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Kevin Gillespie's Barbecue Chicken with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Two legendary grilling techniques combine -- and we never have to worry about dry barbecued chicken again.

The struggle of barbecued chicken has always been in getting it to cook through without going dry or burnt first. In either case, there's a reason we usually find it coated in a sticky-sweet sauce: misdirection.

This recipe from Top Chef Kevin Gillespie doesn't give chicken the chance to act up on the grill. He borrows from (and improves upon) a couple classic barbecue techniques, ensuring the chicken will stay juicy and flavorful despite any of our own failings.


The first trick comes from the late Cornell poultry science professor Robert C. Baker -- the man who invented the chicken nugget, but is more tenderly associated with Cornell Chicken.

In Baker's recipe -- still a regional favorite near Ithaca, NY -- the chicken is basted every few minutes on the grill with a sauce made from an egg, oil, poultry seasoning, and a full pint of cider vinegar. In this year's Saveur 100 issue, the magazine's editors called it "one of the juiciest, most complex barbecued chickens" they'd ever tasted.


But Gillespie takes the concept even further, by turning it into an overnight marinade -- a coup in its own right.

Acidic marinades can help with flavoring and tenderizing meat, but only to a point. Food science writers love to debunk their effectiveness: high-acid marinades can only penetrate a few millimeters per day, and before they have a chance to get very far, the surface will have gone mealy and unpleasant.

But Gillespie's take on Cornell Chicken decreases the vinegar substantially relative to the amount of oil, and goes all egg yolk -- both of which cushion the vinegar and slow it down, allowing the chicken to hang out in the marinade longer and get that much better, without the texture suffering.

More: The best oven-crisped chicken wings, thanks to egg whites and a couple friends.

The salt and herbs have more time to seep in; the resulting chicken is tangier, moister, less destructible. And Hervé This presents a theory in Kitchen Mysteries that marination actually does have deeper effects -- by protecting the surface from spoilers while the interior ages (much like dry-aging a steak).


Once you fire up the grill, you'll rake the coals to one side (or on a gas grill, just make one side really hot) and start the chicken over indirect heat, then move it in toward the hot side, flipping and basting every 10 minutes with an Alabama-style white barbecue sauce (some of which you'll have held back to serve on the side). According to Gillespie, Alabama-style sauce, first developed by Big Bob Gibson in 1925, "is absolutely the way to go" with lean meats like chicken.

More: Everything you need to grill better this season -- spice rubs to smoke infusers to smarter thermometers.

So yes, this recipe asks you to make two mayos. But if you have a food processor, this is a near-instant task -- blend the yolks, vinegar, and seasonings, then drizzle in the oil till you "hear the sound change to a whop, whop," Gillespie writes (about a minute).

If you're nervous about food safety, you can try doctoring up prepared mayo à la these kebabs for the sauce to serve on the side, but otherwise you should be just fine with this recipe, as long as you've handled the chicken and eggs safely (buy good eggs, keep the sauce in the fridge until you're ready to use it, make sure to cook the chicken -- including the last round of basting -- through to 165° F).

And really, after the marinade and basting have done their work -- unlike with every other barbecued chicken you've ever had -- you won't need any extra sauce at all. But it sure is tasty.

Kevin Gillespie's Barbecue Chicken with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

Adapted slightly from Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking (Andrews McMeel, 2012)

Serves 4

For the Chicken:

4 egg yolks
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (or make your own -- we used 1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried marjoram, oregano, thyme, and rosemary, plus 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 3 1/2 teaspoons fine salt)
1 cup grapeseed oil
6 chicken leg/thigh quarters
1 1/2 cups Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

For the Alabama White Barbecue Sauce:

2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lemon juice 
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1 1/8 teaspoons fine salt)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grapeseed oil 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]2.com.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Grill/Barbecue, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Genius Recipes, DIY Food, How-To & Diy, Outdoor Entertaining