Inspired by an appetizer we ate at Josef's in Santa Rosa and still remembering the barbecued turkey event in the mountains, I decided to try my luck at doing a smoked chicken here at home. (Mike had suggested BBQ Pork Butt, but that would have to wait for another day.)
We had some apple wood and alder wood chips on hand, perfect for poultry since they're milder than hickory.
The chicken was brined for several hours in a salt and sugar solution. Since it's smoked at a low temperature (200 degrees) for several hours, the brine included a little pink salt like you would use for other cured meats.
For the glaze, I used Early Times whiskey and a nice, dark, grade B maple syrup. The flavor and texture came out wonderfully, and went really well with a warm, vinegary potato salad.
We found that we liked the breast more than the dark meat (which ended up more salty from the brine). The next time we try this technique, we may just use skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts instead of the whole bird.
Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken
Based on a recipe from Charcuterie. Instructions here are for a gas grill.
1 gallon (4 liters) water
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) kosher salt
1/2 cup (125 grams) sugar
8 teaspoons (42 grams) pink salt
1 cup (250 ml) bourbon
1/2 cup (125 grams) maple sugar or 1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 packed cup (50 grams) dark brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 (3-4 pound) chicken
Mix the brine ingredients in a large (~12 quart) pot until all sugar and salts have dissolved. Place the pot in the refrigerator until the brine is cold.
Rinse the chicken under cold water, and then place it into the brine. The chicken should be fully submerged; use a plate to weigh it down if it tends to float. Chill for about 18 hours.
Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse well under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels, place on a tray and refrigerate uncovered for at least 4 hours or up to a day. This allows the salt brine to distribute more evenly and improves the skin's ability to accept the smoke flavor.
Mix the glaze ingredients in a small pan and bring to a low simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking until the glaze becomes syrupy. The original recipe suggested arriving at a volume of 1 cup, however cooking longer to achieve a 1/2-cup volume results in a thicker glaze with more chance of sticking to your bird. When ready, remove from heat and allow to cool.
Prepare your grill for hot smoking by lighting only one burner. Put a wood chip smoker box filled with damp wood chips near the lit burner and bring to a smolder. Place the chicken on a grill rack away from the lit burner and close the grill lid. Maintain a temperature of about 200 degrees, replenishing wood chips as necessary to achieve a consistent smokiness.
After about 2 hours, brush some of the glaze all over the surface of the chicken. Close the grill lid and continue smoking the bird until a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 160 degrees, about an hour to an hour-and-a-half longer.
Remove the chicken from the grill and brush with more of the glaze. Let rest at least 15 minutes before carving and serve warm now, or chilled later.