Saturday, September 15, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 2, Old Line Barbecue Chicken

The first element of any regional barbecue style, in my humble opinion, is the protein. In the Carolinas, whether eastern, western or southern, it is pork. Whole hogs. In Texas, whether it is brisket or barbacoa, it is beef.  In between, either in Kansas City or Memphis, it may be beef or pork, depending upon the cut. (Go north to Kentucky, it is mutton.)  But, what would the protein be in Maryland, if Maryland had a regional style of barbecue?

The protein for barbecue is defined by what is around you.  If you are in the Carolinas, it is hogs, because there are a lot of pigs.  More than four million hogs are being raised in North Carolina alone.  There are more hogs currently in North Carolina than there are people in the entire countries of Bosnia & Herzegovina or Uruguay.  There are more than 12 million cattle cows (for beef) in Texas.  That means there are more cows in Texas than there are people within the borders of Belgium or Cuba.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there were only 46,000 cattle for beef production and 26,000 hogs for pork production in the State of Maryland. If there was a barbecue style in Maryland, it would most likely not involve either beef or pork. However, there are 306,700,000 chickens in the State of Maryland.  That's right, there are more chickens in the State of Maryland than there are people in the countries of Pakistan, Brazil or Indonesia.  For a point of reference, there are over 326,000,000 people in the United States.  There are almost as many chickens in Maryland as there are people in this country. 

The location of large scale chicken farms in the State of Maryland.
So, if there is a such a thing as Maryland style barbecue, then the protein would be chicken.  A lot of chicken. And, if one were to drive through the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he or she would agree.  Drive the backroads of the DelMarVa (the region of Delaware, the eastern Shore of Maryland and the Virginian peninsula), and you will see -- and maybe even smell -- a lot of chicken houses.  Many of those chicken houses are owned and run by hardworking chicken farmers (and, just how those farmers are treated by big chicken companies will definitely be the subject of another post, because I have a lot to say on that subject.)  Many more are large scale chicken operations, either CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) or MAFOs (Maryland Animal Feeding Operations).  (Just what is a CAFO or a MAFO, as well as their impact on the environment, is also a subject for another day.)

Thus, the first element of a regional style of barbecue is in place.  Maryland style barbecue, if it exists or existed, should or would be centered around chicken. Just like Texas style barbecue focuses on beef and Carolina style barbecue focuses on pork.  That is not to say that there can't be beef and pork in Maryland barbecue (after all, there are those 46,000 cattle and 26,000 hogs in the Old Line State).  All it means that we need to nail down a recipe for smoked chicken that could serve as the foundation for Maryland barbecue.

It seems only natural that chicken should be the protein.  After all, there is the Delmarva Chicken, which is a tradition on the Eastern shore. Local groups and firehouses get together, marinate large amounts of chicken, grill that chicken and offer it to anyone willing to enjoy it.  The thing is that Delmarva Chicken is as much barbecue as pit beef is barbecue. The recipes for Delmarva Chicken involve grilling the bird or its constituent parts, as opposed to the low and slow smoking of the meat.

Nevertheless, the recipe for Delmarva Chicken can serve as the basis for Maryland barbecue. It starts with the rub.  Delmarva Chicken calls for a rub of poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder.  Rather than use poultry seasoning, I think that a good substitute could be Old Bay seasoning.  Old Bay is practically synonymous with Maryland because of its use with our beloved blue crabs.  What is little known (despite the advertising) is that Old Bay can be used in other recipes, including chicken.  With Old Bay, and the remainder of the ingredients, I have the basic rub for Maryland barbecue. 

The recipe of Delmarva Chicken also includes the use of oil and vinegar.  These liquid ingredients could work well with barbecue chicken and provide a distinctive character. Most recipes for Delmarva Chicken, such as this one, call for the chicken to be placed into a bowl, with the rub ingredients added, followed by oil and cider vinegar. Those instructions baffle me a little bit, to be honest, but, if they are rearranged, then they could provide a basis for preparing the chicken.  Place the chicken in a large bowl, whisk the cider vinegar with the oil to create an emulsion, pour that emulsion so that it covers the chicken, both on the skin and underneath, and then spread the rub over the chicken both on the skin and underneath.  The emulsion will help the rub stick to the chicken and, if you get it underneath the skin, it will also flavor the meat.

While the Delmarva Chicken provides the basis for the preparation for the Maryland barbecue chicken recipe, I have to say it ends there.  If you look at Delmarva Chicken recipes, there are no mops (after all, it is grilled chicken).  The recipes call for a "sauce," but, in my humble opinion, the sauce is somewhat questionable in the context of barbecue.  Many recipes describe a sauce that consists of 1 part oil and one part salad dressing or mayonnaise. Salad dressing is out of the equation.  That leaves mayonnaise.  However, a mayonnaise-based sauce for chicken that is clearly and indisputably identified with Alabama barbecue (see Big Bob Gibson's Chicken with White Sauce).  This project focuses on defining Maryland barbecue. Thus, Delmarva Chicken can take us far towards Maryland barbecue chicken, but, just not across the finish line.

In any event, the sauce for Maryland barbecue is a subject of its own, and, it will have its own post in this project.   Until then. the basic recipe for Maryland-style barbecue chicken, which I have dubbed "Old Line Barbecue Chicken" ...

Recipe adapted from Lang BBQ Smokers
Serves 4-6

1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
1 1/2 ups of apple cider vinegar
1 cup of olive oil
2-3 teaspoons of Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons sea salt (or kosher salt)
3 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1  1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
Chunks of hickory, pecan or apple wood
     (I used apple wood)

1.  Prepare the chicken.  Place the spatchcocked chicken into a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, combine the spices (Old Bay, salt, pepper, and garlic powder) and mix well.  In a medium bowl, add the vinegar and then whisk in the oil.  Once the oil and vinegar have been whisked into an emulsion, pour some of the mixture over the chicken, rubbing it into the skin and beneath the skin on the meat.  After the entire chicken is covered with the oil/vinegar mixture, move the chicken to a cutting board.  Apply the rub to all sides of the chicken, both on the skin and under the skin on the meat.  

2.  Prepare the smoker.  Start a chimney and, when ready, place the coals in the smoker.  The desired temperature is 275 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  

3.  Smoke the chicken.  Place the chicken on the smoker.  Add the wood chunks to create the smoke.  Smoke the chicken until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove the chicken from the smoker and cover with foil.  Let rest for 10 minutes until the temperature comes up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Carve the chicken into pieces - sliced breast meat, thigh, legs and wings for service. 


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