Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

April in Minnesota: Hickory Smoked BBQ Chicken Thighs

The winds howl like Joshua’s trumpets, and the snows they fall almost, but not quite, horizontal, riding a northern gale. Four inches have accumulated out at the pitIMG_21581 today, and a couple more are on the way they say. The roads have gone from motorbike friendly, yesterday, to an all-out 4-wheel drive, blizzard-incarnate today. Once fully functioning automobiles have mired and gone asunder, the way they always do on bad roads, their fenders gashed, and their owners shaken. Grumpy old men mutter to themselves as they go unpack their snow blowers – again. The wintry tempest wages on despite, ever the heartless taxman. Welcome to April in Minnesota. And we do love it this way. Well, least wise some of us do.

I had to admire one individual in particular today, the stately lady cardinal out at the pit-side feeder. Here was a soul not about to give up her supper just because of a raging snow storm. I admired her spunk. Her tenacity to carry on. For that feeder was swinging in the wind, the snowflakes hurtling through the air, but she tucked herself into the lee of it, scant as it was, and dined on the savory seeds there as if it were just another day at office. Well done, Mama Cardinal. A true patron of pit. Speaking of which, we procured a tasty supper off the grill last night, just under the wire as it were, before the blizzard hit. So grab a hot brew, and a good blanket, and settle in some where soft, and we’ll tell you more about it.


It was different sort of day yesterday. Much different. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and a band of tweety birds that wouldn’t let up. They belted out their pre-programmed chorus’ with great exuberance, and utter charm. Spring was in the air, and so was the flirtatious melodies of the Cardinals, and Red Wing Black Birds. Of the Robins and even the ducks which waddled by the pit as the first plumes of smoke wafted into the air. They are residents around the pond-side pit, and often give me a visit whilst I’m manning the coals there. They need to check in on me, you see, to make certain that it is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. And it wasn’t. What it was, however, was chicken thighs. I get in a hankering for good BBQ chicken thighs from time to time. And it has been quite some time, it seems, since I’ve ingested any. Today was the day. The day we would make things right again.


Here’s how we did them up. Firstly, we hit the thighs liberally with some Sucklebusters Competition Rub. An excellent rub from a great company run by good people. The kind of rub where you can actually pronounce everything on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle. I like stuff like that. So we dusted over the thighs in this rub, and placed them skin side down over direct heat to start. This is your classic searing option, available at a pit keeper’s discretion. The idea is to crisp up that ever-flubbery skin-flap inherent to chicken thighs. To transform it from a rubbery monstrosity, to a well-crisped, flame-pampered delight. A minute or two over direct heat usually does the trick. If your chicken begins to resemble unlit charcoal, however, you’ve probably brought the technique too far down the rabbit hole.

After a suitable crisping session, and a slurp off your favorite beverage, it is time to escort the thighs to the cooler side of the pit, opposite the hot coals. Flip them over there, crispy-side up, and admire your work for a moment. Every painter fancies to step back from the easel at appropriate moments. So be it at the pit. Feel the heat bellow out of the old kettle grill, and how it merges hence with cool air aloft. Listen to how the meat sizzles in complete compliance on a hot cast iron grate. And note that for a moment at least, how your world is at once a simple place to be. Meat + Fire = Contented Man. Which explains, by and far, why we like to BBQ so much.

Anyways, next we tossed onto the bed of orange glowing coals, two small chunks of smoke wood. One of hickory, and the other being apple – just because. Then gently placed the old, enameled lid into position, with the top damper directly over the spoils. By the time another slurp of beverage was had, the draft had already engaged, and lovely, aromatic tendrils of wood smoke spiraled sloppily into a gorgeous blue sky. I had but to sit back in my BBQ man chair, and take in the day. In point of fact, I did. Legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, beverage in hand, it was sufficient pleasure to simply watch the smoke curl and the world twirl. Contented man indeed. For a while anyways, this was all I needed. I occasionally lit from my chair to varnish on some Honey BBQ Sauce, again from the good folks at Sucklebusters.  But that was the extent of  my pit-side ambition today. And it was wonderful.

After a half hour or so, or when the meat reached 165 internal, I plated up and took my plunder inside. As I slid shut the patio door, I paused momentarily, and glanced back out into the yard. There past the rising wood smoke, the Mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. I smiled as she darted up to the feeder, happy as a bird can be I reckon,  that I had finally left. I guess it was supper time for both of us, and she was ready to eat. Tomorrow would be no different. Just colder.  Amen.


Hickory Apple Smoked Honey BBQ Chicken thighs. Man! Talk about good grillin! Onslaught of slobbers and drool acceptable. It’s your keyboard.

42 responses

  1. Looks and sounds so yummy!

    April 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

    • Thanks Kate. Yeah I was in the mood for some good BBQ, and it hit the spot.

      Take care

      April 17, 2014 at 9:51 am

  2. The Chicken!!! Yes lord!!!

    April 17, 2014 at 9:56 am

  3. Garlic + Zest

    This is wonderful post, I really enjoy the imagery you conjure.  My husband is from Minnesota, though he migrated south some 12 years ago, but his family still remains there – frozen in the icy tundra.

    Scott is my grillmaster – how coincidental that we were making our version of chicken thighs at the same time you were!

    Keep on grilling’!



    April 17, 2014 at 10:19 am

  4. Liberty of Thinking

    Oh no, carrots! POTP are still there? Have you been abducted by Easter aliens and forced to have carrots? I’ll sacrifice what we needed to save you!

    April 17, 2014 at 10:51 am

    • Liberty of Thinking

      “whatever needed” – the sight of carrots tortures me…

      April 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

    • Well let it be said, the carrots were my bride’s idea. A true bbq man would of course nary harbor the thought. Gotta please the lady folk, you know.

      April 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

  5. Donald Smolik

    Never cease to make me want to smoke a bunch of meat! Nothing like good grillin to make you feel like a man.
    Keep em comin!

    April 17, 2014 at 12:58 pm

  6. That looks so yummy!

    April 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

  7. boomasbbq

    Great read! Nice

    April 17, 2014 at 5:13 pm

  8. My Lord I have never seen BBQing taken to this level. All I know is the finished product looks absolutely mouth-watering!

    April 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    • Aw man, you must not get out much. These are just basic bbq chicken thighs far as i know. But thanks regardless! We have kindred palates you and I.

      April 17, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      • Obviously you take for granted the little things you mention during BBQing I wouldn’t even think of.

        April 18, 2014 at 12:45 am

  9. Mother Nature, she sure is moody in the spring. Isn’t she? I smoked some legs last weekend to get some competition practice in before the season starts. Your thighs might look just a little better. Do you brine?

    April 17, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    • Didn’t brine these thighs. Too hungry to wait for it. We have brined in the past before tho, and are quickly becoming believers in the process. Might you have a worthy brine recipe you’d fancy to share?

      Thanks Bill!

      April 17, 2014 at 7:49 pm

  10. Excellent post as usual… I, for one, am excited for the next grilling season! Haven’t been out yet, but I’m dreaming… Check out my “Pork Fattie” post I made a while back… I think you missed it… My apologies if you are already familiar them 🙂

    April 17, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    • Thank you sir. Yes I did miss that post. Just checked out. Looks amazing. We’ll have to try that recipe for sure. Man that looked good. Nice job!

      April 17, 2014 at 7:44 pm

  11. Yummy yummy!!

    April 18, 2014 at 12:03 am

  12. I can not bear to think that you are in the grips of bad weather AGAIN! That kind of snow would mean that all the joy and hope which was just trying to emerge after such a desperately cold Winter would have to be suppressed until the next thaw.
    Maybe the men of Minnesota handle this like the troopers they are and just knuckle down and get down to the pit and light up the coals. Which is exactly what you did, of course.
    I bet those tasty chicken thighs brought with them a comfort and satisfaction which was priceless. What is it about that inexpensive cut that makes them so irresistibly flavoursome? There is an old saying in England…”The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat”. Well this was a sweet post, just like the chicken! Thank you.- Karen.

    April 18, 2014 at 2:00 am

    • Thank you, Karen. I agree with that old saying. Many folks would I think. There’s something about meat on the bone that just seems to taste better. Its true!

      Yes, two days ago, I had but one tiny patch of snow in the yard, about the size of a block of cheese. Today there is a 3 foot snowbank courtesy of the plows. And the tweety birds sit in the trees tweeting what the heck! I do have some Basel and thyme and a few other herbs growing on my kitchen window sill. If only but to grow a little hope in an otherwise eternal winter.

      Take care, and thanks again for chiming in!

      April 18, 2014 at 9:24 am

  13. Why, yes I do. It has worked well for us.

    1 gallon Water
    ¾ cup Kosher Salt
    ¾ cup Brown Sugar
    2 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
    2 Tbsp Chili Powder
    ¼ cup Orange Juice
    ⅛ cup Worcestershire Sauce

    Mix and bring to boil. Cool and place in frig overnight.

    April 18, 2014 at 6:14 am

  14. Debbie Spivey

    I’m tired of the “winds howling like Joshua’s trumpets”!! Chicken looks good though! 🙂

    April 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

    • I hear ya! I take it summer has not come to your mountain yet…

      Thanks Debbie!

      April 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

      • Debbie Spivey

        No it hasn’t. Last weekend was nice in the upper 70’s, then back to freezing this week.

        April 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

  15. FYI on the brine PotP, I only brine pieces for 2 hours or less, or the skin gets rubbery. Whole chickens get about 8 hours and a turkey gets overnight or longer. But, you probably knew that… 😉

    April 18, 2014 at 1:54 pm

  16. Aaaaaaaah yes … the thigh. My absolute fave. Staying hungry, thanks to you friend. 🙂

    April 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  17. And the Gale you speak of … geez, 23 degrees C one day … the next … 5 inches of friggin’ white stuff. Did I mention I’m done with the Winter of 2014??? I just don’t wanna play anymore.

    April 18, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    • I think most northern folk share your sentiment. It was cool and all, but golly, enough is enough. This is getting just plain cruel.

      April 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm

  18. laurie27wsmith

    Without the great recipes your blog is a delight to read for the descriptions alone. I’m feeling sorry for that cardinal freezing her tail feathers off in a blizzard. The thought od those chicken thighs kinda makes a fella feel delirious.

    April 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    • Shucks, many thanks Laurie. Like wise to you. I enjoy your photos as much as your writing. You live the life, sounds like.

      April 19, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      • laurie27wsmith

        You’re welcome guys. I do live the life, I think.

        April 19, 2014 at 8:46 pm

  19. Liz

    Did not realize carrots are a girl food 😉 Looking good and very excited that you (finally) have better weather for grilling. My groom spent the day outside at the smoker and I will admit to eating ribs off the bone seconds after he brought them in. And the ham (injector didn’t arrive in time, so we rubbed it with the rum glaze) is calling to me even now. Must be strong and wait. But it’s GORGEOUS–darker brown, shiny. Will take picture and hopefully put it out there somehow. Many thanks for your continued inspiration.

    April 19, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    • Sounds tasty , Liz. Too bad your injector never shows up , but it sounds like you recovered just fine. Looking forward to seeing some ham pics from you. Happy Easter, Liz!

      April 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  20. Hang in there my friend. I remember the April storms in MN were always the ones that dropped the most snow, but the snow melted relatively fast. Mary and I are in Ohio this week and our systems were shocked as we de-boarded the plane to icy wind blown snow – us in our shirt sleeves!

    We went shopping yesterday and I bought some bags of Hickory chips to supplement the steady diet of citrus smoke I have been using in Ecuador. After we get home next month I will send along a picture of North American hickory smoke flavoring Ecuadorian carne as I slather on spf-50 sunscreen while barbecuing on our patio.

    No matter the venue, smoke and meat is good. God Bless you and yours this Easter!

    April 20, 2014 at 7:31 am

    • Very cool. Hickory is a fine choice for your souvenir. Probably my most used smoke wood. Anyways, hope you guys are enjoying your stay in the states. Happy Easter John and Mary!

      April 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm

  21. I’m practically drooling. This looks DELICIOUS! 🙂

    April 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm

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