Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grampa's Chicken

I can't take much credit for this recipe except for the fact that I'm inextricably, forever linked to this chicken. I mean, I'm certain that since I was born in December and spent the spring, summer and fall in the womb, at least half my make-up must be bar-b-qued chicken (or however you want to spell it....barbeque? Bar-b-cue?) Anyways, many of us farm kids went straight from the breast to the chicken. And you know what? That's ok with me.

Pool parties, farm parties, birthday parties, sunday dinner, you name it....we had this chicken. It's integrity lies in the fact that in addition to how delicious it is, it can feed a lot of people. You see, this recipe calls for a whole quart of vinegar, a pint of cooking oil, a 1/2 cup of salt, and that's just to feed 12 people. Let's not get into the amount of oil it took to feed the crowd at my first communion party!

This recipe posting is 100% dedicated to my late grandpa, Ed. He's the one who built the family grill barrel. He's the guy who added the extra essence of cigar flavor to the experience (and its never really been the same without him). He's the brains behind with the ingenious method of turning the chicken so that the skin stays intact and never tears. He's the man who made this chicken so gosh-darn special. Even though it's a family legend, I think we'll all happily call it Grampa's Chicken forever. Mom, Mike and Uncle Kenny have carried the torch forward, ensuring that we'll nourish other babes in the womb with The Chicken for years to come. But for now and for always, this one's for you Grampa.

Marinade Recipe: bastes 12 chicken halves. Order your chicken from your butcher in halves. We get ours from Clark's Poultry and Seafood on Lake Street in Hamburg, NY.

1 Quart Cider Vinegar
4 Eggs
1 Tablespoon pepper
2 Tablespoons celery salt
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 pint cooking oil (canola or vegetable)
1/4 cup salt
2 Tablespoons poultry seasoning
2 Tablespoons paprika
1 Tablespoon Garlic Salt
(my grandma also lists "shots of chosen liquor" and "1 case beer" in the recipe....but now I understand that the alcohol is solely for the basting of the chefs and has nothing to add to the actual chicken!)

Beat the eggs until thick. Slowly add spices except salt. Beat well. Add oil, then add vinegar, stirring constantly. Stir in salt. Add thin coating to chicken for marinade prior to grill, then baste as you cook.

For the method: I am literally copying and pasting my mom's instructions from an email.

The secret basically is NOT TO RUSH the cooking process. You need a hot fire but the chicken has to be far enough away from the fire so it cooks slowly. You need 20 lbs. of charcoal briquets (not lump charcoal) for a "barrel" which will do 12 halves. The pit we used (in the photos) does 48 halves comfortably and uses 60-70 lbs of charcoal. Hot day no wind: 60 lbs, hot windy day with fire in wind: 70 lbs, cold day: 70-80 lbs. Mound the briquets up in the middle, soak down with very generous (whole bottle on big pit) lighter fluid. Let burn till you start seeing grey edges on briquets. Spread out briquets evenly in pit with shovel. Lay chicken skin side down on racks and watch carefully till skin turns golden yellow. Flip chicken over and baste generously. Continue to flip and baste approx every 10-12 minutes or so for the first hour. It must be watched carefully so your fire does not flame up and scorch chicken. If this happens, you have to move the chicken for a minute or two or if the fire is just starting to flame, you can raise your racks a little higher for 15-20 minutes. After the first hour, you will turn and baste a few more times.......total cooking time is anywhere from 1hr. 45 min. to 21/2 hrs. depending on weather, fire, amount of alcohol consumed while cooking etc. Chicken is done when you can freely twist drumstick in leg. Do not ever use grilling tools or tongs or forks on the chicken, you want the skin to remain intact. Always flip with racks or move chicken by hand with white gloves. Prepare racks by heating, cleaning and wiping with cooking oil or grill spray to prevent skin from sticking on initial placement.

So take notice of the flipping method: you need an extra grill rack to place on top of the chicken. Two people hold the sandwiched chicken in between the grill racks, pick it up, move it over on top of the other chicken, flip (so the excellent juices baste the other racks) and set it back down in its original place. See the photos.

This chicken is absolutely always served with potato salad, tomato salad or cucumber salad, and for some reason a handful of good old fashioned potato chips. And lots of napkins.....use your fingers for eating!

There's one catch: to do it correctly, you have to build a spit. For some extra cash, I'm guessing my brothers would do it!

Credit for the photos of Grampa goes to Uncle Brack, the family archivist.


  1. I'm sure Grandpa is smiling from wherever heaven is...and I'm sure he is very happy we have you keep our family traditions thriving for our grandchildren!

  2. all that glorious chicken!!! thanks for sharing your family recipe!

  3. I sit next to your brother Mike at work and he just sent me this link to your blog. I can't wait to explore and try some of the wonderful looking recipes that you have posted - especially this chicken marinade. I think I might ask Mike to build me a spit!!! Oh and BTW, my oldest daughter, lives in Arlington and works in DC (small world)