Charcoal-Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breasts with Spice Rub from Cook's Illustrated Summer Grilling, 2011

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Let’s pretend. Just for a few minutes, let’s pretend that I have never grilled before. That I don’t know better than to walk away from the grill and get involved with something else while chicken is skin-side down. That when the coals are bright orange, it’s silly to put the chicken right on them. Can we do that? I would feel so, so much better.

I am, usually, very good at the grill. I take pride in my ability to cook a steak to the perfect temperature inside while creating the perfect crust outside. I love, adore and often crave smoke baby backs, rubbed, slathered with sauce and cooked to a beautiful caramelized sheen. I’m proud of my grilling abilities. But not today.

Today I hang my head. I stepped away from a too-hot grill and charred the rub and skin of my chicken. I’m so embarrassed. What’s even worse is that this is the second time I’ve made this in a week and the first time it turned out perfectly. Except that we were in the mountains celebrating our anniversary and my camera ran out of battery juice (too many pictures of waterfalls and family members).

So, you get to look at a picture of what not to do when charcoal-grilling your bone-in chicken breasts. Don’t walk away when you’ve got a really hot fire.

What you should do, though, is read on because there are good things ahead; spice rubs.

The Process
If you work your way through a few recipes in this Cook’s Illustrated issue, you’ll find that they use three methods for building a charcoal fire (if you use a gas grill, you’re totally on your own, sorry). The first is a single-level fire, where all the coals are evenly spread over the bottom grate.  The second, the two-level fire, has a single level of coals across the whole grate, then more coals piled on one side, so one side has a high level of heat, the other side moderate. The modified two-level fire has all the coals piled just on one side of the lower grate, leaving the other side to be used for indirect cooking.

For this chicken, you’ll use the modified two-level set-up.

The recipe starts with brining the chicken in salt, sugar and water for an hour and a half in a zip-top bag. When it’s done, it gets patted dry and seasoned with spice rub. Ahhhh, spice rub. The one pictured above and below is the Tex-Mex Spice Rub. The Curry-Cumin Spice Rub, which I used on our anniversary weekend and didn’t have battery in the camera for a picture looks just about the same, truth be told.

Whichever one you use, it should be rubbed all over the chicken. The chicken is then put over the hot part of the grill until well browned (or well charred in this instance) and then moved to the indirect heat part of the grill to finish cooking, with one more turn right up near the end. Pull it off the grill and serve. Easy and simple.

The Verdict
Hubby and I both loved the spice rubs each time we had the chicken. While the top of the chicken was too charred to taste it, the underside was perfectly cooked and the flavor came through. If you had to ask which I preferred, I’d have to say yes. They’re both excellent. If you look at the recipes below, you’ll see that there’s one major similarity with both; cumin. I love cumin. If I had to choose one to take on a desert island, yadda, yadda, yadda, it would be the Curry-Cumin Spice Rub. Brown sugar tips it over the edge. For Dudette, both of these rubs were too spicy and carried too much heat. She only had to try one bit and then she ate a piece that just had a little salt and pepper on it. We’ll build her heat tolerance slowly.

What I’d Do Different Next Time
The Tex Mex Spice Rub was a bit too salty for me so I would cut it down to two teaspoons. I would also probably cook the chicken more on the indirect heat and just hit it with direct heat near the end. That’s what I usually do anyhow. I would also halve the recipe for the spice rub. It supposedly makes enough for 16 chicken breasts. Making enough for 8 is good enough for me.

Charcoal-Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breasts with Spice Rub
from Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling 2011

6 tablespoons table salt
6 tablespoons sugar
4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
1 recipe spice rub
Vegetable oil for cooking grate
Disposable 13×9 aluminum roasting pan

Dissolve salt and sugar in 1 quart cold water in a 1-gallon zip-top bag. Add chicken and press air from bag. Seal and refrigerate for approximately 1 1/2 hours.

When ready, remove chicken, rinse and pat dry. Season with choice of spice rub. Refrigerate 1-8 hours.

Light coals and wait until fully ignited. Build modified 2-level fire. Position grate over coals, cover grill and heat until hot.  Clean and oil grate.

Cook chicken over hot part of grill until well browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Move chicken to cooler part of grill and cover with disposable pan; continue to cook, skin side up for 10 minutes. Turn and cook for 5 minutes more until done.

Tex-Mex Spice Rub
from Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling 2011

1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground oregano
2 tablespoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Curry-Cumin Spice Rub
from Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling 2011

1/4 cup curry powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup chili powder
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.


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