Weekend Recipe: Barbecued Pulled Chicken

Photo courtesy of Cook's Country
Photo courtesy of Cook's Country

If you follow America's Test Kitchen recipes, you already know that they really insist on brining your chicken every time. It's an essential step in this recipe -- you want to avoid any possibility of dry meat from a slow smoke. Serve the chicken on hamburger buns, potato bread rolls, brioche buns, or even plain white bread drenched in the vinegar-based sauce. Enjoy!

Barbecued Pulled Chicken
Makes enough for 8 sandwiches

1 cup salt
2 (4-pound) whole chickens, giblets discarded
2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 cup brewed coffee
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

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For the chicken: Dissolve salt in 4 quarts cold water in large container. Remove backbones from chickens and split chickens in half lengthwise through center of breast bone. Using metal skewer, poke 20 holes all over each chicken half. Submerge chicken halves in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove chicken halves from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and season with pepper. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.

For the sauce: Meanwhile, heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in broth, vinegar, coffee, molasses, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and garlic powder and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture is thick and reduced to 4 cups, about 65 to 75 minutes. Stir in liquid smoke (sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance); reserve 1 cup sauce for serving.

For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into steeply banked pile against side of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.

For a gas grill: Place wood chip packet over primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burners.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken halves skin side up on cool side of grill with legs closest to heat source. Cover and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 75 to 85 minutes. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard skin. Pull meat off bones, separating dark and light meat. Roughly chop dark meat into ½-inch pieces. Shred white meat into thin strands.

Add chicken to pot with sauce and cook over medium-low heat until chicken is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve on hamburger rolls, passing reserved sauce separately.

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