It seems I have a lot to learn when it comes to the fine art of pit-mastering.
Last evening, I attempted to make Dr Pepper Barbecued Chicken, a recipe from John de Mers’ forthcoming book Follow the Smoke: 14,783 Miles of Great Texas Barbecue (Bright Sky Press). Dr Pepper enjoys a long tradition in Texas, having been invented around 1885 at Castle’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco. Over the years, the drink has been advertised as an aphrodisiac—“It makes old men young, and restores vim, vigor, and vitality!” and as a stimulant—a “Tonic, Brain Food, and Exhilarant!”
So, it seemed pretty logical that the stuff would make a good barbecue sauce. Along with Dr Pepper, the recipe calls for lots of bacon, butter, and garlic—ingredients that could make an old boot gnaw-worthy. (The recipe follows.)
I feel confident in saying I mastered the sauce. But I failed the fire part. First of all, the coals were too hot when I put the chicken on, skin-side down, as suggested. After a few minutes of jolly sizzling—just as I was sipping a glass of wine and feeling proud of myself—the whole thing went up in flames. I did have a spray-bottle handy to extinguish the blaze, but the crispy, caramel-colored, succulent skin I envisioned had already been ruined.
But I kept basting, basting, basting, and basting with that luscious, bacony sauce. After about an hour, I figured the chicken was done, and it took it inside for a taste. The bits of skin that weren’t blackened disasters did indeed taste heavenly. But when I inserted a meat thermometer, it registered only 140 degrees. That’s 40 degrees shy of done and lodged securely in salmonella territory. Maybe the coals hadn’t stayed hot enough, long enough?
Saved by a few minutes in the microwave, the chicken tasted fine, and that sauce is a bona-fide winner—salty, sweet, lemony, garlicky, and fairly addictive. The Dr Pepper, I’m convinced, really put it over the top. I figure I’ll try this again and hone my skill at the grill. Anyone have any advice?
Dr Pepper Barbecued Chicken (from John de Mers’ forthcoming Follow the Smoke; 14,783 Miles of Great Texas Barbecue, Bright Sky Press; www.brightskypress.com)
¾ cup water
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup Dr Pepper
2/3 cup white vinegar
Grated peel of ½ lemon
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
½ tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
4 chickens (about 1 ½ pounds each), cut in half
Additional salt and pepper
In a saucepan, combine the first 13 ingredients. Bring just to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, season the chicken halves with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down on a hot grill. Brown on both sides, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Continue to grill, brushing regularly with sauce, until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees, about 45 minutes. Serves 8.