A little smoke flavor can make an old shoe taste good.
Smoke does wonders for beef, pork, chicken and seafood. In fact, a little smoke can make ordinary chicken into extraordinary chicken.
As I’ve written in previous columns, there’s a difference between grilling and smoking/barbecuing meats. Most of the fast-food chains that advertise a grilled-chicken sandwich are a little stingy with the charred flavor. If you want really great grilled chicken, I recommend the wood-grilled chicken at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Savannah. It’s so full of charred flavor, it almost makes you want to shout. Don’t do it, though. You’ll scare the other customers.
When I grill chicken, I marinate boneless chicken breasts for several hours in a zesty Italian dressing. Once they’re on the grill, I add some Lowry’s seasoning salt and lemon pepper. It may not be as good as Carrabba’s, but it’s good enough to save me a trip to Savannah.
With the exception of a little olive-oil rub, Lowry’s is the only seasoning I put on my split chicken breasts, legs, thighs and wings when I barbecue (not grill). I generously season each piece of chicken, and then place them on the upper grill, well above the reach of the flames from the still-glowing charcoal. While the coals are hot, I’ll grill hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks or pork chops, occasionally closing the lid on my smoker/grill for just a few minutes at a time. Doing this chokes out any flames and adds extra smoky flavor to all the meats.
After the other meats are done, I’ll place the chicken directly on the main grill just long enough to get those distinct char marks and a little char flavor. Then, I’ll put the chicken back on the upper grill, close the cover and let it smoke for about an hour at 225 degrees. After an hour, I’ll put the chicken back on the main grill, this time adding my favorite barbecue sauce. I prefer a Vidalia-onion sauce I get from Glennville or a special red barbecue sauce from Hungry Hillbilly’s Grill & BBQ in Jesup.
After grilling the chicken for 5-10 minutes on each side, my smoked chicken is ready. I confess it’s not as good as Hillbilly’s, but then I’ve never found anyone who can smoke so much flavor into a piece of chicken and still keep it that tender and juicy. Their chicken has a smoky succulence that can’t be beat.
I’d heard about Hillbilly’s about a year ago but had been reluctant to try it. Someone had told me about a new joint in Jesup, saying it was the “best barbecue in town.” I’ve heard that before and been sorely disappointed. Over the next several months, several more people suggested I try Hillbilly’s. Finally, my wife and I decided to give it a try. The only disappointment we came away with was the year we had wasted since first hearing about their chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket. They do sausage, burgers and steaks, too.
Hillbilly’s is not located in downtown Jesup but off highways 25 and 301, about a half-mile before the they separate. If you’re coming from Hinesville, turn left off Highway 84 to 25/301, then left again at Bethlehem Road. Turn left one more time at Northview Drive. Then roll your window down — you’ll smell the smoke.
If there’s a drawback to Hillbilly’s, it’s that they don’t take debit or credit cards, only cash or check. That’s OK, though, because their prices are extremely reasonable. Oh, they’re also only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
For years, I thought the best barbecue/smoked chicken I’d ever had was at Wilbur’s BBQ in Goldsboro, N.C. I still love that place, if only because their chicken has a spicy white sauce I’ve found nowhere else on Earth. Wilbur’s also has the best Eastern North Carolina chopped pork barbecue in the world, so I’ll remain a loyal Wilbur’s customer for the rest of my life.
Ditto for Hillbilly’s.