Toasting spices unleashes flavor in grilled chicken

“Outdoor grilling reminds us of hunters cooking over open flames,” said Dr. Sarah Birkhold, poultry specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension, “and chicken brings variety and versatility to outdoor cooking.” To add a robust, rugged flavor to poultry, she suggested, use spice rubs. A rub is a mixture of dry spices that is applied to raw meat, and spice mixtures can be designed to provide new flavors to familiar meats, she said. “Some spices such as chili powder, cayenne pepper and cumin take on even more vibrant flavor when toasted,” she said. To toast these spices, heat a dry pan over medium high heat until it is very hot. Add spices and toast for two to three minutes. Toss the spices occasionally during toasting. “Store toasted spices in a dry container (empty spice bottle) for later use. Apply a generous portion of the spice rub to the raw boneless breast fillets, whole chickens or Cornish game hens, and let the meat to stand for 30 minutes before cooking,” Birkhold said. Boneless breast fillets can be cooked over direct heat, she said, and larger pieces such as whole birds should be cooked using indirect heat. “Prepare the bed of coals according to the manufacturer’s recommendation for direct or indirect cooking. The fire will add its own touch of flavor,” she said. Additional flavor can be created through smoke. Popular woods include hickory, pecan and oak. Grilling with soaked wood chips directly over coals or using indirect smoke from a fire box in the end of a pit will greatly enhance these flavors. Wood chips or chunks can be bought at many stores. Use as directed by the manufacturer. Cook meat on the grill to the desired doneness; all poultry should be cooked thoroughly, she said. Dark meat should reach 180-185 F, and white meats must be cooked to 165-170 F. Use a meat thermometer placed at the thickest portion of the meat to tell when food is completely cooked. When sliced, all juices should run clear. “Classical pairing of hot spices with a sweet sauce provides interest to the meal and accolades for the grill master,” Birkhold said. A simple sauce can be prepared by combining one-quarter cup orange juice and one-half cup apricot jelly in a sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until the jelly melts. Drizzle a small amount over chicken just before serving. Pass this sauce with cooked chicken. Serve with borracho beans (seasoned whole pinto beans) and a cool citrus salad. Additional recipes can be found at the National Chicken Council’s Web site:

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