Weekend Project: Chicken Barbecue in a Loaf Pan

I know what you’re thinking, cooking a chicken in a loaf pan sounds like a half-baked idea, particularly on the grill. How is the bird going to cook thoroughly while scrunched in a pan intended for bread, after all? It may seem counter intuitive, but the walls of the pan actually work as a protective cushion, a moist oasis (think clay pot) that keeps the bird from drying out.

(Kim O'Donnel)

Crazy? Maybe. But this method, courtesy of Alabama barbecue master Chris Lilly, works like a champ. If you know anything about barbecue, you know there’s usually a wet “mop” and a dry rub of seasonings applied to your intended protein. In this case, the “mop” comes first, a sweet-tangy mix of applesauce and Worcestershire sauce, which is lathered all over the bird, inside and out. Then comes a savory melange of spices that permeates the meat during its low, slow stint on the grill. And then here comes the weird part -- place the bird in the loaf pan, breast side up -- and prepare the grill for some barbecue.

For the next 2 ½ hours or so, your main job is to keep the grill company and make sure the temperature under the cover stays constant at 300 degrees. Seriously. There's no other fiddlin' or fussin' to do. How to tell when the bird is done? Says Lilly in his new book, “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Cook”:

The easiest way to tell if your chicken is perfect is a simple twist test. Twist a chicken leg with your fingers. If it doesn't budge, it isn't done. If it spins like a roulette wheel in Las Vegas, it has cooked too long. Ideally you want to feel slight tension and then a release of the joint.

Just think, you'll have all kinds of time to dream up a side, a salad or reflect on the week gone by. Barbecue has a way of letting us catch up with our lives.

Loaf-Pan Chicken
Adapted from “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Cook” by Chris Lilly

¾ cup applesauce
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 whole chicken, approximately 3 ½ pounds

Dry Rub

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons paprika (KOD: I substituted smoked paprika)
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons garlic salt
¾ teaspoon celery salt
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander

Equipment: 9x5x3-inch metal or cast-iron loaf pan; instant-read thermometer
Suggested wood: Hickory, apple or apricot
Cooking time: 2 ½ hours, longer for slightly larger bird

Build a fire (wood or a combination or charcoal and wood) for indirect cooking by placing coals on one side of the grill, leaving the other side unheated.

In a small bowl, stir together the applesauce and Worcestershire. Place chicken upright in loaf pan and lather mixture on top, making sure entire bird is coated inside and out. Allow excess to accumulate into the pan.

In another small bowl, combine dry rub ingredients and stir to combine. Apply all over chicken, inside and out. Chicken should be breast side up in the pan.

When grill temperature reaches 300 degrees, place loaf pan (KOD: I wrapped bottom of pan with a layer of aluminum foil) on the side of the grill away from the coals. Cover grill and cook, periodically checking that grill temperature stays consistent (KOD: We keep a thermometer in one of the top dampers. If temperature falls well below 300 and you haven’t opened the grill for 20 minutes or so, you may need to add coals.) Chicken is done when instant read thermometer reads about 165-170 degrees in the thigh.

Remove pan from heat and with tongs, transfer chicken to a cutting board, allowing it to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 30, 2009; 7:15 AM ET Backyard Cooking , Chicken/Poultry
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Great new way to 'roast' chicken! But do you think this will also work in the oven? Also, instead of using a metal pan, do you think a pyrex loaf pan will work also? Thanks!

Posted by: msmurtle | May 29, 2009 9:20 AM

Any ideas for just plain roasting a bird on the grill, sans pan? The chickens from our CSA-farm are easily 7 lbs., each. Not gonna come close to fitting into a loaf pan... unless spatchcocked and split in half? Waddaya think?

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | May 29, 2009 10:19 AM

Centre, I do think you could spatchcock the bird and put each half in a loaf pan. Was thinking about this for my 3.5 pound bird, larger than what's called for in recipe. Also have you ever tried a beer can chicken? I've not done it myself (been meaning to do so), but basically you stand it upright, place beer can inside cavity, create some air vents. Steven Raichlen popularized it a handful of years back. Should you decide to do your bird without the pan, I think I wanna get you another "mop" -- this one is too wet for direct contact w/ grill.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 29, 2009 10:43 AM

Msmurtle, I do think it'd work in the oven, but you'll be missing out on the flavor of the wood. Do you have a gas grill?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 29, 2009 10:45 AM

Beer can chicken is one of our favorites! You want a chicken about 4 lbs. (Bigger and you'd need to use a can of Fosters!)
Open the beer can and pour out about 1/4 cup. Punch two more holes in the top with a churchkey. Warm up the grill on one side and place the chicken, impaled on the can, on the other. The can and legs form a tripod to keep it standing. Cook 45 minutes, then turn for another 45. Check for 170 degrees in the thigh and you're done. I think my grill ranged around 400, more or less. That's it.
The hardest part is removing the chicken from the hot can of beer. You can use two sets of tongs to hold the can and lift the chicken off, or use lots of wadded up paper towels. Be very careful of the hot beer--my husband burned his hand the first time we made this.
It's the most moist-inside-crisp-outside chicken you can find. And, no, it doesn't taste like beer. Even my picky kids like this.

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | May 29, 2009 11:49 AM

The birds I buy tend to be a bit too big for a loaf pan. Trying out beercan chicken sounds like a lot of fun. One for the bird, five for the cook!

We're firing up the grill today. Some of our friends are vegetarians, so I'm going to give a go at the black bean burgers again. I've got a pan for using on a grill, so I'm going to try to cook them actually on the grill. Also making fajitas. We've got some tempeh in the refrigerator, so I'm hoping that tempeh fajitas will be tasty.


Note to moderator: nowgoal is spamming the forums again. Sigh...

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 30, 2009 10:37 AM

For the larger birds, try a larger pan such as the disposable tin foil ones. Or build up the sides of a nondisposable pan with tin foil.

Beer butt chix has been popularized numerous times. For a few years is was popular on the now-defunct Gail's Recipe Swap (of blessed memory). Different sized birds requires different sized cans of beer. We envisoned a Swap Luck with all different size birds, from a squab on a mini to an ostrich would require a keg.

Posted by: fitday19550 | May 31, 2009 10:12 AM

I love beer can chicken. So easy and tasty. You don't have to use beer -- you can use OJ, even water. I always put a rub on the chix. A 7 pounder would overwhelm our little Weber though -- it would be too tall. You'd also have to cook longer than the 45-55 minutes most smaller chickens take.

For a 7-pounder, I would spatchcock and maybe even quarter. Also, I ALWAYS brine chickens for the grill.

This pan recipe sounds intriguing and the rub looks great. Thanks for sharing Kim.

Posted by: khachiya1 | June 1, 2009 12:03 PM

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