Tue May 13, 2014
The world seems to love skinless, boneless chicken breasts. The world is against me. Why choose fatless, flavorless breasts when you can have juicy and flavorful thighs? That's my thinking, and so it was with a little dismay that I watched Pitmaster Chris Lilly grill up some chicken breasts for lunch while Kingsford hosted me at the Decatur Riverfest a couple years ago. I found relief that brisket and ribs were on the menu too and a satisfying meal was still to be had, but Chris is quite the cook, so I figured I should at least give those chicken sandwiches a try, no matter my misgivings.
Damn, those sandwiches were hella good.
The actual chicken meat still proved my point on the lack of flavor of chicken breasts, but Chris had built such a great array of seasonings and extras that the sandwich on the whole was incredible. So I was all too pleased when the recipe was provided to me and I had a chance to make these sweet and spicy grilled chicken sandwiches at home.
Some of my problems with chicken breasts are fixable, most notably the dryness factor. The breast suffers two main faults—uneven thickness and lack of fat. That natural shape of this cut, where one side of the meat is thicker than the other, is a big reason so much chicken is dry. To fully cook the fat side, you need to over cook the thin side. Luckily this is easily correctable by pounding the cutlets into an even thickness—something I do using a rolling pin while the chicken is nestled in a Ziploc bag to avoid splatter.
The second issue is the absence of fat, which contributes both to its lack of flavor and the ability to easily rob the chicken of all its moisture with just a little overcooking. The rest of the post will solve the flavor issue, but the juiciness can be easily tackled by a quick thirty minute brine in a salt water solution. The chicken absorbs extra moisture from the brine, which then allows some wiggle room when cooking in keeping the chicken moist.
With the future cooking issues sorted out, the first step in the immense flavor equation of this recipe is a barbecue glaze. This is a fairly standard sweet, tangy, fruity, and spicy sauce that doesn't veer much from the barbecue norm. It's texture is super smooth and glaze like though, which clings to the chicken well, giving it a nice coating of sauce that begins to make up for the lack of flavor in the breast itself.
The really money piece of this sandwich though comes from the bacon. Sure, "bacon makes everything better," but this stuff is extra special. Before being grilled, the bacon gets a simple rub of sugar, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne.
It's then cooked over indirect heat until it's nice and crisp. As this bacon sat out while I finished grilling the rest of the sandwich, it was hard to resist take a little for myself as reward for all the hard work I was putting into the recipe. That little bit of rub gave the bacon an awesome sweet and spicy flavor that later added an extra touch to the sandwich that elevated it higher in my mind.
Following the bacon, the chicken was grilled. Even with the brine, I was careful not to overcook these, grilling them over direct heat just long enough for them to develop grill marks on each side.
The rest of the cook happened over indirect heat, which raises the chicken's temperature in a more controlled way. Once over indirect heat, the glaze was applied and each breast was topped with a slice of provolone cheese. The grill was then covered and the chicken was let cook until it reach 155-160°F on an instant read thermometer.
As the chicken reached its final temperature, I buttered up a set of potato rolls and gave them a quick grill over direct heat until they were nicely toasted. I've found with sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs, toasting the buns can make a difference between a good sandwich and great one, and butter here just made the bread all the better.
Finally the sandwich was assembled with the additions of red onion and lettuce. Put it all together, and this sandwich has almost everything—great barbecue flavor, meaty heft, creamy and sharp cheese, smoky and salty bacon, fresh lettuce, and sharp and crunchy onions on a pillowy and toasty bun. It's certainly a recipe for success, and any doubts on chicken breasts as the central piece are proven wrong as the whole works together in unison like a great sandwich should. The day I made these I had eaten one sandwich and then turned to the ribs and pork shoulder I had also cooked up, but even after stuffing myself silly with those, I found myself oddly incapable to resist the draw of another chicken sandwich.
Sweet and Spicy Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
Adapted from Chris Lilly for Kingsford.
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Brine
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- For the Barbecue Glaze
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup apple juice
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons jalapeño jam
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- For the Bacon Rub
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 6 slices thick cut bacon
- 4 slices provolone cheese
- 4 potato rolls
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 leaves red leaf lettuce, washed and dried
- Place one chicken breast in a resealable plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat pounder, rolling pin, or small skillet, pound chicken breast into an even thickness about 3/4-inches in height. Repeat with remaining 3 breasts.
- To make the brine: In a medium bowl whisk together water, salt, white sugar, and brown sugar until solids are dissolved. Place chicken breasts in brine and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Place chicken back in fridge until ready to grill.
- To make the glaze: Whisk together ketchup, apple juice, cider vinegar, jalapeño jam, maple syrup, honey, dark brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce has slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- To make the bacon rub: Mix together sugar, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne in a small bowl. Lay bacon out on a plate and sprinkle with rub on both side.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Lay bacon on cool side of the grill, cover, and cook until crisp, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove to a plate and break bacon strips in half.
- Place chicken over hot side of grill and cook until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is browned. Move chicken to cool side of grill and brush all over with barbecue glaze. Top each chicken breast with one slice of provolone cheese. Cover and continue to cook until cheese has melted and meat register 160°F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of breast, about 5 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Lightly butter cut sides of potato rolls. Place rolls over hot side of grill, cut side down, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute; transfer to a tray. Top each bun with a chicken breast, tomato, onion, lettuce, and bacon and serve immediately with remaining barbecue glaze.