Is this barbecue heaven? It’s certainly somewhere close.
This grilling recipe is inspired by the passing of winter, the anticipation of warmer spring weather ahead, and two of my favorite historical icons, Bob Gibson – and Bob Gibson.
One Bob was a physically imposing, statistical strike-out legend and World Series Champion for the St. Louis Cardinals. Towering far above his opponents, he unmercifully hurled 100-mph fastballs toward and past those brave enough to stand in the batter’s box against him. Bob Gibson led a 17-year career culminating with an induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, and he is forever recognized as one of the most successful baseball players to button up a uniform.
The other Bob Gibson is the 6’4”, 300-pound creator of the original “white barbecue sauce.” As the undisputed grandfather of outdoor cooking in North Alabama, he established a culinary institution that continues to lead the way nearly 90 years after inception. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is still the pride of Decatur today, continuing tradition not only in its fourth-generation restaurant, but also on the National Barbecue Circuit, having been crowned “Grand Champion” four times in the last 15 years!
With the first pitch upon us and tailgate season officially commencing, this post marries my love of both barbecue and baseball. Slowly bathed in a marinade of golden Northern Michigan craft beer, these smoky, peppercorn-encrusted chicken thighs are then barbecued with the essence of charcoal and hardwood until they’ve reached succulent, pull-from-the-bone, tender perfection. Tossed with thick meaty cuts of chopped bacon and lightly drizzled in a creamy white barbecue sauce, more than a quarter pound of roughly shredded chicken is loaded over a bed of tangy homemade coleslaw and topped with crisp pickled cucumbers and sandwiched inside buttery, toasted artisan slider rolls. With sides of white brie-and-asparagus macaroni and cheese, a hearty bowl of baked beans and an ice-cold six-pack of brew, I’m officially ready for the opening season game. Play ball!
- 1 bottle IPA beer, under 70 IBUs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4-6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt and ground black peppercorn, or to taste
- 1/2 cup ground black peppercorn
- 1 ½ tablespoons Kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard
- 1 cup apple juice
- ½ cup IPA beer (drink remaining beer)
- 1 cup all-natural mayonnaise
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup white distilled vinegar
- 1 tablespoon horseradish
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard
- Kosher salt and fresh ground peppercorn and cayenne pepper, to taste
- 3-5 pounds boneless chicken thighs, trimmed
- Northern Michigan IPA Beer Marinade, recipe above
- Peppercorn and Herb Dry Rub, recipe above
- 12-16 ounces thick center-cut bacon strips
- 1 Char-Broil Applewood Smoker Pack
- Chicken Thigh Apple-Beer Spray, recipe above
- Blanco Barbecue Sauce, recipe above
- Coleslaw and pickle to garnish
- 1 dozen slider rolls, lightly buttered and toasted
- Pour all ingredients into a pot and whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Over medium heat with the pot lid on, bring to a gentle boil for 5-7 minutes, or until sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool entirely.
- Place the chicken a large re-sealable, air-tight plastic bag.
- Pour in the marinade, ensuring the meat is entirely covered. Refrigerate for 8 hours or up to overnight.
- In a food processor, pulse together all ingredients. Set aside.
- Combine liquids in a spray bottle. Set aside.
- Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.
- Set aside. (For thicker sauce, add 1 teaspoon mayonnaise. For thinner sauce, add 1 teaspoon water.)
- Evening before grilling: prepare beer marinade and submerge chicken.
- Refrigerate for 8 hours, up to overnight, per instructions above.
- Remove chicken from refrigerator two hours before grilling.
- Roll in a bed of Peppercorn and Herb Dry Rub, then cover with plastic wrap and rest at room temperature.
- Prepare Blanco Barbecue Sauce and Chicken Thigh Apple-Beer Spray.
- Roast bacon over rimmed baking sheet in 400-degree F pre-heated oven until crisp.
- Remove bacon from oven, place on paper towel-lined plate to cool.
- Roughly chop bacon and set aside.
- Preheat grill to 300 degrees F using the 2-zone grilling method (see notes section below) and apply a woodchip smoker packet over the hottest direct-heat grill grates. Once grill is to temperature, place chicken thighs over indirect cooler grates. Rotate chicken and spray intermittently to keep exterior moist. When the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F, turn all burners to max heat and begin to brush on layers of the Blanco Barbecue Sauce until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove from grill and tent loosely with tin foil for 10-15 minutes. Using two forks, shred the meat. Toss with Blanco Barbecue Sauce. To plate, place between two toasted buns, over coleslaw and sliced pickles. Serve alongside a cold brewski, baked beans and homemade macaroni and cheese. Cheers!
Two-Zone Cooking Method: Heat only one side of the grill, creating one hot direct heat zone and one cooler indirect heat zone. This technique is imperative to the cooking process.
1-burner grill – Turn the grill to high, then use the warming shelf lined with tin foil, removing the meat from direct contact with the grill grates.
2-burner grill – Turn right side of the grill to high and leave the left side off.
3-burner grill – Turn far right side of the grill to high, the middle to low-medium and the left side off.
4-burner grill – Turn far right side of grill to high, middle right to medium, middle left to low, and leave the far left zone off.
2-Zone Grilling Surface on Charcoal:
Ignite the charcoal in a chimney starter. When coals are glowing red, dump coals onto the grill floor. Rake coals, pushing ⅔ to one side of the grill, slanting the remaining coals to the opposite side of the grill, establishing one high-piled hot zone and one cooler zone. For every hour of cooking, add a half-stack of coals.