BBQ Chicken never had it so good with this Alabama white sauce. Credited to Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ in Decatur, Alabama, back in 1925, this sauce is unlike anything you’ve tasted before and is sure to please a crowd. We halved our chickens and smoked them low and slow for juicy tenderness from breast to drumstick. Smoking poultry can be tricky, keep reading for all the juicy secrets!
This regional sauce’s characteristic flavor comes from the combination of apple cider vinegar, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and with horseradish—it really has some kick! Alabama white sauce pairs well with poultry, pork, potato salad, and coleslaw.
We brushed the white sauce on the chicken near the end of the cooking process so it has a chance to turn into a sticky glaze on the surface of the chicken. Brush with more white sauce after you pull it from your smoker, and serve with additional sauce.
3 Keys to Tender, Juicy BBQ Chicken
Here are 3 easy tips you can include to help make your next BBQ chicken foolproof!
1. Split Into Halves
Whole chickens are very uneven pieces of meat that do not cook very uniformly. Chicken halves are smaller and more uniform in size, cooking faster and more evenly than the chicken would if left whole.
2. Use A Higher Smoking Temperature
Traditionally, the low and slow cooking method of BBQ is used for tough cuts of meat that contain high amounts of connective tissue. Meats such as brisket and pork shoulder are usually cooked in a temperature range of about 225-250°F (107-121°C). But chicken breast meat is very lean and tender. With the extended cooking time, won’t it dry out?
We don’t want the breast meat to become dry and tough, and at the same time, the dark leg meat needs time to render its fat and connective tissue. A slightly higher cooking temperature of 275-300°F (135-149°F) is appropriate for these chicken halves. They will cook at an appropriate rate to avoid drying out while cooking.
BBQ expert Malcom Reed of HowToBBQRight.com gives a great recommendation for what temperature your chicken should be smoked at:
Bring the smoker to 275-300°F; this higher temperature will render the skin and create bite-through texture. —Malcom Reed, HowToBBQRight.com
Malcom brings up an important point that applies to both the white and dark meat areas of the chicken. Even though most of the meat is lean and tender, the skin is very fatty tissue. The fat in the skin needs to be fully rendered for the best results in the final texture and eating experience.
3. Spritz The Meat
Spritzing meat with liquid (we used apple juice) makes the exterior moist and tacky—perfect to allow the smoke to penetrate the meat. Also, spritzing the surface of the chicken periodically will keep it cool through evaporative cooling.
The liquid absorbs the thermal energy on chicken’s exterior, leaving the meat when the moisture evaporates. Keeping the surface of the chicken cool will help prevent having dry, overcooked white meat.
BBQ Chicken with Alabama White Sauce Recipe
Recipe from Master of the Grill, by America’s Test Kitchen
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 8 oz. apple juice
Split the Chicken:
- Remove the backbone of the chicken by cutting on either side of it with kitchen shears.
- Split the chicken in half by cutting down the breastbone with a sharp chef’s knife.
Make Dry Rub:
- Combine salt, pepper, and cayenne until thoroughly mixed.
- Pat chicken dry with paper towels and apply dry rub to all sides of the chicken.
Dry Brine the Chicken:
- Place the chicken onto a wire rack set over a rimmed metal baking sheet. Refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, overnight to dry brine.
Make the Sauce:
- Process all sauce ingredients in a blender until the sauce is smooth, about 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to 2 days.
Prepare Your Smoker:
- Heat your smoker to maintain a temperature of about 275-300°F (135-149°F).
- Secure an air probe to your cooker’s grill grate with a grate clip.
- Set the alarm temperatures to track your smoker’s temperature on your ThermaQ.
- High alarm: 305°F (152°C)
- Low alarm: 270°F (132°C)
- Add wood chips of your choice, close the lid, and allow smoke to develop (about 20 minutes).
- Barbecue expert Steven Raichlen recommends using hickory or pecan wood for this project.
- Place your ThermaQ’s Smokehouse Penetration Probe (included in the ThermaQ Kit) into the deepest part of one of the chicken breasts, avoiding bone.
- Set the chicken halves in the smoker and close the lid.
- Set the alarm temperature to track the chicken’s temperature on your ThermaQ. We recommend a pull temperature of 157°F (69°C).
- High alarm: 157°F (69°C)
Cook the Chicken:
- Close the lid and set a TimeStick® for 30 minutes. Spritz the chicken with apple juice every 15-30 minutes while it cooks.
- The chicken halves will take about 1-1/2 to 2 hours to cook.
- Toward the end of the cook, baste the chicken with about 1 Tbsp. of the white sauce per chicken half.
- Once your ThermaQ‘s meat alarm sounds, spot-check the chicken halves in multiple areas with a Thermapen Mk4 to verify that 157°F (69°C) is the lowest temperature in the meat.
- If a lower temperature is found, replace the chicken’s probe to read the lowest temperature and continue cooking until it reaches 157°F (69°C).
- Remove the chicken from the grill once a lowest internal temperature of 157°F (69°C) is verified with a Thermapen. Brush again with the white sauce, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 5-10 minutes.
- During the rest the heat on the exterior of the chicken will continue traveling toward its thermal center, increasing the chicken’s internal temperature. This carryover cooking will yield a safe final doneness temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Serve the chicken with additional sauce. Enjoy!
Splitting the chicken into halves, the higher smoking temperature, and spritzing all work together making this BBQ chicken flavorful, rich, and incredibly tender and juicy. This smoky and spicy project will be a perfectly delicious addition to your Fourth of July backyard BBQ.