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Ingredients

  • Invented in the 1940s by Robert Baker, a Cornell University professor, this tangy, crisp-skinned grilled chicken has been a star attraction at the New York State Fair ever since. The recipe and method remain unchanged at the fair—half chickens are basted with a tangy sauce while they cook over a custom-made grill that elevates the birds exactly 26 inches about the coals—but we wanted to adapt the chicken for the backyard grill. Here’s what we discovered: shopping list
  • Test Kitchen Discoveries shopping list
  • Grilling two split chickens over gentle direct heat works best here. To crisp the skin without burning it, start the chicken skin-side up to render the fat slowly, then flip the chicken skin-side down to brown it to a crisp. shopping list
  • The traditional sauce recipe calls for vinegar, oil, poultry seasoning, and an egg, which is supposed to thicken the sauce. Because the eggs weren’t adding desirable flavor, however, and we had to use too many to achieve any thickening power, we eliminated egg from the sauce altogether. Instead, Dijon mustard contributed flavor and thickened the sauce perfectly. shopping list
  • We also replaced the poultry seasoning (which tasted a little dusty) in the sauce with fresh rosemary and sage. shopping list
  • The thicker sauce makes for easier basting—instead of continual basting, the sauce is applied three times during cooking. Less basting also means crispier skin. shopping list
  • Soaking the raw chicken in a saltwater brine helps season the meat, and adding vinegar to the brine brings the tangy pucker all the way down to the bone. shopping list
  • For even more flavor, rub poultry seasoning, along with salt and pepper, into the skin of the meat before grilling. shopping list

How to make it

  • Do not brine the chicken longer than 2 hours or the vinegar will make the meat mushy. Baste the chicken carefully in step 4, as any excess will drip onto the fire and flare up.
  • Chicken
  • 2 quarts water
  • 3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 (3 1/2-to 4-pound) whole chickens , halved (see tip)
  • Seasoning and Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground poultry seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1. For the chicken: Whisk water, vinegar, and salt in large bowl until salt dissolves. Add chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 1 to 2 hours.
  • 2. For the seasoning and sauce: Combine poultry seasoning, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper in small bowl; set aside. Process vinegar, mustard, sage, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in blender until smooth, about 1 minute. With blender running, slowly add oil until incorporated. Transfer vinegar sauce to small bowl and reserve for basting chicken in step 4.
  • 3. Heat all burners on high for 15 minutes, then turn all burners to medium-low. (For charcoal grill, light 75 coals; when covered with fine gray ash, spread evenly over bottom of grill. Set cooking grate in place and heat covered, with lid vents open completely, for 5 minutes.) Scrape and oil cooking grate.
  • 4. Remove chicken from brine. Pat dry with paper towels and rub all over with poultry seasoning mixture. Arrange chicken skin-side up on grill and baste with vinegar sauce. Grill, covered, until chicken is well browned on bottom and meat registers 120 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes, basting with sauce halfway through cooking. Flip chicken skin-side down and baste with sauce. Continue to grill, covered, until skin is golden brown and crisp and thigh meat registers 170 to 175 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to platter (do not cover) and let rest 5 minutes. Serve.
  • Make Ahead: Both the spice rub and the sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. The chicken can be brined, patted dry, and rubbed with the seasoning mixture up to 8 hours ahead.

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