Tommy’s Kitchen Rotating Header Image

By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

April, 2008:

If There’s Smoke, It Must Be Spring!


As the April sun warms the chill of winter from our bones, a man starts to think of many things…. Mowing the lawn, tilling the garden, opening the pool, and generally getting things ready for the summer. But if that man is anything like myself, he walks into the back yard, stretches his arms, breathes in the Spring air, heads towards the mower, and………Stops – right in front of his BBQ or Smoker. Granted, the smell of freshly-cut grass can do wonders to the brain if you are not prone to allergies, but that smell can’t even compare to the aroma of meat and smoke doing the nasty in the dark beneath the closed lid of a fine cooking machine.

I’ve smoked many things in my lifetime (yeah, I know how that sounds), but never a chicken. I’ve smoked some turkeys before and a 18-pounder has been our Thanksgiving understudy for the past 2 years. But that creates a lot of leftovers which is good, but pure hell on refrigerator real estate. One of my colleagues, Mike, was talking about his smoked chickens (which I’ve envied but never tasted) and a lightbulb went off in my head (again there is envy because it doesn’t happen very often)

Sunday after the show I pick up 2 chickens (8 pounders) after choosing an appropriate recipe as a starting point. As with much of the food you’ll see here this year, I delved into my trusty copy of Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.



 If you like to smoke meats, this book is for you. I own many books on smoking, but if I was stranded on a desert island (with a full pantry and fresh market, of course) this is the book I’d choose to take with me. My bacon recipe is based on this book – It is the inspiration for all of my sausage-making (more on that later, of course!) and I hope to soon make the recipe for “Duck Ham”

So I turned the page to “whiskey glazed smoked chicken” and, me being entirely predictable, messed with the proportions of the recipe. The brine (which I held the birds in for 24 hours) was essentially the same. For the alcohol, I used a blend of Jack Daniels and a local whiskey from Colorado. With pure maple sugar (Thank you Whole foods – when I was a boy my mother found it somewhere – but Safeway sure doesn’t have it) and a pinch (or five) of cayenne, my glaze was ready to be boiled down to a dark sticky mess. And that’s exactly what it was when I was done since my attentions were turned elsewhere (I had to prep the smoker, after all!) Since I had a pot full of tar, but not burnt tar, I just added a bit more whiskey (to the pot of course!)

There is rarely a situation that cannot be solved without the addition of more alcohol, either into the recipe or into the cook. W.C. Fields has been quoted as saying “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” I frequently use tequila to marinade a flank, skirt, or hanger steak, beer to chili, and wine to pan sauces. But I digress. One last thing, folks – I have to be safe and remind everyone NOT to add alcohol to a pot or pan while it is on the stove and over an open flame. Remember, alcohol is flammable. Thank you, now my lawyers are happy and you still have your eyebrows.

Just a quick soak in the Tub!

Just a quick soak in the Tub!

Where was I? Oh, yes, so the whole process is done in 3 days – One night I brine the chicken(s) and refrigerate them for 24 hours (I know, the book says 18 – But when do I ever go by the book?). Next I take them out of the brine, rinse them, and pat them dry with paper towels. The chickens then go onto a rack on in the fridge overnight. Yes. Uncovered. Bare. Naked. The reason for this is to dry out the skin. Remember, I just took them out of a 24-hour soak. How does your skin look and feel after a half hour in the bath? After 48 times that? We want to get rid of some of that squishy, flabby feeling. We want the crispiest skin possible. Yes, there is a real scientific explanation for why we rest between brining and smoking, but I like my metaphor better. Plus, it leaves something for me to blog about if I ever get writer’s block.


And a long Sauna......

The final step is smoking – I like Applewood for poultry and fish so thats what I used here. The book says smoke at 200-degrees for 3 hours. Sounds good to me, but since Leslie was coming home for dinner at 8 p.m., and I am notoriously late each night, I put the chickens in at 4. This gives me an hour of pad if they take longer, and a good rest to let the juices get back to where they belong if they don’t. Halfway through cooking, they come partially out of the smoker to what I call the “Jack Daniels Spa Treatment” – I baste them with the whiskey-maple glaze. Hey, if other folks spend hundreds of dollars to rub their bodies with cucumbers, avocado, and seaweed, then my chickens get the full JD treatment! I have yet to try this on myself, but I seem to remember a weekend in college when – Oh, never mind.

Needless to say, Leslie arrives home at 8 and the chickens only register at 120-degrees on the trusty instant-read thermometer. “Honey, if you are hungry, you better make yourself an omelette” which she did without complaint (have I told you how good she is getting at cooking omelettes?) I pop the smoker temp up to 220, then 250. Finally, after SIX HOURS, they are done. Another Jack Daniels Spa Treatment and they are ready to rest. These birds are truly GBD – Golden Brown and Delicious. The mahogany color is unlike any hue I’ve ever seen on a chicken. It’s the kind of color I always hope to get at the beach, but I always end up looking more like a boiled lobster than a smoked chicken.


An Awesome day at Tommy's Day Spa!

How did it taste? Man-oh-Man, it was the most tender, juicy, smoky poultry i’ve ever had. Leslie says it was the best chicken she’s EVER tasted, but she says that a lot, bless her heart. Warm this chicken melts in your mouth (with a pleasant finish of apple and oak – OK, Im just being snooty now.) Cold in sandwiches – pure heaven. A touch of mayo and Durkee Famous Sauce, some lettuce and tomato – and you have a sandwich you’ll never forget.

Why did they take so long to smoke? Well, dear readers, if you have compared the recipe in the book to what I wrote above, you would already know. You see, the recipe calls for birds that are 3-4 pounds, not the 8 pound monsters yours truly used. Yes, I admit it – I am human and (occasionally) make mistakes. And the fact that I never, ever follow a recipe to the letter may have something to do with it. I can compare my cooking to an improvisational Jazz musician, knowing how to play the notes but truly making things up as I go along. How could I miss the fact that I used chickens that looked like they just got off a MLB pitching mound instead of ones that should have been more like the bat boy. Next time 6 hours, next time 6 hours, next time 6 hours……