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Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Originally posted: 07/10/2006
Last updated: 09/24/2014

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Whole chicken legs smoked and ready for pulling
Whole chicken legs smoked and ready for pulling
Pulled chicken sandwich with coleslaw and pickles
Pulled chicken sandwich with coleslaw and pickles

Here's another easy chicken recipe for the new Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker owner. No fancy rub used here—just salt and pepper to season the meat and a favorite barbecue sauce mixed in afterwards. You don't even have to pay attention to the cooker's temperature!

This pulled chicken is adapted for the WSM from a recipe featured on the PBS Television series America's Test Kitchen.

Click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.

What You'll Need For This Recipe

Important: This recipe may not work if you do not use Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes and a Weber Chimney Starter for measuring the amount of charcoal used.

Choose The Smoke Wood

Each smoke wood chunk should be small, for example 3" x 2" x 2" or similar.

Use three chunks of oak, apple, cherry, or other mild fruit wood. As an alternative, you can use two chunks of any of these and one chunk of hickory.

If fruit wood is not available, use only two chunks of hickory, but be aware that some people find it overpowering when used alone.

Do not use mesquite for this recipe.

There is no need to soak the wood or remove the bark before use.

Learn More Later: All About Smoke Woods

Prepare The Chicken

Chicken leg quarters, aka whole chicken legs
Photo 1
Popping the thigh bone from the backbone
Photo 2
Placing the knife into the joint between thigh bone and backbone
Photo 3
Backbone removed
Photo 4

Depending on the region where you live, this cut of chicken is called "whole chicken legs" or "leg quarters". It consists of the drumstick and thigh with a portion of the backbone attached. Some grocery stores sell "chicken legs" with the backbone portion already removed; buy this if you don't want to fuss with the trimming described below and don't mind paying a bit more.

The price of whole chicken legs varies greatly depending on where and how you buy it. Here are some prices I found near my home:

  • 39˘/pound: 10 pound bag, frozen generic brand, at Wal-Mart
  • 99¢/pound: 6 pound Styrofoam tray, fresh regional brand, at Costco
  • $1.49/pound: Purchased by the pound, fresh local brand, at a high-end grocery store

Once you've got 6-8 pounds of whole chicken legs, remove the backbone from each piece as follows:

  • Grasp the chicken thigh in one hand, meat-side facing up.
  • Grasp the backbone with your other hand and bend it backwards until the end of the thigh bone pops out (circled in Photo 2, click for a larger image). This exposes the joint between the thigh and the backbone.
  • Place the knife blade in the joint at the end of the thigh bone, parallel to the backbone. Tip the blade slightly toward the thigh bone (diagrammed in Photo 3, click for a larger image).
  • Cut through to remove the backbone (Photo 4).
  • Trim any large pockets of fat.
  • Leave the skin on the chicken. Although it will be removed later, it helps keep the meat moist during cooking.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Sprinkle a moderate amount of salt and black pepper on both sides of the chicken pieces.

Learn More Later: Chicken Selection & Preparation

Fire The Cooker

Newspaper donut
Photo 5
Two newspaper donuts inside chimney starter
Photo 6
Lighting the chimney starter
Photo 7
Flames licking at coals at top of chimney
Photo 8
Hot coals spread in charcoal chamber
Photo 9
Charcoal ready to cook and smoke wood added
Photo 10

Light a full Weber chimney starter of Kingsford charcoal briquettes:

  • Loosely roll a double-wide sheet of newspaper on the diagonal from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. Bring the ends together to form a circle that fits inside the bottom of the chimney (Photo 5). Repeat with a second sheet of newspaper.
  • Put the rolled newspaper in the bottom of the chimney (Photo 6).
  • Place the chimney on the charcoal grate and fill to the top with briquettes. Light the newspaper in several locations with a long match or a butane lighter (Photo 7). Two sheets of newspaper is usually sufficient to get things started under normal conditions. If not, repeat the process with additional sheets of newspaper.
  • It will take 15-20 minutes for the coals to light. You'll know they're ready when flames are licking at the briquettes at the top of the chimney and they're just starting to turn gray (Photo 8).

Spread the hot coals evenly over the charcoal grate (Photo 9).

Place the smoke wood chunks on top of the coals (Photo 10).

Now assemble the cooker:

  • Put the empty water pan in the middle cooking section.
  • Insert the middle cooking section into the charcoal bowl.
  • Put the top cooking grate in place.

You're now ready to cook!

Learn More Later: Firing Up Your Weber Bullet and How To Use A Chimney Starter

Barbecue The Chicken

Chicken goes into the cooker
Photo 11
Chicken after cooking
Photo 12

Arrange the chicken skin-side up on the grate and put the lid in place.

Set the lid vent and the three bottom vents 100% open and leave them that way throughout the entire cooking process.

Cook the chicken for 60 minutes. No peeking allowed!

After 60 minutes, check the internal meat temperature using an instant-read thermometer. Continue cooking until the thighs register about 180°F.

This internal temperature is a bit higher than if you were cooking a whole chicken. Since there's no white meat to dry out here and you'll be adding sauce after cooking, 180°F works just fine in this recipe.

Pull The Chicken

Pulled chicken separated into large and small pieces
Photo 13
Large pieces hand-shredded (left), small pieces pulsed in food processor (right)
Photo 14

Remove the chicken from the cooker and let cool for 15 minutes or until you can handle it comfortably.

While the meat cools, pour your favorite barbecue sauce into a sauce pan—1/4 cup (2 ounces) of sauce for each pound of chicken (pre-cooked weight). Warm the sauce gently on the stovetop.

Prepare the pulled chicken as follows:

  • Remove the skin and discard.
  • Using your fingers, pull the meat off the bones. Put the large pieces in one pile and the small pieces in another pile (Photo 13). Any dry but edible bits can go into the small pile. Discard the fat, gristle, tendons, and bones.
  • Using your fingers, pull the large pieces into long shreds (Photo 14, left pan).
  • Optional Step: Place the small pieces in a food processor and chop coarsely, about 3 one-second pulses, stirring with a spatula between each pulse. This produces a coarse texture that blends nicely with the long shredded pieces and holds the sauce better (Photo 14, right pan).
  • Combine all the meat into a separate large sauce pan.
  • Add warm sauce to the meat 1/4 cup at a time, stirring between each addition. You want to add quite a bit of sauce to the meat, but not so much that it becomes soupy. Just keep adding 1/4 cup at a time until you like what you see. Reserve any remaining sauce.
  • Heat the sauced meat over medium heat until it's warmed through. If you added too much sauce, just heat uncovered to reduce the sauce to your preferred consistency.

Build The Sandwich

Pulled chicken sandwich with cole slaw and pickles
Photo 15
Close-up view of pulled chicken texture
Photo 16

Toast some nice, soft hamburger buns, put 4-5 ounces of pulled chicken on each sandwich, drizzle with some warm leftover sauce, if desired, and serve with coleslaw and pickles on the side.

Photo 16 shows the nice texture you get from the hand-pulled large pieces and the coarse mixture from the food processor.

More Chicken Links On TVWB

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