Looking for a tasty twist to traditional barbecued chicken? Hit the soda aisle of your grocery store. This cola-tinged twist has become a summertime favorite at our house. It’s perfect for a cookout, with a few unusual techniques that will have your guests crowding around the grill as it cooks and talking it up long afterward.
Mix up a brining solution with 1 liter of Coca-Cola and ½ cup of kosher salt and pour it into a gallon-size ziptop bag. Drop in two bone-in chicken halves. I buy whole 4-6 pound chickens and butterfly them at home with a pair of kitchen shears, saving about 80 cents a pound over pre-packaged chicken halves. I also poke a dozen or so holes in the meat with a wooden skewer to allow the brine to soak in more deeply. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.
For those of you grillheads who don’t brine yet, why not? A brine is simply a salt-and-liquid (usually water) solution that results in super-juicy meat. There’s serious science involved, but here it is in a nutshell: salt causes the muscle fibers in the chicken (or turkey or pork) to relax and “stretch.” Gaps created by this stretching want to be filled by something; a saltwater brine lets that something be water. You’ve just injected moisture into your bird on a molecular level, so it won’t evaporate during high-heat grilling. The end result: juicy and tender meat that will make you a believer in this simple technique. Here, replacing the water with Coke adds some extra flavoring and makes a cool conversation point with your cookout guests. (Every grillmeister needs a flashy gimmick or two, and this is a good one.)
After a 2-hour Coke bath, remove the chicken and pat it dry. Coat the chicken with a wet rub made up of: ¼ cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, and 2 teaspoons paprika. Smear the rub all over the chicken (getting plenty under the skin, too) while you prep the grill.
You’ll also need some weights to place on the chicken as it hits the grill. This will encourage fast, even cooking, and help your chicken develop a sexy charred crust. Some recipes call for a cast-iron skillet, but why dirty up more dishes? I use concrete pavers that I bought for under a buck apiece at my local Home Depot and cover in aluminum foil. Any party guests who haven’t come to hang out around the grill will undoubtedly mosey over to find out why the hell you’re wrapping patio pavers like they’re Christmas presents.
When you have a hot grill, ratchet one side down to low and arrange the chicken halves skin-side down on this cooler zone. Position your pavers on top to evenly press the chicken into the grill grates. Cover the grill and let them go for 10 minutes. Rotate the chicken 45 degrees for those quintessential crosshatched griddle marks and re-weight the chicken. After 10 more minutes, the birds should be crispy and brown and ready to flip.
Ditch the pavers and flip the chicken over, skin-side up. Grill them unweighted on the hotter part of the grill until the thigh registers 180 degrees on a meat thermometer. If you’ve done everything right, this will be a magazine-cover-gorgeous dish to bring to the table… and will taste absolutely amazing.
You can serve the chicken with your favorite BBQ sauce if desired, but honestly, I’ve never served this to a single guest who has felt the need for it… it’s that good all by itself.