Pete’s Recipes: Pulled Chicken

As any reader of this blog can tell, I use a lot of guessing when cooking and tend to make it up as I go along.  Along those lines, I don’t have that many recipes that I use consistently but there are a few.  In the interest of mixing up the content of the blog, and with Super Bowl parties coming up, here’s an easy recipe for pulled chicken.  I think its delicious and it tends to be a decent crowd pleaser.

Total prep time is around 15 minutes, cooking time is three+ hours (though you’re only actively cooking for 20 minutes of those three hours).

Here’s what you’ll need:
6 pounds of boneless chicken breasts and thighs
16 oz. apple juice
2 oz. apple cider vinegar
12 oz. beer
32 oz. chicken broth
6 oz. V-8 (optional)

Dry rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry ground mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon black pepper

That dry rub is a take on a Food Network recipe I have been using on my pulled pork for a couple years now.  I’ve experimented with adding cumin, onion powder, and chili powder at different times but the rub noted above is the best variation, I think.  First step is to combine the dry rub ingredients in a bowl and make sure they are well mixed.

For the chicken, I like using 2/3 breast meat, 1/3 thigh meat but it’s totally up to the cook.  I think thigh meat tastes a little funky in leftovers which is why I like using less of it.  Trim all excess fat off of each piece of chicken and place the meat in a bowl.  Add the dry rub and make sure it coats all of the meat.

The paprika makes this meal look 10-15% more appetizing

The prep part of the cooking can be done 24 hours in advance which is what I usually like to do.  The meat takes on the flavors of the rub a little better when I’ve done that.  However, if you didn’t plan ahead it can be done 5 minutes before cooking; 6 pounds fits nicely into a gallon freezer bag for storage if you do go the 24 hour route.

Once you’re ready to start cooking the chicken, preheat the oven to 300F and put a large heavy pot on the cooktop over medium/high heat.  I use my Le Creuset dutch oven which, coincidentally, makes every person between the ages of 10 and 40 giggle like they are ten years old when it is referred to by name.  Once the pot is heated up, add your chicken and brown it for 5-10 minutes.  You can use a little cooking spray or a tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of the pot to keep the chicken from sticking.

The smell from this is strong due to the spices in the rub. It woke people up from a New Years day nap when I cooked it most recently

While the chicken is browning, get the braising ingredients ready to go.  Here’s the lineup:

Those little cans of V-8 are great to keep around for cooking purposes

For the beer, I like to use any non-light beer that is in the fridge.  Or, in this case, the least desirable non-light beer in the fridge.  That Michelob Winter Bourbon Cask Ale was disgusting as a beverage.  Beer goes in first, cooks for a minute or so, then the 16 ounces of apple juice, 2 ounces of cider vinegar, 6 ounces of V-8, and the quart of chicken broth.  Heat the pot on the stovetop until it gets to a near boil.

The smell becomes less strong and quite nice at this point

Now place the lid on the pot and put it in the 300F degree oven for 3 hours.  I like to spend this time napping, stressing about whether the chicken will cook correctly and badgering friends into being on time for when it comes out of the oven.  After three hours, take the pot out of the oven and here is what you’ll have:

Best thing about Le Creusets is how easily all of the charred sugars on the sides cleans off in the sink

Transfer all of the chicken to a clean dish, preferably oven safe so you can keep it warm if not eating right away.  Although I am using tongs, a large slotted spoon is better since the chicken will be falling apart when you move it.

The chicken ends up very tender

Once all the chicken is transferred, use two forks to shred it.  If everything has gone right, this should be very easy and you can get through all six pounds in about five minutes leaving you with this:

Very similar looking to pulled pork. Flavor is close too

After the chicken is shredded I like to pour a couple ladles of the braising liquid over the top for flavor and moisture then cover with tin foil until its time to eat.

The liquid adds some of the sweetness from the apple juice to the finished product

For garnishes, its mostly up to the cook.  I like to serve with dill pickle slices and a red onion relish.  The red onion relish (which you can kind of see in the background above) is a chopped red onion caramelized for a bit before adding crushed red pepper, light brown sugar, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a little salt.  Turn the heat up after adding the spices and cook until the liquid has cooked off and it looks relish-like.  Whatever that means.

For the BBQ sauce, I let everyone put their own on their sandwich since everyone likes a different amount.  You really can’t go wrong with any of the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauces (Hickory Brown Sugar is my fave thing) but if you want to make something a little less traditional, here are my two go-tos:

Putting your sauce in mason jars makes you feel like a real chef. Then putting Classico tomato sauce lids on the jars makes you feel less-so

The one on the left is a Tim Ryan recommendation that has some Asian flavors due to the use of rice vinegar and soy sauce (which I recommend over the Worcestershire sauce option noted in the recipe).  Recipe can be found here.

The one on the right is a mustard-based sauce that is very strong and best when combined on a sandwich with a little honey BBQ sauce.  Combine the ingredients below and heat over low heat on a stove top for 10-15 minutes whisking occasionally.

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Final tip: always serve your pulled chicken on Martin’s Potato Rolls.  Everyone likes them and even if they don’t like the chicken or sauce they will enjoy the sandwich just because of the roll.  Good luck!

Pulled Chicken (feat. those chickens I killed)

After the chicken slaughter, I headed back to Philly with both birds since John and Tim expressed no interest in cooking them.  Due to the age of the chickens, I knew I would need to cook them for a long time at low heat in order to avoid the meat getting rubbery and stringy.  I decided that I would remove the skin and excess fat, debone the majority of the meat, and then braise the meat to make pulled chicken.  Here’s how it all went down.

The whole chickens rode back from NJ wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, packed in ice and placed in one of those Coors Light cooler bags that I use instead of purchasing a real cooler.  Once I got home, I laid out the first chicken on the largest plastic cutting board we own.

You're looking at 50% of the counter space available in our Philly kitchen. There's a reason why most of the cooking for this blog happens elsewhere

I removed the wings from both birds since that was the only part of the chicken I wanted to keep the skin on.  Not sure why, but it made sense to me at the time.  They were the first items thrown into the bowl that I would eventually season all the chicken in.

Have to admit that my first experience eating buffalo wings post-slaughter didn't go so well. Luckily I am heading to Buffalo in 10 days for our annual wing, hockey, and beef on weck pilgrimage

Once that was done, I started skinning the chicken.  It’s a very easy process, mostly just lifting the skin and cutting away from the meat, but I was amazed by how much fat was on the birds.  Glad that I was able to expose that and trim it away.  Action shot!

I know it looks gross but it is what it is. I used a 30 second timer for this. My usual photographer, Kristi, wanted nothing to do with any part of this process

Chicken fat is usually a whitish-yellow and I’m assuming that the reason the fat on this one was so yellow was due to its advanced age.  Or it’s one of the handful of eye opening differences between the rapidly fattened chickens you buy in a store and the homegrown variety.  Here’s how it looked once all skin and excess fat were trimmed off.

These birds were old and skinny

At this point I clumsily removed most of the breast meat, tenderloins and whole thighs from the main body.  I gots a lot to learn about deboning, but here’s where I ended up.

There's also not much light in the kitchen. In general, the kitchen sucks

The thighs were about the size I expected, but the chicken breasts were under half the size of what I usually buy in the store.  Again, these were old chickens raised on regular corn feed, but it still made me wonder what the hell they are giving chickens these days.

I seasoned the meat thoroughly with a slight variation of the rub I use when making pulled pork; a mixture of brown sugar, paprika, cayenne, ground mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

For the first time since Bagels-4-U ten hours earlier, something smelled appetizing

This was covered and put in the fridge for some of the flavors to soak in overnight.  I headed to Roosevelts to soak in $8 Bud Light pitchers and contract the requisite Wharton-night-out headache.

The next morning I broke out the Le Creuset and got some oil heated on the cooktop.  Again, not sure why this was what made sense to me, but first item into the pot was the wings to get the skin browned and cook some of the rich flavor out.

The burnt areas on the bottom of the pot was what I was hoping for. It gave the final product more flavor

For the braising liquid I added a few cups of chicken broth, a little apple cider vinegar, and about 8 ounces of apple juice for some sweetness.  Then the rest of the chicken meat.

Braising makes me feel like I know what I'm doing, though I acknowledge that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing

Once I got the liquid up to heat the lid went on and the Le Creuset went into a 250 degree oven for about six hours.  Perfect timing for the 4:30 NFL games.  Not that I was hosting anyone for those games, I just get hungry around then.  And before the 1:00 games.  And before Sunday night football.  If my life was all NFL Sundays, I would definitely be crying to Bob and Jillian on Biggest Loser by 2015.  Here’s what came out of the oven:

I know it looks gross, but the smell was wonderful

The meat had cooked down to very dense and tender pieces, exposing the bones on the thighs.  I removed all the meat from the pot but reserved the liquid to add a splash once the meat was fully shredded.  The meat was falling apart as I transfered it and it fell off the bone when touched by a fork.

The shredded meat looked almost identical to pulled pork

After all the chicken was shredded, I ended up with a little under two pounds of meat.

A little of the braising liquid gave the meat some additional flavor and moistness

Kristi and I ate the final product over a period of three days.  Me more than Kristi.  Throw it in a pan to heat it up, mix in a little BBQ sauce and you’ve got a plate of deliciousness.

Might need to make this again this weekend with store-bought chicken

And that was it.  Luckily the chicken came out well which helped validate the whole experience.

Not sure what next week will bring but I have some ideas.  Thanks for reading.