Smokin’!

It’s my new smoker! Apologies for the terrible pictures, but when you get busy playing with a new toy, well, pictures just aren’t in the cards. And I really didn’t think that I’d want to tell the whole world how good this is!

First, let me say that I had a charcoal smoker. You can see it hiding under its over in the background of the picture of the new smoker. It’s similar in appearance, a two door model, a little shorter than this one, but it uses charcoal as a fuel. Every grilling/bbq/smoking site will tell you that the best fuel is charcoal. It does give a wonderful flavor. But I’m just not good with charcoal fires, especially when I’m trying to keep the smoker at a specific, low temperature. While I couldn’t argue with the results, the argument with the fire just wasn’t working for me.

Enter the propane smoker. To get a suitable fire, simply turn the valve on the tank, turn the knob on the smoker, and press the ignition button. MUCH easier than dealing with charcoal! And once you get the dial set, it’ll keep that temperature until you run out of gas. Now we’re talking!

My first try was the ribs, shown in the bottom left picture. And because I had all that smoke, I thought I’d try some almonds and salt. I mean, if trying one thing is good, then three things are better, right?!

Oh, they were awesome! The ribs were done in pretty standard fashion — a rub, then low and slow for about 6 hours. Mmmm. Because Serious Eats hasn’t steered me wrong, I started with their rub mixture. I never put any other sauce on it. It didn’t need it (and I didn’t want the extra calories because there are enough in the ribs!).

The almonds are easy: soak in water for 10 minutes, drain, then dust with the rib rub. Then smoke for 30 minutes. Put ’em on the top rack so the ribs don’t drip on them. And they are delicious! I was inspired by this page on AmazingRibs.com.

And the salt couldn’t be easier: in a smoker-proof tray (such as a disposable foil pan), add a couple of cups of salt. Add a teaspoon or two of water and stir to just barely moisten the salt. Smoke for an hour or so, again, at the top of the smoker so the meat doesn’t drip. It’ll darken and smell delicious. Stir periodically, and moisten another time or two if desired. Store in an airtight container. I divided it between several jelly jars, and I put a couple of sprigs of rosemary in one and some fresh oregano in another. I’ll let the herbs infuse for a while and hopefully have some delicious salts. Credit is due to three sources: wellpreserved.ca, Wonder How To’s Food Hacks, and Simple Daily Recipes.

So, now that I’ve got some successes, I have to try something new. And I didn’t want a similar flavor as the ribs. And I wanted something quick. My thinking was that chicken thighs were quick, and that perhaps a lemon or herb flavor would be wonderful. And that brining would be appropriate, too.

I couldn’t find one recipe that did everything I wanted. I found a brine that sounded good at Food & Wine, and I liked this rub at Food.com, but I wanted to use the fresh rosemary, oregano, and basil in my garden. So I invented something.

And it was deeeeeeelicious! The skin had a flavor very close to bacon, but not crispy. The lemon and herbs delicately flavored the succulent meat that was sweetly smokey from the apple wood. I will be making this again!

Here’s the recipe. Note that I haven’t tested it for consistency. I just wanted to share (and more importantly, document it for myself!).

Applewood Smoked Lemon Herb Chicken

Makes 10 thighs

Ingredients

  • 10 chicken thighs
  • Applewood for smoking

Brine (makes 2 quarts)

  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (I used bottled)
  • 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage*
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme*
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary*
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram*
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed*
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano*
  • 1/4 tsp ginger*

* or just use 2-3 tsp poultry seasoning

Wet Rub

  • 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Lemon zest from one large lemon
  • 12-16″ fresh rosemary, remove the leaves from the stem, discard stem
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh basil

 

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, add 1 quart water. Bring to a boil, then slowly add all the brine ingredients, stirring constantly. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat, and add 1 quart of cold water. Let cool.
  2. When the brine is cool, add brine and thighs to a container large enough for the brine and thighs (a 2.5 gallon zip lock bag works great). Refrigerate for 4 hours.
  3. At the same time, start soaking the apple wood chunks.
  4. After 4 hours of brining, remove the chicken from the fridge. Drain and discard brine. Make the wet rub by putting all the ingredients in a spice grinder and grinding until fine. It will resemble fine grass clippings; it will be dryer than a paste.
  5. Spread the rub under the skin and on the underside of the thigh.
  6. Prepare smoker with the apple wood. Load the thighs onto the racks. Smoke at around 300F for about 90 minutes or until the chicken is at least 165F (I overshot and got to 175F with delicious results).
  7. Let rest for a few minutes before devouring.

Things to remember for next time: don’t let the smoker get too hot. Perhaps 250-275F for 2 hours might net the fall-off-the-bone texture. The 90 minute hotter version was tender and held together and might make an excellent chicken salad.

And a footnote: I used the two lemons that I had to make Atlantic Beach Pie. That’s how I had fresh lemon zest, but needed to use bottled juice. I used fresh in the rub. Two large lemons yielded slightly more than half-cup of juice, which would be enough for the brine with a few tablespoons left over for the wet rub. Or a pie and the rub, as long as you have bottled for the brine.

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