Learning to Fly

So a couple things happened after I smoked my Christmas ham. First I gained a much better understanding and appreciation for what BBQ really is. Secondly, Mikey asked me to chronicle my beginner's BBQ journey here on MMB! So the good news for you is you will get to tag along with me throughout my journey in this world. I get to share my success, my failures, and all the great lessons I learn along the way. The good news for me is that through this I get a constant push along with mentoring from the great pitmaster Mikey himself. Sounds like a win win for everyone!

With that out of the way, let's get into this week's cook. Mikey told me that it would be a great idea for me to start out with some chicken wings. I was less than thrilled. See despite everything I see and hear from people about chicken being the first or the only thing the have mastered on the BBQ, for me, it is my nemesis. It has always been my nemesis. I have nothing against the bird at all, aside from the fact that I cannot cook it. This story could go back as far as you want. I remember my shiny propane grill that came via a wedding gift 15 years ago. It was great until I put chicken on it. I can over-cook it. I can under cook it. I can have dry and hard on the outside and uncooked in the middle. Point is, while I have been able to muscle through making blah mediocre burgers steaks and a couple other things, chicken I have never conquered. 

So despite my fear, I give in. My wife likes wings, it is one of the few meals I know my son will eat. Actually, only one person in the family won't eat them. So I take on the challenge. I begin to research how to make these. I come up with about a 1000 different techniques with no clue if any of them or which of them work well. After a few texts my Mr. Miyagi mentor of BBQ, Mikey, simply says "No, we will do it my way."

The master has spoken and I prep the only way I know how to. I buy some chicken. I pick up like 15 wings and throw in 5 drumsticks for the hell of it. Now from the prep side, I know I need a rub for them. Which is at this point the only thing I know for sure is in alignment with Mr. Miyagi's methods. I go to buy rub. I have no time to order some fancy home-brew rub off the web so I am stuck with stores. Now, maybe for you experienced people you know what to look for in a rub, I clearly don't. My technique for selection was simply find something for chicken. Find something that seems like it will have some heat to it and see what happens. By default, I avoid any of the standard stuff by McCormick or branded by Weber. Not that they suck or are bad at all, just from the perspective I have they kinda scream "Propane griller without a clue" or "This guy uses lighter fluid". I may suck but I like to feel that I am better than that stigma.

After going to 5 different stores I come up with 2 rubs. Caveman Cusine's American Royal Wolrd Series of Barbecue Championship Recipe Chicken Rub and Famous Dave's Spicey Hot Chikn' Wing Seasoning. I am still completely clueless of what any of these rubs taste like so I figure I will divide the wings I bought into Three. One for the Caveman, One for Famous Dave's, and for good measure I will use the Meat Church Honey BBQ rub I have from the ham on some. With this, I think I am prepared. Well at the very least I think I have a shot at this. Plus I have an advantage on this. See I have avoided seeing Mikey a little bit so I still have in my possession his PK Grill, and his iGrill. With equipment like that...well I can still screw this up, but at least I cannot blame the crappy equipment. 

Then out of the blue Mikey's instructions come. He is very direct and to the point. I set up two rows of charcoal on one side of the PK. Add in a half chimney. Open the dampers more to get the grill to 325. Put on the wood for smoke. Add the wings to the side of the grill with no fire and cook until they reach 190-200 internal. Finally, put them on the fire for 10-20 seconds to give them char marks.

Well, this might just work. Hell with the ham, 325 was about where the cooker wanted to be without me seriously closing dampers. What can go wrong? Now with the ham, Mikey loaded me up with some of his own Cherry and Maple chunks, after laughing at the chips I bought. Side note lesson here:  Chips are the bags of wood that more resemble backyard mulch then chips of any kind, while chunks really resemble large blocks of wood. Despite the master scoffing at my chips last time, I decide I will use them for the wings. I figure the wings are small so small pieces of wood will work. Besides, after traveling near and far to learn I have no clue about rubs the last thing I need to be doing is driving around trying to figure out even where they sell these elusive chunks.

To shame my master, even more, I decide to soak the chips in water. Mikey told me not to with the ham as it will kill my fire. But I figure here, the chips are tiny and will be gone instantly if I don't. Also, I suck at keeping a lower temp so I am not too fearful of something that may inadvertently drop my temp a bit. 

So now I am set for the big game.

The time comes so I pull out all the chicken and begin to prep. I get out the olive oil, rubs and some gloves. I take a third of the chicken and toss it in a bowl with some oil and then apply my rub until it looks like I covered it well. Put them on a tray and repeat the process with the other two rubs. Now I have a tray full of chicken all rubbed up and ready to go. See, just another way BBQ has changed my life. Typically in my pre-BBQ life, after anyone rubs one out the fun is done. Now we are still just starting out!

I then look towards the PK Grill and get her prepped. I set up my charcoal and light my chimney. I throw the heated coals on top of my two lines of charcoal and with the iGrill ambient probe in place, I close her up and wait for her to hit temp. The grill soars up in temp and levels off right around 350. I adjust the damper and hope for it to cool down a little. A few minutes late it works. Soon I have it right around 335. I add on my shamed damp Cherry wood chips and wait for the clean white smoke to appear.

It appears just as the PK drops below 330. Not only is it game time, but I think I am doing this right! Energized from the ease at which I hit temp I bring the chicken out. Almost immediately upon opening the PK, I realize I have an issue. I look at the half of the grill with no fire and then the tray of chicken. Crap, I have way too much chicken to keep it all away from the fire. Well, it is time to improvise and in the end, too much chicken might not be that bad as I can screw some up and still have plenty!

Planning for a tight squeeze I lay out all the chicken. I was able to keep 90% of it all on the side with no fire with only a few pieces veering dangerously close to the heat. I close the PK up and wait. This I was not prepared for. The time between putting the meat on the grill until the time it is cooked is painfully slow moving. I pace back and forth watching the iGrill like it was the Cubs 3 outs away from winning the World Series. To my surprise from the screen of my phone, this cook is going perfectly. But I cannot relax.

I want to break the cardinal rule of BBQ and open up the grill to look, but I hold off. I wait and I wait. Finally, I give into the urge and I take a quick peak. Wow! It looks incredible! 

So now confident I am not completely screwing this up, part of me relaxes. But I am still impatient. As the temp of the chicken passes 170 I start losing my cool. Like Doc Brown waiting for the DeLorean to hit 88 miles per hour, I wait impatiently. Finally, the temp hits 188 and I cannot take it. I am taking them off. I go out and open up the PK. They look amazing! As anticipated the couple on the edge by the heat look a bit charred but even those look good. In my excitement, I completely forget to throw them on the fire for a few seconds to give them the char marks. 

I quickly separate the wings out by the flavor of rub I used. To keep my son happy I take the 3rd of them which I used Famous Dave's rub on and toss them in a bowl with a combination of melted butter and Franks Red Hot sauce. Then I am done. I breathe a sigh of relief and it is time to eat.

The wings were downright awesome. The skin was crispy, the inside was cooked perfectly! Everyone with the exception of my daughter who refuses to eat any chicken ate them up quickly. The cook as a whole was a resounding success. But this success left me something to think about. On one hand I had slain my evil chicken nemesis. On the other hand, I am not BBQing yet as much as I am following specific instructions from my mentor. So what can I learn about this cook that can lead me to BBQing on my own?

At the forefront of this thought process is the sheer temperature. I had always approached chicken in the form of straight out grilling. Whether I ever thought about it or not, grilling is significantly hotter than this cook was. Then comes a perplexing realization. In all of me, pre-cook research everything told me to cook the chicken until the internal temp was 160. Yet, Mikey, had me go all the way to 190. Why? So I ask this question to the master himself. His response was for the skin of the wing. Saying that if I pulled them at 160, the skin would be soggy, but at 190, crispy. Simple enough. This pretty much eliminates the next question I had which was why all the guides I read said to use cornstarch in the prep to give a crispier skin. 

So what I have learned is that the real reason chicken has been my nemesis is because I simply cooked it too hot. The lower temp lets it cook longer and more evenly. Even by controlling this cook I can give the skin the sought after crisp without going through more prep. As of now, I don't know how much these theories apply to all chicken, but for wings, I have found a technique which works amazing. 

I am one step closer to being the dad on the block that isn't embarrassed to invite people over for BBQ...well at least until Mikey corners me and takes his thermometer and PK Grill back. I am anxious to see what kinda cook Mikey throws at me for next time.