Smoked Crack-Back Chicken Recipe
A cool technique for making a whole smoked chicken
Ask any French chef worth his toque what his favorite meal is, and the answer will be a perfect roast chicken served with a laboriously prepared sauce. The secret is roasting the bones and caramelizing the juices that are then extracted in the lengthy stock-making process. Take my word for it, I haven’t met many home cooks who go to such lengths. In fact, most restaurant chefs don’t either, leaving that task to the lower ranks of their kitchen brigade.
My solution is to crack the bones of the intact chicken, then stab it repeatedly. The result looks like a chicken that ran into a truck. But by cracking the bones and stabbing, I can smoke the chicken whole and still get the flavor-rich juices from the bones.
I put the bird in a cast-iron pan in a smoker, so that instead of losing the fat, flavor, and juices to the coals, they collect in the bottom of the pan. Then I use them to baste and glaze the chicken to produce a crust as deeply flavored and crispy as any Parisian pullet. The brine adds flavor, of course, but it also preserves moisture, which is critical to keep the white meat from drying out while the longer-cooking dark meat finishes.
- Make the brine: combine all brine ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to a bowl or other container and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight before using.
- Make the Herbes de Provence Baste: Combine all the ingredients for the fat baste in a 2-quart saucepan and bring just to a simmer; remove from the heat. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for 1 to 2 days (reheat over low heat to melt the butter before using).
- Crack the back of the chicken by placing it on its side and pressing down on it. Then, holding the breast, tap and lightly smash the back of the chicken until it feels like a tight bag of marbles. Insert a thin sharp knife into the back of the chicken to make about 10 evenly spaced holes, pushing the knife through the carcass and twisting it.
- Put the chicken in a large heavy-duty plastic bag or a bowl and add the brine. Seal the bag or cover the bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Put a large cast-iron skillet in a smoker and preheat the smoker to 350°F.
- Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and, while it is still moist, season it all over with the seasoning blend (store the remainer in a jar with a tight-fitting lid), working it in with your hands. Truss the chicken.
- Using the herb brush, moisten the chicken on all sides with some of the fat portion of the baste. Add the acid component to the remaining baste and set aside.
- Put the chicken breast side up in the preheated skillet and smoke for 10 minutes. Turn it on its side, baste lightly, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn it onto the other side, baste lightly, and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Turn the chicken breast side up and scatter the vegetables and herbs around it. Cook for 20 minutes.
- Add the white wine to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thigh registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the chicken to a platter (set the pan aside) and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil the pan juices over medium heat until reduced to a glaze. Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced by half. Swirl in the butter piece by piece, then pass the sauce through a fine strainer into a sauceboat or small serving bowl. Stir in the chopped parsley.
- Serve the chicken, whole or cut up, sprinkled with the lemon thyme salt. Pass the sauce at the table.