Indian Summer Grilling

Basic to Brilliant!

"When in doubt, roast a chicken," a famous cookbook author once said.

As a BBQ Queen who spends part of her working life in a visor/tiara, I'd amend that to 
"When in doubt, grill a chicken."  But there's an art to that.  

When you grill a bone-in chicken, whether whole or in pieces, you'll want to add flavor that will infuse the bird as it cooks. You'll want to turn the chicken a lot, so it doesn't burn.  And you save the barbecue sauce for slathering on during the last minutes of grilling.

And if you want a Southern-style grilled chicken that truly is finger-lickin' good--complete with a sassy barbecue sauce featuring Vidalia onion--then my friend Virginia Willis is your gal. Her new book Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company just came out, and it's a beauty.  I love a book that makes you want to lick the pages, and even better when the recipes are sooooo good.

Willis takes a good basic recipe, like barbecued chicken, then gives it special touches that take it to, well, brilliance.   A signature barbecue sauce can do that, but the juiciness of the chicken, thanks to a sweet, brine-like marinade, made the basic recipe pretty darn tasty. My, my, my! You know it's a great recipe when people keep sneaking back for another little piece, another lick of sauce. Can you say "no leftovers?"  Sigh. . . .

Want to see how Basic to Brilliant, Y'all came together?  Visit Virginia’s blog and download her recipe sampler at the bottom of the page. 

If you follow this link, you can get an autographed book plate from Chef Willis, too.

Now, celebrate Indian Summer and fire up that grill!

Mama’s BBQ Chicken
from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011)
Serves 4 to 6

You know how it is when you are itching for summer to start. You are ready for it. It buzzes in your brain like a hungry mosquito zeroing in for a feast on a naked expanse of skin. Warm weather, sunshine, and swimming. Porches, fishing, and lying on the grass by the river. I love summer food.

Okra. Lady peas and butter beans. Tomatoes. Summer squash. Corn. Garrison Keillor is rumored to have said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.” Well, fresh sweet corn is really good. Simple. Uncomplicated. Satisfying. Regardless of your opinion of sex and corn, I am sure you can agree summer does mean grilling.

I love to grill throughout the year, but in the summer, it’s just practical to keep the heat out of the kitchen. Burgers and brats are brilliant, steaks and seafood are stupendous, but perhaps my absolute fave? The cheap and cheerful pedestrian chicken.

Chicken can be absolutely sublime on the grill: smoky and charred, yet tender and juicy. It can also be drier than chalk and just about as tasty, too. The trick is if you pierce the meat with the tip of a knife and the juices run clear, it’s done. If the juices run pink? It’s underdone. If there are no juices? Ahem.

4 quarts tepid water
3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups ice cubes
1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 6 bone-in skin-on breasts or thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mama’s Barbecue Sauce, warmed

Combine the water, salt, and brown sugar in a large plastic container and stir to dissolve. Add ice to chill, then add the chicken; cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and rinse under cool running water. Pat dry with paper towels, season with pepper, and set aside. Using a wad of paper towels or an old cloth and a pair of tongs, apply some canola oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts. Move the chicken to where the heat is medium low or lower the heat in a gas grill to medium. Continue to grill, turning occasionally, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes. During the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce. (Any sooner and the sauce will burn.) Remove the chicken pieces from the grill as soon as they are done and transfer to a warmed platter. Give them a final brush of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.

Mama’s Barbecue Sauce

Make a batch, then separate out a cup or so for brushing on the chicken. Don’t dip your brush in the big pot, then dab it on half-cooked chicken and then serve that
same sauce on the side. Eew. That’s just bad food safety and asking for a tummy ache.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, very finely chopped
21/2 cups ketchup
2 cups apple cider or distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Coarse salt

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; add the onion and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have smoothed and mellowed, at least 10 and up to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for months.

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