Grillvs Domesticvs Transcript


    If you own and operate one of these contraptions [a grill], sooner or later, you're going to attempt to grill one of these [a chicken]. That's right, Gallus domesticus. For red, white, and blue-blooded American cooks, it is inevitable.

AB: [to the chicken] Yes, it is.

    And yet, despite whatever firepower you may have amassed, or skills you think you have attained, the meeting of Gallus domesticus and grillus americanus can, and often does, result in ... [cut to a piece of chicken on fire in another grill] ... Mealus yuckus. Pitiful? Perhaps. Preventable? Positively. After all, we're Americans, right? Grilling is in our bones. Which is why, if you would lend me just a half hour of your busy day, your next grilled chicken will be all kinds of ...

[Good Eats Theme]


    In order to fully grasp the fractious nature of chicken on the grill, it may help to examine the characteristics of a few grill-friendly eats.
    Consider, for instance, the sirloin steak, salmon, lamb chops, Portobello mushrooms, even pizza. That's right, pizza. Don't worry, that's another show. What do they all have in common? The following attributes.

  • Typically speaking, grill-friendly foods are flat, meaning they can be cooked on side A and then side B.
  • They are uniform, okay? When it comes to grilling, uniformity of shape and size is analogous to even cooking, okay?
  • They are lean. Although fat can lubricate meat fibers, it's a carbon-based energy storage medium, and as such, is highly flammable, which is why fatty foods often come to the table, you know, covered in soot.
  • Grill-friendly foods are moist. Okay. Moisture is important, as it prevents burning while helping to conduct heat inward. At the same time, it can also push outward, taking sear-producing proteins with it.
  • And this means that the food in question also needs to be at least somewhat porous for that moisture to move around.


    Now let's consider the chicken.

The Kitchen

    [at the counter with a whole chicken] Behold, Gallus domesticus in its common market form. Looks pretty innocent, doesn't it? Well, horrors lurk within.
    [shows an X-ray of the chicken] Just check out this internal structure, will you? I mean, bones and joints everywhere. It's a griller's nightmare, because no matter how or where you cut it, uniformity and flatness are not going to happen. And although the meat is moist, around 66 percent water, in fact, everywhere there's a joint or a bone. You know that meat's just shot through with connective tissue. And some of it is not ever going to soften during cooking. Oh, and let's not forget the meat inside the breast: anaerobic fast-twitch musculature suited to brief periods of wing flapping. And it cooks at a very different rate than the leg muscles, which are composed of aerobic slow-twitch fibers meant for meandering. Oh, and of course, let's not forget the whole package is wrapped up in a layer of skin, which happens to be disguising a powerful accelerant. I just don't ... You know what? Let's just talk about the skin in a second, okay?
    You know, we've never really talked skin on this show. Because with the exception of poultry and maybe a few fish, we really just don't eat the stuff. Now your skin and my skin is a very complex organ, okay? There's the epidermis, which is like a raincoat of dead cells impregnated with a tough protein called keratin. Down here we've got a complex collection of structures, hair follicles and sweat glands all nestled in an elastic mesh of connective tissue.
    Now in pigs, this layer is so thick and versatile, it can be made into either leather goods or gelatin. Actually, gelatin comes from the ... You don't want to know.
    Now chicken skin is far simpler stuff, okay? There aren't as many structures. Most of the creatine goes into feather production. Still, there's plenty of protein, which can be turned golden brown and delicious if we properly deal with the subcutaneous fat that lies just beneath it, okay? And that can be a little bit tricky because when it melts, this stuff is flammable. Okay? We'll have to reckon with that.
    Now let's shop.


    Since I like cutting things up, I typically opt for a whole chicken which gives me the right parts at the right price. But if you just, you know, want breasts or thighs or legs or wings, buying piece by piece is an okay way to go. Although, in most cases you will pay for the fact that someone else is doing the cutting.
    Now if you're a fan of dark meat the way I am, you're in luck, actually, because the per-pound price for the back end of the critter is considerably less than for the front end. That said, I would, if at all possible, avoid chicken chunks packed on poly-styrofoamy trays wrapped in poly-something-or-other film. I don't trust what I can't see or smell. And recycling these things is a real pain.

    So, if you are going to go with the chicken-parts scenario, there are a few things to consider. My personal favorite piece of chicken on the grill is the thigh. This was Julia's favorite. And if it was good enough for Julia, it ought to be good enough for us. If your family appreciates the occasional drumstick, consider buying back-end quarters: the thigh and drumstick together. They can be grilled as is or easily separated via blade. More on that later.


    Now let's go down and check out America's favorite cut, the chicken breast. The number one seller is the boneless breast. I don't like this piece on the grill because it's floppy and hard to control and manage. And under no circumstances would I ever purchase skinless boneless breasts. I need that protective coating. So if you're going to buy a piece of chicken, I would go with what we call the split breast, where the breast is still connected to the rib cage beneath. But even this, I'm suspicious of if the wing is missing, as it is here. I want the wing intact.


    And that is why I'm going to stick with the whole fryer broiler chicken in the four to four and a half pound range, okay? I like cutting up chickens. I like having bones left over for stock. And I am cheap. This fits the bill on all three.


Chickens were first domesticated around 8,000 years
ago in what is now Thailand.

The Kitchen

    Every time we cut up one of these on this program, we get cards and letters and e-mails from you fine folks telling us how you find it unappealing and unattractive. So we're going to spice things up this time. First with a little bit of mood music [piano music starts playing] just to keep it soothing and cool. And some mood lighting as well. And you're going to get to pick the actual color. So, first, green. Very popular color these days, politically correct, green. Eh, kind of looks like Franken-chicken, doesn't it? Okay, fine. Blue has always been popular for mood lighting. Oh, kind of like a morgue. All right, we'll skip that one. And then pink? Hey. Yeah. You like that? Okay, fine, we'll go with pink. Very, very lifelike, very ... Oh, yeah. That, that's, that's like a shampoo commercial.
    Okay, here we go. And the first thing that'd have to come off is the winglet. So get a good hold of the wing, and just slide your knife down the forearm, into the joint, and cut through it. Same on the other side, you can do it right up in the air. Pop that joint, get the knife in, and there you are.
    Now we're going to remove the thigh quarters. Just slice down on either side of the back end of the breast and on the other side. You should be able to do that in one or two cuts. Then grab the legs and just kind of pop those joints out of the back. There you go. Now to cut that off, you want to make sure you get that little piece of meat we call the oyster. So we're slicing around the oyster. Fold the joint back, and look. It comes off in one beautiful piece. There you go.
    Now to get the thigh and the leg separated, kind of squeeze them together, and you'll feel this little divot open up between that joint. Then carefully cut a notch. You're cutting towards yourself. Then lay it down and use that as a guide to do that continue the cut]. That's exactly what we're looking for.
    Now I want to produce what's called an airline breast.


GUEST: Airline Passenger

    And, yes, I know what you're thinking. [cut to a shot of bad airline food being presented to a passenger, very unceremoniously]

The Kitchen

    Believe it or not, there was a time when airlines served some pretty swank chow including chicken breasts with the first joint of the arm intact. And I like that because it provides a nice tasty little handle. Here's how it goes.
    Just slice down one side of the keel bone, and then just kind of wipe with your blade down the side of the ribs. Hold that joint away, so that it comes off in one piece. Just make sure your thumb is safely clear of that blade. It's sharp. There we go, and the breast and that forearm come off. There you go, airline breasts. Master that technique, and your friends will be amazed and your enemies will be confused and frightened, as they should be.

    Now we're going to up the juiciness quotient of our chicken by building a brine. So we've got 4.5 pounds of chicken, so I figure a quart of water will go into a zippy bag. Along with six ounces of honey for sweetness and 3.5 ounces, by weight, of salt. I'm using kosher salt here, and that will actually construct the brine proper. Seal that up and mix to thoroughly combine. 4-5 Pound Broiler Fryer
1 Quart Water
6 Ounces Honey
3.5 Ounces Kosher Salt

    [at the refrigerator] Stash this for an hour and a half in leak-proof containment in the bottom of your fridge. Now, I know what you're thinking. What lame model will he come up with this time to explain what's going on with this whole brine business? Well, I got a doozy for you.
    [at the dining table] Okay, just stay with me here a second. Raw muscle, such as that in our chicken, is about 20 percent protein. Okay. Now in their raw state, proteins, which are just long chains of amino acids, appear as tight little bundles or balls, signified by this ball bearing. Okay. Now 66 percent, give or take a few points, of the muscle is actually water, into which a candy box of carbohydrates and minerals are dissolved. Standing in for that moisture is this motor oil, which'll do just fine.
    Now here's the thing. When we apply heat to the chicken, the meat fibers contract, heat energy excites the moisture, and it starts to push outward, towards the surface of the meat. [pours the motor oil over the ball bearings] Now porous is good, right, because it can bring sear-worthy carbs and proteins to the surface of the meat. But if we're not very, very careful, we push too hard and out goes the moisture, leaving us with just dry, gritty meat. Now in this case, the protein didn't really do us any great favors, okay?

    Soaking the meat in a brine unfurls, or denatures, some of the proteins. So that instead of separate balls, we have a tangled mesh being played by this steel wool. Now when you cook this piece of meat, the mesh acts as a barrier, kind of trapping some of that moisture inside where we want it. And don't forget the honey that we added is hygroscopic. So it holds tightly onto moisture as well.
    And so, we see that by brining meat, we get our juiciness insurance policy and a nice little hit of flavor to boot.

In The Grill

    [a giant model of a grill is shown] Breaking the bird into pieces will enhance our control, and brining protects against drying. But if we're to overcome irregular shapes, connective tissue, and flammable fat, we must embrace bi-level cookery.
    A bi-level fire is really two, two, two fires in one. High heat on one side, medium to low heat on the other. Why bother? Well, high heat will sear the outer skin of the chicken before it has time to shrink and shrivel, which is exactly what it will do over low heat. Also, high heat will quickly liquefy the subcutaneous fat just beneath the skin, and that will essentially fry said skin from the inside.
    But, if we continue to cook over high heat, obviously the skin will turn Pompeii-like before the inner meat is done, and the fat will start squirting all over the place. And when flammable fat meets very hot fire, well, that means. flare-ups! [a model of a flare flares up behind him] That was supposed to be a flare-up. Of course, flare-ups create soot, and soot is never good eats. So the strategy is to sear over high heat and then shift the meat over to a lower heat zone where it can finish cooking in relative peace and quiet, with frequent turns, of course. But here's the challenge, okay? This type of fire is tedious to build and manage, and, quite simply, a pain to cook over, especially in a small grill like this. That is why I employ what I call "the ring of fire". Let's make one.

71% of grill owners use their grill at least once a
week during the summer grilling season.


    Our chicken-grilling experience begins by lighting one chimney starter's worth of natural chunk charcoal, which I like because it burns clean and hot. Now if you don't have a chimney starter like this, break down, spend 20 bucks, and get one. Ignition comes from just a piece of newsprint, lightly saturated with vegetable oil to lengthen the burn time. 2-3 Pounds Natural Chunk

    Now for cleaning the grate, just a side towel tied up with some string and a little bit of oil. I've got a timer standing by; that's critical. An instant-read thermometer to check the meat, insulated gloves, a large mixing bowl, some tongs, a tea towel. We'll need that later. I also have not one, but two disposable, or recyclable pie tins, and a nine-inch-diameter pot, which we are going to use as a form.
    Now aluminum foil. We're going to need heavy-duty foil, eight feet's worth. I know, that seems like a lot. But believe me, it is well used here. Now my table's four feet across, so that's all I've got to do. Fold it over and then just kind of crumple it into a big snake. And wrap the snake around the pot, because what we want is a nine-inch-diameterthat's interior dimensionring of foil. There. Now that goes right into the middle of the coal grate, there.

The Kitchen

    All right. An hour and a half is up, so drain your chicken and pat the pieces dry But do not wash them, because we want the surface sugars to caramelize and, you know, bring some flavor to the party.
    [as if having a conversation with us] What do you mean? What kind of flavor? Uh-huh. [it becomes clear that AB imagines that we are asking about BBQ flavors] You realize that around these parts, that term doesn't have anything to do with the grill or chicken. I mean, you're talking about an ancient flavor borne of smoldering wood, low temperature, and lots and lots of time. Still, it works for potato chips. Why not chicken? Let's try it.

    [at the cupboard] Into a gallon zip-top bag goes one tablespoon of chili powderthat's chili with an "I"which means that it's actually a mixture of various spices. We're also going to add a tablespoon of curry powder, also a mixture, and oddly enough, one I never use when I'm making curry. But I do like it on things that are destined for the grill. Next, a teaspoon of adobo powder. It's also a mixture. You get it in the Latin section of your megamart. But make sure you get the version without black pepper in it, okay? We're also going to use a teaspoon of ground cumin, my personal favorite spice in the world, and hot smoked paprika. Now if you can't find the smoked version, at least make sure you use the hot. Now I often use instant espresso powder when grilling pork, but I think that would be a little heavy-handed here. However, two teaspoons of cocoa powder might just recall the moles of old. 1 Tbs. Chili Powder
1 Tbs. Curry Powder
1 tsp. Adobo Powder
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Hot Smoked Paprika
2 tsp. Cocoa Powder

    There, that's it. Now just mix that all together in the bag. And then add your chicken, seal the bag, and knead the spices right into the meat. And really get it into every little nook and cranny. Now the thing that I really like about this rub is that, as the chicken cooks, it will combine with the juices pushing out of the meat to create a pastea sauce, if you like, that I believe will remind you of that word we were discussing.
    [back at the kitchen countertop] Now as soon as your clucker parts are thoroughly coated, spread them out on a rack such as this, and let them sit at room temperature for half an hour, okay? Now this is going to accomplish a couple of things. One, by allowing the chicken to warm up a bit, it'll shorten the thermal trip on the grill, and that will help to preserve juiciness. Also, it will allow the exterior of the chicken to dry thoroughly. That is going to help us to get a good sear, and it's going to reduce sticking.


    [at the grill] All right, time to cook some chicken. Pour out your lit charcoal carefully all around the outside of the ring of fire. Well, actually, I guess this is the ring of fire. Pie pan goes into the middle, cooking grate goes on top, and when it is hot, swab it down nice and clean with the lightly oiled rag.
    Now the chicken, I like to always start skin-side down. And remember, we're going over the direct heat in the beginning. So just distribute that all the way around the outside of the grill. I like to keep like pieces together. It's just more convenient that way, usually ending with the wings right in front of me, because they're easy to burn.
    Okay. Now at this point, we're really just looking for a good strong sear. So, visual input is going to be your primary guidance system. However, I do like to run a clock for situational awareness, keeping in mind that the total cook time is going to be 18 to 20 minutes. Now we are going to give the roughly two-sided thighs, breasts, and wings a flip at the four to five minute mark. The bowling-pin-shaped legs will roll a quarter to a third of a turn every three to four minutes. Oh, and keep in mind, if you see a flare-up at any time, don't go moving the meat around. That just squirts out more fat. Reach in the middle and twist the grate.
    All right, I'm at three and a half minutes, so I'm going to give the legs a quarter to a third of a turn. And they've got some nice char. I like them like that.

Although it is convenient, charcoal briquettes can't
burn as cleanly as natural wood chunk varieties.


    Our chicken has been on the heat for 4.5 minutes. We have achieved a solid sear on side A. So flip the big pieces to side B and roll the drumsticks a quarter to a third of a turn. And I would go ahead and give the grate a little bit of a spin. And I'd do that just every few minutes just to make up for the fact that hot and cool spots will develop in the charcoal as it cooks.
    All right, nine and a half minutes have elapsed. It is time to get the breasts off of direct heat. So just slide them right into the middle, and cover with the pie pan. Now this creates a micro-oven, which will maintain an even, albeit lower, level of heat than, of course, what lays outside in the ring of fire.
    Now I think the legs and the thighs we will flip and leave just a little bit longer over direct heat. But the wings, they're looking close to done. So I'm going to allow them to coast here on top of the pan.
    Total elapsed cook time, 12 minutes, and I'm going to go ahead and lean the thighs and the legs right up against the side of the pan, okay? That's as gentle a heat as they're going to get out of me today. I'll continue turning them every couple of minutes until we hit about the 18-minute mark. At which time, if we've played our cards right, all the pieces of chicken will reach 155 degrees internal temp.
    Right. We are at the 18-minute mark and it is time to check the temp. Now I'm going to go for a thigh. That's usually my thermal canary in a coal mine, so to speak. And we want to see all the pieces touch 155. Okay, this is done, so everything comes off. Now I guarantee you, if we've followed this directly and correctly, the chicken breast will be within 5 degrees of 155. Just to prove the point ... [test  with a thermometer] There. Definitely close enough. And remember, there is going to be a little bit of carryover heat. Cover with a tea towel, and allow to rest for at least five minutes.
    [at the outdoor picnic table, eating] Mmm! Now that is barbecued chicken. There, I said it. Actually, barbecue-flavor chicken, since you can't technically barbecue a chicken. At least not in the South. If you have some slaw and potato salad, you got yourself instant summer.
    As for the airline breast, you can either use the little arm as a handle for Henry the Eighth-style dining, or you can gussy it up for plate service. Just lay it out and make five or maybe six parallel, or fan-shaped, cuts. And then you can just kind of serve it out like that. Very pretty.
    Well, fellow grillers, I hope that we've inspired you to introduce your grill to a chicken or two. Although the union seems unholy at first, with careful application of brine, flavor, and heat, there is no reason that the union cannot produce an offspring of good eats. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/30/2010