Sunday Dinner: Oven Barbecued Chicken with Homemade Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Monday, May 07, 2012

Depending on where you live it might be too early to fire up the grill, but there's never a bad time to preheat your oven and treat yourself to a BBQ Sunday dinner. My dad did all the grilling in my house so I've gotta be honest and admit it's not something I ever bothered to practice, although I do understand some basic concepts. Maybe that's something I'll tackle in the future. In the meantime, I have a craving for barbecue that can't wait for my trip home in June! A reliable technique I've found that makes the best oven barbecued chicken is a quick sear followed by a slow roast and basting with a great barbecue sauce. Not unlike barbecuing on the grill, the trick is not to sauce your chicken in the beginning. Barbecue sauce is sugary and burns fast, so you'll want to gradually baste your chicken in the last half of the cooking process. The result is just the right amount of slightly charred, crisp skin, coated in a thick layer of sticky barbecue sauce.

In case you haven't noticed by now, I tend to roast most of my food, both meats and vegetables. It's a healthy way to cook without using a lot of butter or oil, and doesn't require constant attention like most stove top cooking. One of the best investments you can make in your kitchen is to buy a decent roasting pan. Your food will roast evenly in a good, heavy pan as opposed to using a disposable foil pan or baking sheet. My Calphalon Unison Nonstick 16" Roaster was a gift from my parents that I'm still raving about, four years later. Even though the removable rack was intended for larger pieces of meat (like whole birds), I've found it works great for roasting chicken quarters. Because it lifts the chicken above the surface of the pan, fat drips away from the meat. This means less grease and a crispier skin, both top and bottom. When I'm not going to be roasting vegetables alongside my meat, I like to use the rack for that reason.

I didn't mention the best part yet... I made my own barbecue sauce for the first time! When you realize how simple that is to do, you'll want to make yours too. You probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry. Yes, you could just pull out your favorite bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce. You could even spruce it up a little bit with your own herbs or spices. Taste wise, nothing wrong with that. But here's the catch: Most commercial condiments are made with a ton of preservatives, artificial dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and chemicals I can't pronounce. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be able to identify exactly what went into the food that I eat. The convenience of picking up a bottle at the grocery store is often trumped by the health benefits and cost-savings of taking a little extra time to make dressings, sauces and dips from scratch at home.

This is a three-part post featuring the main entree along with two recommended side dishes that together make a perfect Sunday dinner. You'll find the recipe to the Oven BBQ Chicken here, but definitely continue on to check out my separate posts on the Green Bean Medley and Fried Green Tomatoes. Both side dishes are quick and easy to make, so use the time that the chicken is roasting to prepare them. The recipes themselves aren't complicated - we're talking basic cooking techniques - however there is a little bit of a time factor to consider in brining the chicken beforehand. You could skip that step, but I really believe the three hour brine made the difference in this unbelievably juicy, flavorful chicken. It was the first time I ever tried brining and now I'm excited to try it on a whole chicken or turkey, so stay tuned for that. Needless to say I was feeling proud of myself knocking out two cooking "firsts" in the same meal!

Oven Barbecued Chicken with Homemade Chipotle BBQ Sauce
4 large chicken quarters, skin-on, about 2.5 lbs
2 quarts warm water
2 tbsp sea salt
1/4 c. brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Several sprigs fresh thyme
Peel from 1 lemon
Olive oil
Chipotle BBQ Sauce, recipe follows

Servings: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus up to 3 hours to brine
Cook Time: 45 minutes 
Equipment Needed: Extra large bowl w/ cover, and/or or plastic bag(s), large heavy duty roasting pan 

Chipotle BBQ Sauce:
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. tomato sauce
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T. Liquid Smoke
2 - 4 Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chile powder
1/4 c. honey (optional)
Sea salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Olive oil

Servings: 2 1/2 cups prepared sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes 
Equipment Needed: Sauce pan, hand blender or upright blender, resealable jar 

To prepare brine, add brown sugar and salt to the warm water and stir until dissolved. Add crushed garlic, thyme and lemon peel. Allow to cool completely before using.

Add chicken to the brine if your container is large enough to fit it and has a tight lid. Otherwise, use large plastic bags to hold the chicken and brine. Make sure the chicken quarters are completely immersed in the brine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours. The salt in the brine works by breaking down some of the tougher proteins and forcing the meat to retain fluid, thus keeping it moist and juicy when cooked. For this reason, brining too long can result in mushy meat so it's not something you would let sit overnight for smaller cuts of meat such as chicken quarters.

While the chicken brines you can make your sauce. I started out with basic ingredients for a barbecue sauce and then added my preferred seasonings to get the finished product. Honey (not pictured) was added at the very end to sweeten the sauce a bit. Depending on how many chipotle peppers you use, you may or may not want to sweeten it as much.

Minimal prep; besides having your seasonings handy you'll want to squeeze your lemon, dice the onion, chop the chipotle peppers, mince the garlic, and chop the thyme (remove all stems.) The chopped chipotle peppers should be kept with the adobe sauce as that adds some depth and heat to the barbecue sauce - use as little or as much as you would like.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, add a little olive oil and saute the onions and garlic until soft and golden brown. 

Add tomato sauce to the pan. I used a regular sized can of plain tomato sauce, and a small can of tomato sauce with Spanish seasonings - garlic, onion, and cilantro. The hint of cilantro goes well with the flavors of the barbecue sauce without overpowering it as fresh cilantro might have.

Turn down heat to medium-low and add the dark brown sugar. Besides sweetening the sauce, this adds a great dark color. Stir until all sugar is dissolved with no clumps.

Add Worcestershire Sauce, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Liquid Smoke and chipotle peppers. Continue to stir. If you don't have Liquid Smoke or can't find it that's not a dealbreaker, it just helps to enhance the flavor that otherwise would have been added by the smoke of an outdoor grill.

Now it's starting to smell, look and most importantly taste like barbecue sauce. I say this often and I'll say it again: taste your food while you're cooking it. It is the only way to be sure you're on the right track. Add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. This is when I decided to add honey to sweeten the sauce up a bit and get it to the consistency I wanted. Allow the sauce to simmer on low heat for at least 10 minutes.

The final step is to puree the sauce to make it smooth. You can allow it to cool and pour into an upright blender, or make your life easier by using a hand blender in the pan. Again, it won't change the sauce dramatically if you skip this step, I just prefer not to see large bits of onion and garlic. If you want a rustic sauce feel free to stop at this point.

The result? A rich, smoky, barbecue sauce that is both spicy and sweet. Recipe makes just about 2 1/2 cups, so store any extra sauce in a resealable jar and refrigerate.

When the time is up for the brined chicken, preheat your oven to 400°.  Remove the chicken from the bags and discard the brine. Rinse the chicken off in cold water and season the skin lightly with smoked paprika. I used a garlic infused oil in the next step, but as an alternative you could season with a pinch of garlic powder now.

To a pan heated over medium high heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot and starts to shimmer, place your chicken skin-side down in the pan. I only had room for two so I did this in batches. Don't crowd your pan, the skin needs to make contact with the hot surface in order to sear properly. 

After 2 - 3 minutes you should have a nice crust formed on the top of your chicken. Remove from the pan and place on your roasting rack in one layer. Roast the chicken for 10 -15 minutes until golden brown. Remember, you do not need to add sauce at this point.

Remove the pan from the oven and lightly baste your chicken in barbecue sauce, both top and bottom. Instead of using a brush, I simply poured a little sauce into a small bowl and dipped my chicken one by one. If you do it that way, make sure you are using sauce in a separate bowl as dipping it into the entire pot of sauce would contaminate it with uncooked chicken. Return the chicken to the oven and roast another 10 minutes.

Baste the chicken again in barbecue sauce. As the chicken roasts, you'll notice the sauce will darken in color and start to get thicker and stickier. I basted with a heavier application of sauce in each round. Don't worry about the sauce dripping into the pan, because of the sugar content it may burn a little but because you're using a rack it won't affect the chicken at all.

You'll continue this pattern of roasting 10 minutes followed by basting with barbecue sauce for a total cooking time of 40 minutes, or until the thickest part of the chicken reaches 165°. Do yourself a favor and get a meat thermometer, you can find them starting around $10 at the grocery store and they are indispensable for cooking larger pieces of meat properly.

When the chicken is fully cooked, baste with a final application of barbecue sauce and transfer it to a serving platter or cutting board. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 5 minutes, this helps to retain the juices. 

For a southern style Sunday Dinner, try completing this meal with fresh veggies, warm buttered cornbread and iced tea or lemonade. I recommend pairing with my recipes for a crisp Green Bean Medley and tasty Fried Green Tomatoes. Even in the dead of winter, you'll swear you've been transported to a barbecue on a hot summer day!

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