Without getting technical, when you soak poultry in a brine solution it:
Draws salty water into the chicken causing it to end up more juicy
The saltiness of the water makes the inside of the chicken taste as if it was perfectly seasoned
Basic Brine Recipe
1 gallon of water
1 cup of salt
¾ cup of brown sugar (optional but recommended)
Add the salt to the water and stir until dissolved.
Add the brown sugar (if desired) and stir once again until it is dissolved.
This will give you a wonderful, all purpose brine that is great on almost any poultry.
I like to put the chicken quarters down into a large zip top bag and then pour the brine into the bag over the chicken to cover.
Brine in the refrigerator or in temperature of 33 to 39°F.
About 4 hours in the fridge is all you need.
When it's done brining, give the chicken quarters a good rinse and you are ready to proceed.
Season the Chicken Quarters
My original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) works really well with brined chicken quarters since it is low on salt. Most rubs are very high in salt and that is not only unnecessary, it means you have to be really careful and use it very lightly in order to not make it end up too salty.
To help the rub to stick, I like to brush on some olive oil.
Apply a tablespoon or two of my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) to the top of the chicken and spread it all over with your hands so that it mixes with the oil and creates a nice paste.
Move the seasoned chicken quarters to a pan/rack or similar device and it's ready to go into the smoker.
Get the Smoker Ready
Setup your smoker for cooking at about 225-240°F. I prefer to keep it on the low side when I plan to finish them on the grill. This gives me a little more time in the smoke.
Once the smoker is ready, place the pan/rack containing the chicken on the smoker grate. If you do not have these special racks or anything that will work in a similar fashion, just place the chicken directly on the grate. Leave about 1 inch between them to allow the smoke full access to the meat.
Smoke the Chicken
Leave the chicken quarters in the smoker using indirect heat for about 1 hour during which time it will reach about 140°F internally. This depends on the temperature of the meat when it goes into the smoker, how often you open the door, the actual temperature you maintain, etc.
Use dry pecan, cherry or another favorite wood for smoke the entire time it is in the smoker.
Here is a picture of the chicken quarters after 1 hour in the smoker:
Be sure to use a thermometer such as the ThermoWorks Smoke X to monitor the temperature of the chicken while it cooks in the smoker and grill.
Finish the Chicken on the Grill
Heat the grill to very high heat just before the chicken is finished smoking.
When the chicken quarters reach 165-170°F, they are finished cooking and are ready to eat. If you are cooking multiple pieces, do a final temperature check on every piece of chicken using a Thermapen or similar instant read meat thermometer to make sure it is at least 165°F in the thickest part and safe to serve to your family and/or guests.
Serve the Chicken
Serve the chicken quarters immediately when they are finished cooking.
How can I prevent rubbery chicken skin?
This is the bane of most people who love smoked chicken and there is no easy answer. Here's a few things that will get you chicken with pretty good bite through. Crispy chicken skin is very difficult to acquire unless it spends some time submerged in hot grease.
Finishing on the grill.
Smoking at much higher temperatures (250-275°F).
Allowing the chicken to air dry in the fridge for several hours prior to seasoning.
Will brining make the chicken taste too salty?
I have never had this happen using my ratio of 1 gallon water and 1 cup of kosher salt (Morton). You can rinse the chicken when it is done brining so that any residual salt on the outside is removed if you're worried about it.
Could I use this recipe for thighs and/or chicken legs?
Absolutely! The chicken quarter is simply a leg and thigh still attached.
Can I cook the chicken on the grill with smoke?
You could definitely add some smoke chips to your grill and just cook it the entire time on the grill. Depending on your heat setting, it would probably finish a lot quicker and may not be as smoky as true smoked chicken but it would still be very good.
Don't be afraid to color outside of the lines when it comes to cooking outdoors.
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Smoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.
It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.