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Smoked Chicken Halves with Lemon-Ginger Barbecue Sauce


Serves 4-8

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 117

This chicken gets its rich complexity from wood smoke and layers of flavors: a spice rub, a mustardy mop sauce, and a zesty-sweet barbecue sauce that’s seared onto the meat for a gorgeous lacquered finish. For the best smoky flavor, use a charcoal grill. 

For the spice rub:
  • 1 Tbs. dry mustard
  • 1 Tbs. packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
For the mop sauce:
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup Pilsner-style or wheat beer
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco
For the barbecue sauce:
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter (or bacon fat, if you have it)
  • 2 small shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the chicken:
  • 2 3-1/2- to 4-lb. chickens
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil; more for the grill
Make the spice rub:

In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients and break up any lumps with your fingers.

Make the mop sauce:

In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients.

Make the barbecue sauce:

Melt the butter in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and ginger and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, lemon juice, and mustard, increase the heat to medium, and simmer gently, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the wood chips and chicken:

Put 1-1/2 cups of wood chips (preferably oak) in a large bowl and cover with water.  Let soak for 30 minutes, then drain.

Put each chicken breast side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut out the backbones of the chickens (save for another use or discard). Open the chickens like a book and cut through the breast bones to separate the chickens into halves. Pat the chicken halves dry with paper towels. Using your hands, rub 1 Tbs. oil over the skin of each chicken half, then rub each half with a quarter of the spice rub. Let stand at room temperature while preparing the grill.

Prepare the grill:

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill fire for indirect grilling over medium heat (350°F).

If using a charcoal grill, bank the coals to one side. Put a 10x15-inch foil drip pan next to the coals and fill it halfway with water. Sprinkle the soaked wood chips over the coals. Replace the grill grate.

If using a gas grill, put a 10x15-inch foil drip pan on the inactive burners and fill it halfway with water. Use two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil to make a V-shaped packet to hold the wood chips. Set the foil packet between the active burners. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of dry wood chips into the foil packet and let them ignite. Once they are smoking well, sprinkle a handful of the soaked chips over the dry chips to create even more smoke. Replace the grill grate.

Clean the grate with a wire brush and, using tongs, wipe the grate with a paper towel or cloth dipped in oil.

Smoke the chicken:

Put the chicken halves skin side up over the drip pan and cover the grill.

Smoke the chicken for 20 minutes, then use a heatproof barbecue mop or other brush to coat it with some of the mop sauce. Continue grilling the chicken, brushing with the mop sauce every 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads 160°F, about 45 minutes. During this time, switch positions of the chicken halves if they’re not cooking evenly, but do not flip. If using a gas grill, add more soaked chips through the grate as necessary to keep the smoke going. (Discard any remaining mop sauce.)

Continue to grill, covered (without adding more chips if using a gas grill), until the skin is deep golden-brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh reads 170°F, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Brush the skin side of the chicken halves with all of the barbecue sauce. Using tongs, flip the chicken halves skin side down directly over the heat and cook until the sauce begins to sizzle and brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the chicken halves to a platter and let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serving Suggestions

Serve the chicken with Grilled Corn on the Cob, Traditional Cole Slaw, and your favorite potato salad.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 540, Fat (kcal): 28, Fat Calories (g): 250, Saturated Fat (g): 8, Protein (g): 52, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 11, Carbohydrates (mg): 17, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 6, Sodium (g): 1120, Cholesterol (g): 170, Fiber (g): 1,

Photo: Scott Phillips

One of the best BBQ chicken recipes I've tried. I added a bit of hot chile pepper flake to the ginger-lemon BBQ sauce just for some additional kick. This is a terrific way to grill chicken.

This could easily be the best grilled chicken recipe I've ever found. The whole family inhaled it and wanted more. The barbecue sauce is out of this world. Don't be put off by the length of ingredients and instructions. It goes quickly and is worth it. You can read my full review at:

This was an unbelievable hit!!! We couldn't believe how flavorful and moist it is!!! I did do a few things different; I used a chip box with soaked wood chips on one side of the gas grill, left the center section off, and lit the third side. I placed the chicken in the unlit section and I mopped the chicken several times, but I did turn it several times also. I didn't have to cook it as long as stated in the recipe, but at the end I put it directly over the wood chips and basted it with the barbeque sauce. We flipped over it!! I will definitely be making this again and next time will be sure there will be left-overs!! Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful supper!!

Made this on my Traeger last night and it was absolutely delicious!! So moist and a awesome change from a tomato base barbeque sauce. Can't wait to make it again!

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