Chicken Thighs in the Ugly Drum Smoker

I'm starting to realize that the month of March (when Steve helped me realize my dream of a completely assembled UDS) was a month that was heavy on smoked meat.  Sure, part of that was because smoked meat is delicious but I also wanted to really figure out how to get the best use out of my UDS and how to maintain different temperatures.

For example, if you have ever tried to smoke chicken or turkey in an ECB or other water smoker then you know how tricky it is to get crispy skin.  Usually you have to end up tossing it on the grill at the end to crisp up the skin.  Well, with my new UDS I knew that crispy skin chicken was a possibility.  I should be able to get consistent temps around 350F and that outta crisp up the chicken nicely.  So, I put on my lab coat and started experimenting.

As you can see from this picture, it was a little chilly outside, so that was already going to be a challenge.

Smoking Meat, in Montana, in March

Smoking Meat, in Montana, in March

I opened up all of the intakes on the bottom of my UDS and left the tops off of both bungholes (tee hee) and here's a picture of my results.  That handsome fella to the right of my remote grill temp receiver is an Eddy Out.  That's a real tasty beer made by our local Kettlehouse brewery, in case you aren't familiar with Montana micro-brews.

Hotter temps in the UDS

Hotter temps in the UDS

On this particular day, I wasn't able to get it much hotter than 291F.  But, I think that's due to two factors.  1) It was pretty chilly outside and 2) I think I capped the smoker a little bit too early and I effectively cutoff the air supply.  So, it never really got roaring in there.

But, the chicken thighs came out great.  They could have been a little crispier, but I've since been able to achieve that.  Don't worry, I'll post pictures of that as well.

Smoked chicken thighs in the UDS

Smoked chicken thighs in the UDS

 

Chicken Thighs – Modified ECB Smoker

Unless my memory is failing me (which, by the way, it totally is and I blame beer) then this is the first thing I smoked with my newly modified ECB.  I remember finishing up the modifications on my smoker  and then that night two things happened.  First, my sister-in-law went into labor at our house.  Second (and completely unrelated to the first) I developed a sickness that kept me throwing up for the next 3 days.  So, it wasn't until a week or so later that I actually go to use my newly modded ECB.

I must have been pressed for time, though, because it looks like I just made chicken thighs.  And, these little babies will be done in 2-3 hours tops.

Also, looking at the picture, it looks like I still hadn't solved the problem of chicken skin.  So, if I recall correctly, these were freaking delicious, but the skin was pretty much inedible.  Remember, if you want crispy skin you need smoker temps closer to 350F or you have to finish it in the grill or in the oven.

Anyway, here's the pic.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Tasty little buggers

Chicken Semi-Disaster – Unmodified ECB Smoker

Well, a week after the first Smoked Meat Sunday, I decided that I wanted to try and smoke an entire chicken.  Unlike my earlier two smoked meat adventures, I had already let most of the day get away from me.  But, I was pretty sure that it would only take about 4 hours to smoke a chicken, so if I could get it going by noon I thought I would be aces.

We popped into the grocery store only to find that they didn't have any whole chickens.  Eh?!  So, Plan B was a few packages of chicken legs and thighs.  I guessed (correctly) that these would cook pretty fast.  However, I wanted to try and keep the temperature a little hotter because I wanted to try and get crispy skin on the chicken.  Let's take a little detour and talk about smoked chicken and chicken skin.

Detour: In a charcoal water smoker like the ECB it can be pretty hard to maintain high temps.  That's the whole purpose of the water pan is to keep your temperature closer to 250F.  That's a great place to be if you are smoking brisket or pork but chicken is a little different.  Don't get me wrong.  You can slow smoke a chicken at 225F and when you pull it (at around 170 or 180F internal temp) the meat is going to be amazing.  The skin, however, will be less so.  It basically turns into chewy rubber.  Now, if you don't eat chicken skin anyway, then you probably don't care.  Heck, you could just treat the skin like the "magical bag" that holds in all of the delicious smoky flavor.  But, if you want the skin to be crispier like rotisserie chicken then you really need temps closer to 350F inside your smoker.  You have a few options with an ECB Smoker.

  1. Don't put water in the water pan.  Instead, many people fill it with play sand and then cover it with foil.  The sand acts as a heat sink but the lack of steam allows the smoker to get a little hotter inside.  I've never actually done this, but I'm thinking I will try it soon.
  2. Smoke the chicken at 225 or 250F, using the water pan, but pull it closer to 150F internal temp and then finish it in the oven or on a grill just to crisp up the skin.  I've done this several times and with good results.
  3. Smoke the chicken with the water pan, but leave the door to the smoker open.  The increased airflow should let you get closer to 350F.  I did this once with a turkey (and I used those Kingsford coals that have mesquite chips inside the briquette) and I was able to keep temps closer to 350F.  The skin was almost as crispy as I wanted it.

All of that information would have been good to know when I was doing these thighs and legs.  All I knew was that I wanted to keep the temps up and all I had to work with was the wonky built-in thermostat in the ECB.  So, I had the door to the smoker propped open about half way for much of the smoke and I kept adding wood to try and keep it hot in there.  Sure, it was hot, but the downside was that I was making TONS of smoke.  The smoker was like a freaking smokestack.

Eventually the chicken got to about 170F and I decided to pull it.  I opened the lid of the smoker and was a little bummed to see how black the chicken was.  However, when I grabbed one of the legs with my tongs and pulled up, the bone came right out of the chicken.  The meat was so tender and juicy that we just treated the skin as a magical, burnt cooking bag that somehow gave us delicious chicken inside.  Here's a picture.

Chicken Semi-Disaster

It looks burnt, but the meat inside was amazing.