Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sweet Tea Applewood Smoked Chicken Thighs

Pittsburgh used to be known as Steel Town.  With the bumper crop of meat-centric establishments popping up all over the 'Burgh these days, it might more accurately be called Meat Town!  

With the likes of Cure - known for Justin Severino's succulent charcuterie; Meat & Potatoes - featuring the dichotomy of mammoth, macho marrow bones and smooth, delicate pates by Richard DeShantz; The Crested Duck -  focusing on not just meats, but fowl...hence the DUCK part of the name...from Kevin Costa and crew; and an old favorite, Parma Sausage in the Strip with their silken prosciutto...we are a meat-blessed town indeed.
Another of our former nicknames was the Smoky City....well, we might be able to reclaim that one!  These days, instead of noxious fumes hanging heavy in the air, we raise our noses to the scent of hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry, pecan....and the lush aromas of pork and beef, fish and shrimp, chicken, turkey and duck tickle our fortunate nostrils.  Snnnniiffffffff.  Ahhhhhhhhhh.  Drool.  Repeat. 

BBQ joints have opened their doors all over town recently. Union Pig & Chicken in East Liberty, Oakland BBQ in - duh, Oakland, Pittsburgh BBQ, Smoke BBQ Taqueria - smoked meats AND tacos, score!  We may not be in the BBQ Belt, but we're doing a pretty damned good approximation of it now.
Mark and I got the backyard smoking bug about 4 years ago.  We started out with a stack-style electric smoker. Electric may be easy to use, but owning an older home with an apparently inadequate bank of electric circuits made the constant checking of inconveniently flipped-off breakers a pain.  Mind you, it didn't stop us!  

Last year we switched to a charcoal version, but we didn't get off Scot free in the smoker tending department.  We are constantly checking to be sure the temp is maintained and doesn't go above or below the ideal smoking zone.  We traded off the convenience of accurately controlled electric heat for the far superior (but demanding!) flavor of charcoal.  Hey, that's a win!  I'll take exceptional flavor over convenience any time!  

Electric OR charcoal, there's nothing like an excuse to sit outside with a drink in one hand, tending the smoker with the other.  To my mind, that's why God made backyards.  I'm sure cavemen - and women, following the invention of fire, sat outside their cave openings (with whatever the precursor to a beer was) happily poking and prodding the flames and the evening's dinner with a stick.

Here's what we be poked and prodded on Sunday.

Sweet Tea Applewood Smoked Chicken Thighs

  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 6 tea bags
  • 1 quart water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 T. freshly ground black pepper 

Start this the night before to allow the chicken to marinate in the brine for at least 12 hours and up to 24.  

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar; bring to a boil and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add tea bags, remove from heat.
While the mixture is still hot, stir in the salt until dissolved.  Add lemon juice and pepper; let cool to room temperature.  

Put the chicken into a large zip top bag and add enough of the brine to completely submerge chicken, but still are able to close the bag securely.  Put the bag into a large bowl - if the bag leaks, it won't get all over your fridge!  Refrigerate the chicken overnight.

The next day, remove the chicken from the fridge and let it come to room temp. Prepare your smoker using your favorite wood chunks - we like apple for this recipe.  You can use water in the smoker bowl or get wild and use apple cider, white wine or beer!  Come to think of it, next time I think I'll try throwing some tea leaves and lemon slices into the water bowl! 

While the smoker comes up to temp, remove the chicken from the brine; discard the brine.  Dry each piece of chicken and arrange skin side up on the smoker rack.  Cover and smoke until the chicken is cooked through, but tender and juicy.  Slice through the biggest thigh right next to the bone to check for doneness.  When there's no pink next to the bone, they're done!    

NOTE:  The sugar in the brine helps to give a gorgeous mahogany color to the chicken!
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