Grilling is a beautiful thing. You can grill something (perhaps accidentally) until it's so blackened and beyond edible-looking that you think it won't be fit for anyone but the dog. But when you tentatively slice off a piece, it turns out to be absolutely perfect. This recipe for beer-brined chicken is a case in point.
I didn't originally intend for "blackened" to be anywhere near this recipe. I envisioned a crispy golden skin, reminiscent of fried drumsticks or Thanksgiving turkey. I lovingly brushed these chicken breasts with chili butter, laid them down on the grill, and walked away without realizing that my grill was much hotter than I suspected. I feared the worst when I pulled the blackened specimens off the grill.
But like I said, grilling is a magical thing — these are some of the most tender and juicy chicken breasts I've ever had. The meat was sheltered beneath its shield of skin, and fully infused with sweet, malty flavors from the brine. This was the perfect contrast to the ultra-crispy, chili-spiced skin that decked every bite. With a scoop of pasta salad (see recipe here) and a few chips, this is now my favorite summer meal.
I prefer to use bone-in chicken breasts when grilling. The bones keep the meat from drying out and help distribute the heat evenly throughout the breast. If you want to use boneless chicken breasts, begin checking for doneness a little sooner. Given the protective role of the skin here, I don't recommend skinless breasts for this particular recipe. However, if you don't want skins as charred as I've made them, lower the grill temperature to medium-high heat.
Blackened Beer-Brined Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
4 medium bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 3 pounds)
2 (12-ounce) bottles dark or amber beer
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Combine the cider, sugar, salt, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir just until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let to cool to room temperature.
Lay the chicken breasts, skin-side down, in a shallow glass or ceramic (not metal) baking dish. Stir the beer into the cider mixture, then pour over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for 4 to 8 hours.
When ready to grill, heat a gas or charcoal grill to to high heat (about 450-degrees). Meanwhile, transfer the chicken from the brine to a clean plate and let it rest, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes to take the chill off. Melt butter and stir in chili powder and cayenne.
Brush half the chili butter over the skin on each chicken breast and lay the breasts skin-side down on the grill. Cover and let cook undisturbed for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken breasts, taking care not to tear the skin, and brush with the remaining chili butter.
Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Check the chicken for doneness, and if necessary, continue cooking in 5 minute increments until it has finished cooking. The chicken is done when the interior reaches 165°F, its juices run clear, and the inside is no longer pink.
Tent the chicken breasts with aluminum foil and let them rest 10 minutes before carving. The bones should pull away cleanly from the underside of the breasts with a little pressure. Slice the breasts into thin pieces and serve.
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Related: Ingredient Spotlight: Cooking with Beer
(Image: Emma Christensen)