I must have been a good girl this year because as an early birthday present my husband gave me a smoker. Yeah, you read that right...a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker to smoke meat and other goodies.
For our inaugural smoked meat feast, we decided to smoke some chicken. Since folks had Monday off from work, we thought it would be a good day to share. We invited my brother and his girlfriend, Kate and our friends Dave and Wendy to join us.
Serves 8 to 12
3 whole fryer chickens (3 to 4 lbs each)
48 oz Goya brand mojo criollo
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup canola oil
Between 6 and 8 hours before dinner, split the chickens and get them ready for the marinade. To split a chicken - lay the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using heavy-duty kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut down both sides of backbone. Flip the chicken over, so the cut section is down. With your hands, push against the breast to crack it open. Use the kitchen shears or knife to cut through the breast and finish splitting the chicken. You also want to break up the leg joint. Grip the thigh firmly, then bend or twist the legs on each half until you hear or feel the break at the joint between the leg and the thigh.
Now you are ready to marinate the chicken halves. Use one-gallon zip-top plastic bags or glass dishes to marinate the chicken, no metal containers. Place chicken in the preferred container, shake the marinade bottles well, and then pour over chicken. Put it in the refrigerator covered for 4 to 6 hours, turning once or twice to distribute the marinade.
Two hours before dinner, start a fire in your smoker. We used a chimney starter to help get it going and used a mix of lump hardwood charcoal and mesquite wood chunks.
While you are waiting for the charcoal in your starter to engage, pat the chicken dry and brush with 1/2 cup oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
When the lit charcoal and wood are ready for cooking, arrange the chicken on the grate. Place the chicken halves in a circle, breast-side in, on the grate, as close to the middle as possible without crowding. We put two halves of chicken on the bottom grate and four halves on the top grate. Put on the lid. The top and bottom vents of the cooker should both be open, but adjust them by closing slightly if the temperature gets too hot. You want to shoot for 250 to 275 degrees F. It was hot enough outside that it impacted the heat of our cooker so much we needed to adjust the vents.
Arranging the chicken on the grate with the breast away from the hottest zone on the grate to protect the breast meat from drying out and help the meat cook more evenly. On the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, the perimeter of the grate is hotter because heat flows around the water pan and up the sides. Hence, breast side in. Leave the lid on for 1 1/2 hours. No peeking or you will slow down the cooking.
One and one-half hours into the cook, open the lid and puncture the thickest part of the breast with a fork. If the juice running out the chicken is clear, it is done. If the juice is still pinkish, leave the chicken on the cooker and replace the lid and fork-test the chicken every 10 to 15 minutes until the juices run clear. The chickens on the top were done in one and a half hours and the bottom chicken was done about 15 minutes later.
As a guide to the joys of our new smoker, we've been using the cookbook, Low and Slow: Master the Art of Barbeque in 5 Easy Lessons. It includes the above recipe.