Living in the heart of Longhorn Country (i.e., close enough to the University of Texas Stadium that our chocolate lab pleads to come inside during the booming theatrics of the PA announcer) it’s impossible to avoid the crescendo of excitement that signals the kick-off of football season. Here in Austin, game days mean an influx of burnt orange attire, mid-morning beer swigging, and enthusiastic tailgaters gathering around meats sizzling on a grill.
But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a die-hard football fan to love a languid, laid back feast of something delicious cooked over a fire. Whether you’re checking scores on your iPhone, in need of sustenance after tubing the Guadalupe River, planning the neighborhood Halloween Parade, or simply gathering friends to toast the weekend, any autumn afternoon is an excuse to fire up a chimney of lump charcoal.
On such occasions, an expensive steak puts too much on the line (you don’t want to overcook it while making another round of Palomas, for instance). When I’m cooking for a crowd, chicken is the best option because it’s inexpensive (resulting in a delicious meal that doesn’t blow our budget), everybody loves it, and it’s the proverbial blank canvas that can be flavored to my whims.
Drumsticks and thighs are a hit with kids and grown-ups alike, and particularly delicious with a Latin-style Adobo Rub (fragrant with cumin, garlic, paprika, and oregano). To make them, I place the chicken in a large bowl, drizzle it with enough olive oil to lightly coat, and then season it with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and an adobo spice mix brightened with fresh oregano and lemon juice. At this point, you can allow the chicken to come to room temperature while you prepare the grill, or marinate it in the refrigerator overnight for an even deeper flavor.
When it’s time to cook, you’ll want to prepare the grill for 2-zone cooking, meaning the coals are banked on one side of the grill to create a cooler zone (with no coals). This set-up—my favorite for cooking just about everything—gives you much more flexibility to manage heat and control flare ups. Because the chicken is coated in spices and fresh herbs, you’ll want to grill it slowly, over medium heat, so the crust doesn’t burn before the meat is cooked through. You’ll want to keep your tongs close by, but the lower temperature makes constant maintenance less crucial (no worries if you get distracted by a good joke, for instance).
I was never a huge fan of chicken wings until I prepared them on the grill. As they cook over the fire, the fat slowly renders and results in smoky, crispy skin and a rich, meaty flavor (much less of a gut bomb than the sports bar variety). I typically grill drummettes, because they deliver more bang for the buck and they’re easy to eat. My favorite wings have two layers of flavor—first they’re seasoned with olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper, coriander and cinnamon. After they’re cooked (prepare to have a restless men and young boys hovering around the grill), they’re tossed in a fiery bath of butter, sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce), chopped fresh cilantro, and lime juice.
With a platter of hot chicken on the table, all you need are cold beverages, a playlist, and maybe a few simple sides to round out the menu. Latin Legs with Adobo Rub are great with a simple black bean salad, and/or a long grain rice pilaf cooked with shaved carrots and a halved serrano chile pepper. You could also serve them with a quick, creamy cumin-scented yogurt sauce, made from whisking Greek yogurt with lime zest and juice, cumin, olive oil, minced garlic, finely chopped cucumber and a pinch of salt. Wild Wings with Sriracha Butter & Cilantro are the kind of messy, fun, eat-with-your-hands party fare that require nothing more than napkins and plenty of cold, crisp lager.
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