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