01 of 09
Pulled Chicken BBQ on a Charcoal Grill - What You Need
Chicken is one of the most forgiving meats you can cook. It can't be overcooked though it can be dried out. This makes chicken one of the easiest items to smoke and the perfect item to learn meat smoking. Pulled Chicken is a simplified and quicker version of pulled pork and it can even be Kosher. All it needs is a slow roasting time in a smoky environment to get it to perfection. Then, pulled by hand into a pile of delicious barbecue, it is the perfect meat for sandwiches and so much more. Actually, the possibilities are endless and it can all be done in about 4 hours on a charcoal grill.
What you will need:
- Whole Chicken around 5 to 6 pounds
- Charcoal Grill
- Hardwood Smoking Chunks
- A good Poultry Brine
- A good Poultry Rub
- A good Barbecue Sauce
- 2 Aluminum pans
- Insulated food gloves
- Reliable food thermometer
Charcoal grills come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. For this process, you are going to need a full sized charcoal grill. Because the entire method requires indirect grilling, the cooking area will be no more than half the grate space of the grill. The two aluminum pans needed to smoke this chicken should take up as much as possible of half the cooking grate area; half but no more.
This method takes about 8 to 10 hours start to finish, but most of that is the brining time of the chicken, which is optional.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Pulled Chicken BBQ on a Charcoal Grill - Brining Chicken
I always recommend starting any chicken with a good poultry brine. Brining adds moisture and helps to prevent the chicken from drying out, especially during a long cooking time. To brine a whole chicken you are going to need
- A large plastic bowl that will fit the whole chicken with room to spare
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 cups of water
- Herbs and spices as desired
Combine all ingredients and make sure that the salt and sugar is completely dissolved. The amount of brine may need to be doubled. Make sure that the chicken is completely submerged in the brine. Brine chicken for 4 to 6 hours.
After the 4 to 6 hours removed the chicken from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
With the chicken brined, rinsed, and dried it is time to apply the spice rub. This can be most any combination of herbs and spices, but since we have brined the chicken it already has all the salt it needs so avoid a rub with extra salt. If you have skipped the brine step use a rub that contains salt.
Putting spices on the chicken skin doesn't do a lot for the flavor of the bird, particularly if it is going to get shredded and the skin thrown away. For this reason, it is much more important to get the rub under the skin and inside the body cavity. The skin over the breast meat can be easily pulled away and the rub worked under it for maximum effect.
With the chicken heavily coated in the rub, cover it and put it in the refrigerator while we get the grill prepared.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Preparing the Grill
Full sized charcoal grills can be easily set up for smoking. The trick is to separate the fire from the food. To do this light enough charcoal to cover half the coal grate with two layers of burning coals. It is best to light the charcoal with a charcoal chimney. This allows you to light more charcoal outside the grill if necessary.
Place one of the aluminum pans on the coal grate next to the burning coals, but not on the coals. This is the drip pan that helps to keep the grill clean and any dripping fat from reaching the fire, causing flare-ups. Add wood chunks to the coals, spreading them around evenly over the fire. I prefer large chunks of hardwood. There is no need to moisten them. Now replace the cooking grate and place the second aluminum pan directly over the fire. Fill that pan with water and put the lid on the grill. Adjust the vents on the grill to hold a temperature around 250 to 275 degrees F/120 to 135 degrees C.
Once the grill is up to temperature it is time to put the chicken on the grill.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
As the grill is coming up to temperature take the chicken out of the refrigerator. Once the grill is ready, place the chicken directly over the drip pan. I place the chicken breast side up for the first half of the cook time. It will cook unevenly if left in one position, but we will get to that in a minute.
Replace the grill lid and let the chicken cook about an hour to 90 minutes. It is important to keep an eye on the grill to ensure that the fire is still burning and that the temperature is being maintained in the range between 250 to 275 degrees F/120 to 135 degrees C.
The total cooking time is about 3 hours depending on the size of the chicken.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Continuing the Cook
After about 90 minutes, it is time to flip and turn the chicken. Since our makeshift smoker won't cook evenly it is important to do this halfway through the cook time. I flip the chicken upside down, placing the side that was away from the fire close to the fire now. This should give us an evenly cooked chicken by the time we get to the end.
This is also the time to check the fire, to make sure there is enough fuel to continue. Also, you may need to add additional water to the water pan on top and wood chunks to the fire to produce more smoke. Smoke is absorbed better at the beginning of the cooking process so it isn't as important for the second half, but if you want a strong smoke flavor you are going to want to keep up the smoke production.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Finishing the Cook
As the chicken gets close to being done, it is time to start checking the temperature. Use a reliable meat thermometer. I prefer a high-quality digital thermometer to do this. Check the center of each breast as well as the thickest part of each thigh. Since we can't trust that our chicken will cook evenly it is important to test each side. If the part away from the fire is lower in temperature you might want to rotate the chicken again. Look for a temperature around 185 degrees F/85 degrees C. Chicken is cooked at 165 degrees F/75 degrees C, but it is best to over cook the chicken to make it easier to shred. Generally any type of barbecue is over cooked to maximize tenderness.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the charcoal grill to a clean cutting board or large platter. Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes. With the chicken out of the grill, close all the vents and allow the fire to die.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Pulling and Saucing
After the chicken has had 15 minutes to rest it is time to start shredding the meat. This is best done with a pair of insulated food gloves so the hot chicken can be easily handled. This is something of a messy job, so a large, clean workspace is needed. There is no trick to this. Start by pulling off the skin and breaking down the larger pieces of meat, removing bones and fat as you go. Ultimately you should end up with a pile of meat, and meat only shredded down into small strips of meat that can be piled up easily.
To keep the meat warm place it in a large pot over a low flame, tossing occasionally, or if you are going to be eating later, a slow cooker on a low-temperature setting. With the meat shredded and warmed, add your desired barbecue sauce, tossing to evenly coat.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
What you do with your pulled chicken is entirely up to you. This is very similar to pulled pork in texture and to some degree, flavor, so anything that can be done with pulled pork can be done with pulled chicken. To be traditional pile generous amounts of pulled chicken with the sauce onto rolls or hamburger buns, top with a good coleslaw and enjoy!
Recipes to Try: