicken” by baking chicken pieces in a bright red barbecue sauce in the oven.
Esther Deutsch, author of Chic Made Simple, uses a similar technique but adds her ketchup-based sauce flavored with honey, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and hot pepper to the chicken when it is almost done.
Around the US, home cooks and chefs are fond of their own particular styles of barbecuing and grilling. At a recent California pool party we attended, the menu was Santa Maria-style barbecue, named for a town near Santa Barbara. In addition to barbecued beef, there was grilled chicken with a sweet barbecue sauce that reminded me of my mother’s. The tasty chicken was served with green salad, roasted small potatoes and slightly sweet Santa Maria beans, which are cooked with smoked meat, tomato puree, sugar, mustard and chili sauce. To balance the sweetness there was spicy Santa Maria salsa, a mixture of chopped tomatoes, green onions, hot peppers and hot pepper sauce.
Salsas of this type are popular at California cookouts not only as accompaniments. Diane Rossen Worthington, author of The Cuisine of California, combines tomato salsa with Dijon mustard and lemon juice, and uses the mixture as a marinade for boneless chicken breasts before broiling or grilling them.
In North Carolina in the southeastern US, wrote Raichlen, the traditional way to eat barbecue is on a bun with coleslaw and vinegar sauce. The sauce might be made of vinegar, a little sugar, salt and hot red pepper flakes so that it is thin and clear, or might have ketchup or tomato sauce added. Another kind of sauce is made of vinegar, a sweetener (sugar, molasses or honey) and mustard.
Barbecue sauce in Kansas City, in the American heartland, is typically thick and sweet; it’s made of ketchup or tomato sauce cooked with brown sugar, vinegar, onion, garlic, hot pepper flakes and liquid smoke, wrote Raichlen. Texas barbecued meat is served on soft white bread, often with a thin, tart, tomato- based barbecue sauce flavored with chili powder.
In Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, chef Tom Douglas, author of Tom Douglas’s Seattle Kitchen, makes his barbecue sauce from tomatoes simmered with roasted red peppers, orange juice, ketchup, vinegar, sugar, mustard, cumin and other spices. (See recipe.)
Coffee barbecue sauce is a favorite of the author of The Southwestern Grill, Michael McLaughlin. He flavors it with chili puree, wine vinegar, orange juice, sugar, soy sauce, cumin, onions and garlic. When time is short, he notes that it’s perfectly OK to use bottled barbecue sauce as long as you doctor it up by adding maple syrup, Dijon mustard and hot pepper sauce. He uses part of this quick sauce to marinate chicken and baste it while it grills, and sets some aside to accompany the barbecued bird.
Chicken grilling tips from chef Michael McLaughlin:
• Chicken should be fully cooked through, showing no trace of pink, while retaining its natural moisture.
• To check boneless breasts for doneness, cut into one at its thickest point.
• Chicken pieces or split birds on the bone are done when the meat of the thighs, pricked at its thickest spot, yields juices that are clear and yellow, not pink. Cut to be certain.
– Thicker cuts can be checked with an instant-read thermometer, which should be inserted into the thickest part of the chicken, avoiding bone or fat. A reading of 71° to 77°C (160° to 170°F) should yield fully cooked but juicy meat. ■
The writer is the author of Faye Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook.
This recipe is from The Cuisine of California. Author Rossen Worthington likes it because it is satisfying and demands little preparation time. The marinade of mustard, lemon and herbs is low in calories, yet adds a rich flavor to the chicken.
With kosher chicken, which might be salty, you can use less salt or omit it. Instead of barbecuing the chicken, you can broil it.
❖ ½ cup lemon juice
❖ 1 Tbsp. finely chopped lemon zest
❖ ¼ cup Dijon mustard
❖ ¼ cup finely chopped fresh herbs – any combination of rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and parsley
❖ ¾ teaspoon salt
❖ ¼ teaspoon coarsely cracked pepper
❖ 4 whole large chicken breasts, skinned, boned and halved (or 8 large chicken breast halves)
❖ Parsley sprigs (for garnish)
❖ Lemon slices (for garnish)
❖ Fresh leaves of the same herbs used in the marinade (for garnish)
Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, chopped herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well.
In a large, shallow non-aluminum dish, arrange chicken pieces and pour marinade over them. Marinate for 2 to 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Prepare barbecue for medium-heat grilling.
Remove chicken from marinade and grill about 7.5 cm. (3 inches) from the flame for 7 to 10 minutes on each side; check by cutting into the thickest part of the chicken to be sure its color has changed throughout.
Place on individual plates or on a platter and surround by parsley sprigs, lemon slices and fresh herb leaves.
This recipe is from Tom Douglas’s Seattle Kitchen. Douglas brushes the chicken pieces with barbecue sauce when they are nearly done to avoid burning the sauce. He serves the chicken with coleslaw, grilled corn and grilled asparagus.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
❖ 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
❖ Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
❖ Traditional American Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)
Heat the grill.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat, with the grill covered and the vents open, turning the chicken pieces occasionally.
When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 65°C (150°F) on an instant-read meat thermometer (this usually takes about 25 minutes), brush the chicken pieces on both sides with the barbecue sauce and grill again to caramelize the sauce. Be attentive so the sauce does not burn, turning the pieces frequently until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 74C (165F). This should take another 5 to 10 minutes; then remove from the grill.
Douglas notes that you can make this sauce as mild or as hot as you like, according to the amount of red pepper flakes you add. If you are using a smoker or a covered kettle barbecue, he recommends putting a metal container of this sauce in the smoker or barbecue for a little while to pick up some smoke flavor. The sauce can be made several days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 cups
❖ 2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
❖ ½ cup minced onion
❖ ½ tsp. minced garlic
❖ 1 2/3 cups canned whole tomatoes with their juice (a 400-gr. or 14-ounce can)
❖ 1 sweet red pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded (see Note 1 below)
❖ ¼ cup fresh orange juice
❖ ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
❖ ¼ cup ketchup
❖ 3 Tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar
❖ 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
❖ 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
❖ 1 tsp. molasses
❖ ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted (see Note 2 below) and ground
❖ ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
❖ Pinch of ground cloves
❖ Red pepper flakes to taste
❖ Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, then cook the minced onion and garlic, stirring, for 2 minutes.
In a food processor or blender, puree the onion and garlic with the tomatoes and roasted pepper. Return the puree to the saucepan and add the orange juice, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, cumin, cinnamon and cloves. Slowly simmer until the sauce is as thick as you like it, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from heat. Season to taste with red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper.
Note 1: To roast the pepper, place it directly over the flame of a gas burner or on a baking sheet under a hot broiler, and turn it often until the skin is blackened and charred all over. Place pepper in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for about 10 minutes to loosen the skin. Scrape away the pepper skin with a paring knife.
Remove the stem and split the pepper in half. Remove and discard seeds and veins.
Note 2: To toast cumin seeds, place them in a heavy skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, tossing and stirring constantly until they brown lightly and give off a toasted aroma. Remove immediately from skillet.