Try this Cornell chicken and you’ll agree it may be the best barbecue chicken you’ve ever tasted.
Cornell Chicken Recipe
Anyone reading this post and who has followed Platter Talk knows that my love of all things tasty started in my early childhood. The foothill region of upstate New York state’s Adirondack mountains is known for its harsh snowy winters, its soft hilly landscapes, outdoor recreations of all kinds, and like any area, unique foods not found anywhere else.
I grew up calling this Barbecue Chicken
This Cornell chicken recipe is what I grew up believing to be a family recipe for grilled chicken that was first concocted by my Grandpa Zehr. Of course no one referred to it as grilled chicken back then, nor do they today. In northern New York state it’s called barbecued chicken and through the years it gradually dawned on me that it wasn’t my Grandpa Zehr who put this recipe together.
Cornell Chicken Recipe. The unofficial food of the New York State Fair.
The recipe is instead credited to Dr. Robert Baker, who back in 1946 was a professor from Cornell University located in Ithaca, NY. You can read about the creator of Cornell Chicken here. Some people call this barbecue chicken recipe “The most famous State Fair food you’ve probably never heard of.”
In the mid-west, specifically Wisconsin, there are “brat fries” every single Saturday, somewhere throughout the state – winter, spring, summer and fall. In northern New York state, chicken barbecues are almost as common. It is made for benefit events, at community auctions, at church functions, family reunions, the New York Sate Fair, and in and around just about any life event that can be accompanied with food.
I was nothing less than shocked when I discovered just a few years ago by googling Cornell Chicken, there were multiple web pages referencing this home delicacy. For me it was as if my Grandfather who would be well over 100 years old today, had suddenly aligned himself with Google.
Mystifying yet real. It’s not unusual for my brother-in-law, who now lives in Sarasota, Florida, to put 40 lbs. of juicy, plump chicken over a hot bed of coals, encased with cinder blocks. Often times the chicken is grilled in halves, providing a serving size for the most serious of eaters.
How to Make Cornell Chicken on the Grill
I try to put this Cornell chicken recipe together once or twice a year. On this past Memorial Day weekend I made the commitment to prepare it over coals, in lieu of a gas grill. A day before I made it, I called my brother Don, some 1,200 miles away to gain some input from him on the technique. He offered no direct advise but just some cautionary words about wind, about the importance of not covering the grill while the chicken grilled, and the advantage of being able to adjust the height of the rack depending on the heat of the coals.
- Your coals have to be white hot
- The oil in the marinade will fuel the fire. Have a glass of water to quell the flames when necessary.
- The chicken skin may look burned, that’s OK! Just don’t let the fire get away on you.
- You can’t leave the grill unattended when making Cornell chicken, it’s a very hands-on process.
- You can even bake this in the oven (in the event of rain or earthquakes or snow flurries, etc)
Realizing he couldn’t give me any more specific hints on a successful outcome since he was in Florida and I was in Wisconsin, I was happy for at least having an excuse to chew the fat with him over the phone and to have the chance to say hi. We never get together enough anymore.
To Marinate the Chicken (or Not!)
When I was a boy, we never marinated the chicken. Instead, my mom or dad would constantly baste the meat as it barbecued over the hot coals. This method can build a savory crust which you have to taste to fully appreciate!
If marinating, it’s best to soak the chicken a minimum of 2 hours but up to 24 is even better. I have actually marinated the chicken for 2 days before grilling it and it turned out beautiful and delicious.
Teaching the Next Generation How to Barbecue Chicken
Back to where I started with this post, and back to where I started this life, I grew up eating this chicken and my family has continued to make it for many decades now. I couldn’t help feel some pride as I watched my 16 year old son tend the grill over Memorial Day weekend, realizing he was the fourth generation of my family to make this down-home-food, a recipe standard that is now a part of my roots.
Two other families joined us for the “barbecue” and this Cornell chicken recipe was a hit with everyone. The taste was as I remembered growing up, and I loved having the chance to tell my boys a little about the recipe and how it was a part of their heritage that someday they would be making for their kids. Good outdoor weather is here now, and I realized that we have to plan a chicken barbecue again, very soon.
Watch the Platter Talk Guys making this Cornell Chicken Recipe, on Living with Amy!
More of our Recipes for the Grill
- Jerked Beef
- Flank Streak Pinwheels
- Alton Brown’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin
- Grilled Steak Tacos
- Grilled Eggplant Involtini
Cornell Chicken Barbecue
This Barbecue Chicken recipe may just be the best chicken on the grill that you've ever tasted.
- 2 chickens halved or cut up
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground peppercorn
- In a large bowl, combine oil and vinegar, add egg and beat thoroughly until will mixed. Add remaining dry ingredients and stir well.
- The chicken can be marinated from 2 hours to overnight, or it can be basted with a brush, while on the grill. To marinate, place chicken in bowl, and pour sauce over it and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to grill.
- Prepare charcoal in grill and heat till coals are starting to turn white, then evenly distribute coals throughout base of grill. Place oiled rack on grill. Place chicken on grill and barbecue on each side 20 to 30 minutes, depending on heat of coals. Turn frequently to avoid burning. Grill until juices run clear when cut with tip of knife, or internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- Adjust sauce/marinade quantity to amount of chicken you are grilling, maintain a 2:1 ratio of cider vinegar to oil. Similarly, adjust salt and other seasonings to quantity and taste.
- If marinating, place chicken in gallon size zip-lock bags. Place sealed bags in large bowl or basin in refrigerate. Rotate the bag periodically to ensure even distribution of marinade.
- The chicken will require constant attention while grilling due to the oil dripping on the coals. Have a glass of water available while grilling to squelch flames from hot coals.
- If chicken is cut up into breasts, thighs, wings, and legs, start off by grilling the breasts and thighs as they will take longer than the smaller pieces.
Avoid closing lid on grill if possible to avoid smokey flavor. If you have to close lid, be sure to open vents on lid.
- You can make this on a gas grill as well. Preheat grill to medium high setting and tend to chicken as outlined above.
- Nothing goes better with this chicken than a green salad and baked beans!
The original recipe for Cornell Chicken on Platter Talk was published on May 31, 2013