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May 8, 2013

A lighter, foolproof take on barbecue chicken

Barbecue chicken is one of my favorite summertime dishes. I like every part of it — the tomato-based sauce (the spicier the better), the crispy skin, even the bones.

And taste aside, it’s also relatively healthy, at least as compared to such sundry first cousins as grilled and/or smoked ribs, brisket or pulled pork. It’s chicken, after all, and it wears that lean protein halo. Unfortunately, when it’s prepared with its skin and bones and slathered with a sugary sauce, barbecue chicken is very nearly as caloric as its brethren. Know why chicken skin is so delicious? It’s high in fat.

So I set myself the task of coming up with a recipe for a leaner version of barbecue chicken that somehow still boasted the most lovable aspects of the classic version — a mouthwatering sauce and an element of crunch.

I started by enlisting the usual lean poultry suspect, the boneless, skinless chicken breast. The one problem with this virtuous ingredient is that it’s tough to cook just right. Undercook it, and you risk getting sick. Overcook it, and you’re faced with a slab of protein as dry and tough as cardboard.

And then, as I discovered while developing this recipe, there’s another problem — chicken breasts come in all different sizes and thicknesses. Generally, if it’s labeled “cutlet,” it’s fairly thin. If it’s labeled “chicken breast,” it’s rather thick. But there’s a range of thickness within these categories, too. I tried both and opted for the latter because the thicker breasts were simply harder to overcook.

The breasts also are covered for two-thirds of the cooking time, which helps keep them moist, further ensuring perfectly cooked barbecue.

By the way, the internal temperature of the cooked breasts should be 165 degrees. And be sure when you take the temperature to insert the thermometer sideways into the center and not straight down from the top. That way, you’ll get a more accurate reading. Also, don’t forget to let the chicken rest for a few minutes after you pull it out of the oven. It’s another way to maximize the juiciness.

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