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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shenandoah Valley Barbecued Chicken

Virginia's Shenandoah Valley Barbecued Chicken

The late Dave Shirkey is the Shenandoah Valley's most famous barbecue chicken cook. He cooked barbecued chicken for around 60 years before his death. He got his start cooking barbecue chicken doing fund raisers for his Sunday school class. Since then, his recipe is legendary in and around Dayton, Virginia.

Shirkey cooked his chicken over a long open pit.  He would fire up the pit, put the chicken on the grates about two feet above the coals and begin basting it with his famous chicken mop. He would turn the chicken about every half hour and baste after each turn. He knew the chicken was done when he could "twist a leg." Once finished cooking, the chicken was dipped in the mop and wrapped in foil to rest in a cooler. It's best after about an hour staying warm in the cooler bathed in the mop.

I don't have a pit that can raise meat two feet above the coals, so for my version I used my weber kettle setup for indirect cooking. I added a couple of chunks of hickory for smoke. I mixed up the mop in a repurposed ketchup bottle. Before putting the chicken on the grill, I just gave the bottle a good shake and poured a little of the mop over it. After putting the chicken on the grill with a good basting of the sauce on both sides, I flipped the bird every half hour and basted again each time I flipped it.

The Finished Product. That reddish color indicates that
the meat has been properly barbecued. It is not raw.
Here is the mop recipe -

1/2 cup peanut oil
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp MSG is optional in Shirkey's recipe ( I don't use it,)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (my addition)

When the chicken was done after about 2 hours it reached an internal temperature of 170 F in the breast and about 180 F in the thigh (I could twist the leg but also used my trusty thermapen to be sure), I poured a little mop on it and wrapped in foil for 10 minutes. For best results, put chicken in foil, add some mop, wrap tightly and store in a cooler to keep it hot while it rests (or wrap in a blanket) for 45 minutes to an hour before serving.

The chicken will be juicy and tasty with a little tang from the vinegar and hint of smoke from the hickory.


1.) The USDA tells us that minimum safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 F. I like to cook the meat until the internal temperature is a little higher just to be safe. That being said, barbecued chicken often takes on a pinkish color. Don't be alarmed. That's normal as long as the meat has reached at least 170 degrees F internal temperature.
2.) The 4 tablespoons of salt may sound like a lot of salt, but actually it's perfect. Remember, this is a mop to be used while cooking not a sauce that is served on the side. To ensure best results, use kosher salt. If using table salt, reduce amount to 3 tablespoons.
3.) Beware of cross contamination! If you are planning on using some of the mop to put on the chicken after it is finished cooking, make sure you reserve some for that purpose. You don't raw chicken juices that will be transferred into the mop from the brush or other utensil you use to apply the mop to the meat with on your perfectly cooked chicken.
4.) If you are not cooking whole half chickens, you may want to increase the heat and possibly even grill the meat especially if you are cooking chicken breasts. Smaller cuts of chicken will dry out at low and slow temperatures that take a long time to cook the chicken.
5.) Mopping (basting) barbecue while it is cooking can be a messy job. You may want to place disposable aluminum pans under the chicken to protect your cooker from the excess mop that will fall through the grill grates.