What's the secret to keeping grilled chicken moist? Brine

  • Brining chicken keeps the meat moist and juicy when making pulled chicken sandwiches. AP Photo

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Barbecuing is the perfect method for cooking fatty cuts of pork or beef, but relatively lean chicken is another story. For barbecued pulled chicken with a smoky flavor and moist, tender meat, we’d have to come up with some tricks.

Brining the birds kept the white meat moist and juicy, and arranging the chickens on the grill with the breast meat farther from the heat source than the dark meat evened out the cooking times.

We tweaked our favorite barbecue sauce to better complement the chicken, increasing the vinegar to balance the sweetness and swapping the root beer for coffee to boost the smoky flavor.

Barbecued pulled chicken



1 cup salt

2 (4 lb) whole chickens, giblets discarded


2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained


2 tsp. vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped fine

4 cups chicken broth

1¼ cups cider vinegar

1 cup brewed coffee

¾ cup molasses

½ cup tomato paste

½ cup ketchup

2 T brown mustard

1 T hot sauce

½ tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. liquid smoke

Dissolve salt in four quarts of cold water in a large container. Remove backbones from chickens and split chickens in half lengthwise through the center of the breastbone. Using a metal skewer, poke 20 holes all over each chicken half.

Submerge chicken halves in brine, cover, and refrigerate for one hour. Remove chicken halves from the brine, pat dry with paper towels, and season with pepper. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap the soaked wood chips in a foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until simmering. Add onion and cook until softened (about five minutes). Whisk in broth, vinegar, coffee, molasses, tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and garlic powder, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture is thick and reduced to four cups (about 65 to 75 minutes).

Stir in liquid smoke; reserve one cup of sauce for serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to two days.)

For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (six quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into a steeply banked pile against the side of the grill. Place wood chip packet on the coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover and open the lid vent halfway. Heat the grill until hot and the wood chips are smoking (about five minutes_.

For a gas grill: Place a wood chip packet over the primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot and the wood chips are smoking (about 15 minutes). Leave the primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s).

Clean and oil the cooking grate. Place the chicken halves skin side up on the cool side of the grill, with legs closest to the heat source. Cover and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees (75 to 85 minutes).

Transfer the chicken to a carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let it rest until its cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes). Remove and discard the skin.

Pull the meat off the bones, separating the dark and light meat. Roughly chop the dark meat into ½-inch pieces. Shred the white meat into thin strands.

Add the chicken to a pot with sauce and cook over medium-low heat until the chicken is warmed through (about five minutes). Serve on hamburger rolls, passing reserved sauce separately. Makes eight sandwiches.