From America's Test Kitchen Season 6: Rethinking Barbecued Chicken
Made-from-scratch barbecued pulled chicken sandwiches often rely on boneless chicken breasts and bottled barbecue sauce. The result is a sandwich with no smoke, tough meat, and artificial flavor. We wanted to take pulled chicken sandwiches seriously—using tender, smoky meat pulled off the bone in moist, soft shreds and then tossed with a tangy, sweet sauce—but we didn’t want to take all day to make them.
We chose whole chicken legs for great flavor, low cost, and resistance to overcooking. The legs cooked gently but thoroughly over indirect heat, absorbing plenty of smoke flavor along the way. Cooking the chicken to a higher-than-usual temperature also dissolves connective tissue and renders more fat, making the meat tender and less greasy. Once the chicken finished cooking, we hand-shredded half and machine-processed the other half to produce the perfect texture—one similar to pulled pork. The chicken then just had to be combined with a thin but tangy barbecue sauce to become truly bun-worthy.
Serves 6 to 8
Chicken leg quarters consist of drumsticks attached to thighs; often also attached are backbone sections that must be trimmed away. Supermarkets may also sell chicken legs, which are chicken leg quarters with the backbone sections already removed; they require less trimming and may weigh less than leg quarters. When trimming the fat from the chicken legs, try to leave the excess skin intact, as it will keep the meat moist on the grill. For equipment, you will need four 3-inch wood chunks (we like hickory or mesquite) and a 16 by 12-inch disposable aluminum roasting pan to catch the fat as the chicken cooks. If you would like to hold the dish once the chicken and sauce are combined and heated through, transfer the mixture to a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish, cover with foil, and place in a 250-degree oven for up to an hour. Serve the pulled chicken with hamburger rolls or sandwich bread, pickles, and coleslaw.