When I started this blog and my mission to learn the art of BBQ with Mikey as my mentor. Before that, I was accustomed to failure. When it came to cooking I could successfully follow a recipe like a champ. But when it involved firing up a grill, I sucked. If you go back and read through my cooks thus far this had completely turned this failure around. Cook after cook, while I wasn't achieving perfection, I was cooking well. Then Mikey assigned me a whole chicken to cook.
With the exception of cooking chicken wings on this blog, chicken has always been my arch nemesis. There is something about that bird which I just struggle with. Yet, when Mikey assigned it to me, I looked not at my failure, but my success with the wings and I took on this challenge with sheer confidence.
What made this cook even better was the fact that I already had a chicken just waiting to be cooked. My mom had given it to me a couple weeks prior, so this was working out perfect. One thing, though, the chicken in my possession was no ordinary bird. This bird was a giant. Weighing in at over 7 pounds it was more like a turkey. Initially, I was thinking about going the route of doing a beer can chicken. With this bird, though, there was no way it would fit in my kettle that way. That is when Mikey intervened and instructed me to spatchcock it.
After a few minutes of being pissed thinking, Mikey was swearing at me, I decided to look up his slur. Low and behold it was a legit technique. I realized that this could work and I was going to do it. So if like me, you are not familiar with the art of spatchcock, essentially you are cutting out the backbone and spreading the bird out. From what I read, this allows the dark meat and white meat to cook evenly through the cook.
Armed with a set of kitchen sheers, I went to work on the bird. I don't know if it was because it was such a large bird or because I have completely sub-par kitchen sheers but, cutting out this backbone was way harder then it looked like it should be. Eventually, I got it. With the backbone removed, I spread the bird out. I covered it with a little olive oil and then applied Meat Church's Holy Grail rub. This looked amazing!
It was time to fire up the kettle. For this cook, I was instructed to go slow, keeping the heat at 250 and letting the bird smoke. I put some unlit charcoal on one side of the kettle and then added the lit on top as I have become comfortable doing. I hit the 250 mark and the heat leveled out. I added some wood and then the bird. Everything was going perfectly up until this point, yet, this is where it all went off the rails.
This is one of those things that separates me from you experienced barbecuers out there. See I am completely reliant on things like the iGrill to help me along instead of being able to use my experience and gut to inform me of what is going on. See, after I opened the kettle to put the bird on the temp dropped as it always does. This time, though, according to the iGrill, it didn't come back. I waited about 10 minutes watching the temp stay consistent around 180 and I intervened by opening up the vents a bit. I had hoped the increased air flow would coax the fire back to where I needed it. It didn't.
After repeating this cycle for a while soon I had my vents full open with the temp still riding around 180. This is when I started thinking that maybe the fire just went out. I was annoyed at the idea that I had to work at relighting it just after starting the cook. I opened up the Kettle, only to find that the coals were lit and burning, as was the wood. Now I was just getting pissed.
One frustrating aspect of this is the nature of cooking with charcoal, to begin with. In concept, you are trying to hit a target temperature. You do this by controlling the airflow with the vents. The struggle is the time it takes to do it. I am not cooking on a damn Trager where I can simply set the thermostat. I need to adjust, wait, see what effect it had, and adjust again. It all takes time. Following this plan, I was nearing an hour into the cook. An hour where I had temp readings way low. An hour where I spent the entire time trying to coax more heat out of my coals. Then it hit me. Maybe something got screwed up with the iGrill.
I took a peek at the temp gauge in the lid of my kettle to confirm this. Now, maybe some of you out there have learned to use that temp gauge, I have not. It always reads higher than what the ambient temp of the grate is for me, so I have relied on the iGrill. While I know the lid thermometer will read higher, in looking at it, I knew it should not be in the 500 range!
In a nutshell, what happened is the iGrill took a crap. I had spent an hour trying to coax more heat out of an already too hot fire. I shut down the vents and messed around with the iGrill a bit. I took out the batteries and reset it. All of a sudden it seemed back to normal. Unfortunately, it was now reading about 380. Slowly the temp lowered to a more respectable range. I vowed to continue on from this point as I would normally, not knowing what damage was done. The sad part of this really is that at the point of this revelation, the bird looked amazing. The color from the rub looked absolutely perfect. Well, perfect if I was taking the bird out at that moment. For me, though I still had a long way to go to get it cooked enough to eat.
After about another hour, I finally hit a proper internal temp on the chicken. At this point, I was already writing off my failure. I took the chicken out and let it rest before I would see what I could do. What remained of the skin was some blackened charred scraps. The meat below, though, looked like it might have been saved. I cut up the chicken. The wings were more something which resembled chicken jerky. The legs, however, if you could get through the remaining skin were pretty great.
The good news was that despite looking more like the turkey in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, there was a lot of great meat still there. We ate what we could and I opted to shred the remaining breast meat and save for later. Originally I was going to use them for tacos, but it turned out to be just great as it was on a sandwich.
So I failed. My poor bird fell into a burning ring of fire. My reliance on tech over gut inadvertently said 'Let it burn!'. I suppose you win some and lose some. As I said, in the beginning, I was used to failing at BBQ. Considering this is my first fail in a while, I still think I am doing pretty damn good. What is different now, though, is I can learn from it. Before when I failed, I kinda shrugged my shoulders and looked for something else to try. Here, I know damn well where I failed. That, I can learn from.
For me now, I clean up the grill, and prep for the next cook. I am not going to let this bird drag me down. Ironically, my co-blogger for Man Meat BBQ Jeff posted his 'Chicken Made Easy' blog this week. In his post, he completely nailed what I was trying to do. Well played Jeff, well played. You clearly won this round, but Pipes is not knocked out yet!
Until next post, remember kids.....CHUNKS not chips!