Dr. Baker's Original Cornell Chicken Recipe

Dr. Baker's Original Cornell Chicken Recipe

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 60 mins
Marinate Time: 2 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
2155 Calories
148g Fat
2g Carbs
187g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 2155
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 148g 190%
Saturated Fat 30g 151%
Cholesterol 645mg 215%
Sodium 5341mg 232%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 187g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 133mg 10%
Iron 10mg 53%
Potassium 1634mg 35%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Dr. Baker's Cornell chicken recipe has stood the test of time and become a central New York specialty. It was invented by Dr. Robert Baker, a Professor Emeritus of the Department of Animal Sciences at the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. He wanted to create a delicious way to grill smaller chickens so that the local farms could sell more birds, sell them sooner, and make them more affordable. One taste of his Cornell chicken recipe and you'll know why he was so successful.

The combination of vinegar, oil, seasoning, and an egg makes a basting sauce that is somewhat similar to mayonnaise. Marinating and cooking the birds in this mixture results in an incredibly juicy and complex tasting barbecue chicken. This recipe makes enough basting sauce for 4 to 5 whole chickens, and any extra can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Ingredients

  • 2 whole chickens (2 1/2 to 3 pounds each), cut in half

For the Basting Sauce:

  • 2 cups cider vinegar

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 large egg

  • 3 tablespoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Dr. Baker's Original Cornell Chicken Recipe ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Combine the basting sauce ingredients in a blender and mix until emulsified.

    basting sauce ingredients in a blender

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Place the chicken halves in a large zip-top plastic bag and pour in 1/2 cup of the sauce.

    chicken in a bag with basting sauce

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Seal the bag and shake gently to coat the chicken evenly.

    chicken in a bag with sauce

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

    refrigerate the chicken and sauce in the bag

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe off excess sauce from the surface. Discard the marinade.

    chicken on a baking sheet, pat the chicken with a paper towel to wipe off excess sauce

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Grill over charcoal, turning often and liberally basting with the remaining sauce every 10 minutes, for about 1 hour, or until cooked through. 

    grill the chicken on a charcoal grill

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Raw Egg Warning

Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.

Tips

  • If you have leftover sauce and would like to store it for later use, boil it down and add more vinegar before placing it in the refrigerator.
  • If you are worried about salmonella, you can use pasteurized eggs.
  • Make sure that your grill is well-oiled before you start cooking.

Dr. Baker's Mission

In 1950, Dr. Baker published "Barbecued Chicken and Other Meats," a bulletin that included recipes to make broiler chickens (chickens bred for their meat instead of eggs) ideal for the barbecue. The idea of cooking chicken was somewhat new at the time, as most people ate beef and pork, and Dr. Baker saw the publication as a way to educate home cooks while helping poultry farmers.

The bulletin also featured instructions on how to build your own outdoor cooking fireplace using cinder blocks. Dr. Baker's original recipe used a barbecue pit where the chicken was cooked on racks, several feet away from the coals so that the chicken cooked relatively slowly. (He had even built a grill 50 to 60 feet long, large enough to feed 5,000 people.) You can construct something like this if you are so inclined, but this recipe still works fine on a deep, kettle-style grill. 

At the New York State Fair in the 1950s, Dr. Baker opened a stand called "Baker's Chicken Coop" (still in operation today by his daughter) where he cooked up over a million chickens. He also contributed to the invention of the chicken nugget, as well as chicken hot dogs and turkey ham.

Why Use Raw Egg?

It may seem odd to include a raw egg in the marinade and basting sauce, but it is the key ingredient. When the egg is blended with the other ingredients, a protein breaks down which helps keep the oil and vinegar emulsified, and causes the egg (and therefore the marinade) to bind itself to the skin of the chicken. This enhances the sauce's ability to penetrate the skin and tenderize the meat while adding plenty of flavors. 

If you are concerned about using a raw egg, bear in mind that the vinegar should kill any bacteria present.