If I could have only one grill or smoker it would have to be a 22″ Weber kettle grill. An ingenious design by George Stephen, Sr., who made a kettle grill from bouy parts made in his Chicago sheet metal shop in the early 1950s. All his friends wanted one of his “Sputniks” and thus the barbecue division of Weber Brothers was born. A Weber Kettle grill can be adapted to just about any outdoor cooking that regular people engage in.
Smoked Grilled Chicken in the kettle makes my Top Five Chicken Strategies list:
— the charcoal with hardwood fire smokes the chicken like any smoker would:
— the bottom side Weber air vents slow down air flow and prevent the heat from raging;
— banking the charcoal on one side and the chicken on the other also keeps the heat gentle while the chicken smokes;
— simply spinning the round grate to place the chicken directly over the fire for a few minutes at the end helps burn off excess chicken fat for a better tasting chicken;
— once you get the chicken set on the grill and the hardwood smoking, get a beer, sit down, and leave it alone. It doesn’t need you.
When it comes to chicken, unless you prefer complications, smoked grilled chicken is about the easiest outdoor chicken cooking method — just below our No. 1 Chicken Strategy, Shelf Chicken. Here are the essentials of smoked grilled chicken:
Start the charcoal – briquettes or hardwood lump. I use a simple charcoal chimney and newspaper or section of the Kingsford bag.
Prep the chicken while the charcoal gets going. Remove any innards from the cavity and dry the skin with paper towel. Season however you like, inside and out. I use Kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, and on the skin, some paprika for color.
NOTE: if you brine the chicken in a salt water bath before cooking, do not salt the chicken (it’s already absorbed salt from the brine).
Prep the fire for smoking/grilling. Dump the charcoal chimney onto one side of the kettle and bank the coals up the side with your dedicated-for-charcoal management long (@16″) metal tongs. Make sure half of the grill grate cooking space will have no burning coals directly beneath it. Add hardwood chunks (oak is versatile and my top choice) or foil-wrapped packs of wood chips on top of the coals. While watching one of the bottom vents slide the vent control bar until the vents are open about ¼” at the widest part. Set the grate in place.
Place the chickens (make two birds, you’ll love the leftovers) on the grate opposite the direct heat. Cover the grill. Fully open the vent in the cover. Always use the Weber with the cover vent fully open. Trapped smoke is too much smoke.
Check the hardwood. After about 30 minutes, put on your quality welders gloves and lift the grill grate (and chickens) off the Weber. Carefully set it somewhere that’s sturdy and won’t burn. Add more hardwood chunks if the first batch is ash. If the charcoal needs refreshing use hardwood lump only. Unburned briquettes give off that scent that clashes with your quality hardwood smoking wood. Replace the grill grate as it was and spin the birds 180 degrees for even cooking.
Check the temperature and feel of the leg/thigh joint. So, about 45-50 minutes into cooking, probe the breast and thigh with an instant read thermometer. USDA says 160F is safe, but the dark meat is better when its 175-180F. Push down on the leg and feel the resistance. If the joint refuses to give way, I’d keep cooking. If you see pink juice when you remove the thermometer, keep cooking. The juice needs to be clear for it to be safe to eat.
NOTE: those digital thermometer probes are pretty handy as you can monitor internal temps without lifting the cover and losing the heat you’ve built up.