Fall off the bone chicken
May 7, 2007 6:43 PM   Subscribe

How can I make fall-off-the-bone chicken?

A local BBQ place has great fall-off-the-bone chicken thighs with a dry rub applied. I can't for the life of me replicate the consistency of the chicken. I've tried cooking at very high heat, I've tried slow-roasting at low heat. I get good, moist chicken, but not the kind of chicken that pulls off of the bone in big pieces and leaves you with a clean bone afterwards. This is really vexing me! Unfortunately I don't have a grill. Is it possible to replicate this in the oven?
posted by proj to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe an oven roasting bag, would prevent all the juices from evaporating?

Note: This is purely speculation, and comes from someone who just had PBJ and pop-tarts for dinner, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:57 PM on May 7, 2007

We often do a whole chicken in the crockpot, and it always ends up falling off the bone. It's really easy (just put some veggies in with it, some seasonings), and set it to cook all day. But it does take cooking ALL day (about 8 hrs)
posted by selfmedicating at 7:00 PM on May 7, 2007

I had a covered clay casserole from pampered chef that would cook the chicken like that.

I'm not affilated anyway with pampered chef. Any clay type covered dish would work.
posted by JujuB at 7:02 PM on May 7, 2007

Most likely the restaurant your trying to copy has a rotisserie which will make a very similar chicken to what you are describing. I've seen good add-ons for outdoor grills but for inside I think you only option is something like this: Set it and Forget It!
posted by CaptMcalister at 7:03 PM on May 7, 2007

Crock pot, liquid a quarter way up the bird (I recommend chicken broth, for extra flavor) and about 8 hours on a low heat. You can replicate this in a stove with a tightly covered Dutch Oven and a 275 degree heat.
posted by headspace at 7:05 PM on May 7, 2007

Soak the chicken in a brine for half an hour to an hour first. Put your dry rub on. Do a 425 oven, put the chicken in and turn it down to 350. In the last half hour or so, put either some bacon or some cheesecloth soaked in shortening over the breast meat. Lovely.
posted by carmen at 7:08 PM on May 7, 2007 [7 favorites]

carmen has it.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:11 PM on May 7, 2007

Oh, but I think this is standalone thighs. In which case, carmen still has it, but it'll be much shorter cooking time and no breast meat. But I would consider basting the meat with butter/fat a couple times.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:14 PM on May 7, 2007

If this is a BBQ joint, they've probably got a smokehouse, and let the bird cook in there overnight. Approximating this with a regular oven may be a fool's errand, but you might try cooking at very low heat (200°F) for 4 hours.

As I understand it, part of the magic with a smokehouse is that the smoke chemically cooks the flesh, in addition to the heat cooking it. And of course, the smoke imbues it with a special flavor.
posted by adamrice at 7:27 PM on May 7, 2007

slow and low baby - if you cant get a proper smoker or even a charcoal grill because you are a smog choked apartment dweller, you can try an indoor smoker like emerils:

posted by fumbducker at 7:32 PM on May 7, 2007

My sweetie makes a oven version of beer-can chicken. He uses a dry rub on the outside and stands the whole thing up in a roasting pan. The constant internal basting from the beer makes an amazing, juicy, fall-off-the bones bird and the skin is still crispy.

He also slides flat pieces of red onion between the skin and the breast meat and tucks whole cloves of garlic into various punctures in the meat.

I don't know the exact recipe, but I may be able to bribe it out of him if you're interested. Email is my profile.
posted by lilywing13 at 7:57 PM on May 7, 2007

I make fall-off-the-bone chicken in a crockpot. Do you like crispy skin? Take your bird out after it's done in the crockpot, transfer to a baking dish, put it on the middle rack, and broil until crisp.
posted by boo_radley at 8:20 PM on May 7, 2007

The type of fall-off the bone chicken you're talking about is probably slow barbequed in a smoker. It's not the sort of thing you can do in an indoor kitchen without good ventilation.

That said:

1. Rub the chicken with a dry BBQ rub. Plenty of good recipes online. Let it sit in the rub in ziploc bags overnight.

2. Buy a stovetop smoker.

3. Bring the chicken up to room temperature and smoke it in the smoker.

4. Buy a cast iron pan, or a cast iron skillet pan.

5. Heat the cast iron pan until it is extraordinarily hot.

6. Sear the smoked chicken on the hot cast-iron pan. I would then finish the chicken with BBQ sauce and stick it in a 450 degree oven for about five minutes.

This will give you the tender, but not stewed meat that can really only happen with slow smoke and the crispy goodness of fire. Not the full-on real thing, but a rough approximation.
posted by kosem at 8:57 PM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: Yeah, it's the smoking that does it.

You can make a home smoker. I saw Alton Brown demonstrate the technique on the David Letterman show, using a small metal trash can (with a lid). He just had a hot plate with some wood chips in the bottom. A friend made a laaaaarge version using 2 trash cans connected together by tubing, using the heating element from something, I don't remember what now. Obviously in both cases you probably want to be doing this outdoors.

Smoking is a wonderful thing, not just for the taste of it, but for the tenderness of the meat. I'll leave it to you to read up on the actual process, just wanted to note that if you are just going to do it occaisonally you can do it cheaply at home.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:42 PM on May 7, 2007

You're not cooking the thighs long enough. If you cook them long enough, in a moist (covered) environment, they'll fall apart. Just stop before then. Check for tenderness every 30 minutes.

You do it right once, you'll get the hang of it.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:13 PM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: here is my secret weapon recipe for chicken-falling-off-the-chicken, as transcribed for my bro. I *think* it makes sense to mere mortals.

pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

take one chicken. kill, pluck and wash chicken.

take PLAIN flour (don't use self raising.)

make big mountain on bench with said plain flour. i make it so the apex is about the same height as my hands off the bench. but you probably have bigger hands than me.

make a little mound in top of flour mountain and pour in small amount of water/oil. i usually use water because i can. the addition of a few mixed herbs or garlic salt can be interesting at this point but it's not really necessary.

mix your bread-water-plus possibly-oil-and-herbs mountain into a squishy dough. then roll it out like a pizza, not too thin but not too thick.

place your chicken on top of rolled out mountain pizza.
cover chicken in fresh herbs— i suggest garlic or coriander or lemon pepper or basically anything you like.

pick up the edges of mountain pizza and envelop the chicken in it entirely, with no air holes.you may need to make up a bit more mountain dough as spak-filler, but if you've rolled it out big enough you should be right.

place a few pieces of baking paper/tin foil/newspaper on the bottom of baking dish. put chicken wrapped in mountain pizza on baking dish and insert into oven.

leave in oven for approximately 2-2.5 hours. maybe 3. depends on your oven. basically, the mountain pizza should be nice and brown but not burned. and the chicken should fall off the chicken. hence the name.

it's good. it's especially good for picnics cos the bread keeps it
warm until you crack it open, and also because it is chicken and bread at the same time! awesome.
posted by indienial at 10:13 PM on May 7, 2007 [9 favorites]

Indeed, it's the smoking that does it. It's very, very hard to replicate that truly tender texture in chicken thighs by roasting, now matter how you do it. Smoking is a long, slow moist cooking process. It dissolves the collagen in the meat and gives it that fall off the bone texture. Slow roasted meat is essentially way, way overcooked meat, but it stays juicy and soft because of all that dissolved collagen. That's why its such a great method for cooking other tough cuts of meat like pork shoulders and ribs.

Without a smoker, your best bet for low, slow, and moist is to braise. Most recipes for things like baby back ribs intended for the home who doesn't have a smoker involve a braise followed by a brief grill or broil to coat with barbecue sauce.

Braising happens to be my very favorite way of cooking chicken thighs and legs and I've got probably 50 different variations. Essentially, you season and brown the meat, they add a flavorful liquid that comes about half way up the sides. Put on a tight fitting lid and turn the heat way, way down (you can also do this in an about 325 degree oven). After 45 minutes to an hour, the thighs will be literally falling apart tender and super flavorful. This long, slow, moist cooking process is essentially what a crockpot does.

To replicate what you're getting at the barbecue place, I'd probably season the meat with a dry rub and braise in a mixture of chicken broth, beer, and barbecue sauce. Maybe add some Spanish smoked paprika to add a hint of that rich, smoked flavor. If you want to, after the chicken is done, you could take the lid off the pot, crank up the heat, and reduce the braising liquid down to a thick glaze to coat the meat with.

Honestly, nothing will ever be as perfect as meat subjected to a long spell over smoldering hardwood (I'm a barbecue fanatic myself), but if it's that super tender texture you're after, the braising will do it.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:23 PM on May 7, 2007

My understanding is that it's not the smoke per se but the low heat and long cooking time that are responsible for the moist, tender meat you're getting at the BBQ joint. The smoke, if I understand right, contributes flavor but not texture. If it's the texture you're after, I'd experiment with low oven temperatures the way others are suggesting.

I tried a chicken recipe once — I don't have it here, sorry — that involved starting with a 450° oven and turning it down 25° every X minutes. The high initial temperature crisped the skin and renders out the fat, the low later temperatures helped the collagen dissolve, and when it was done it was difficult to carve the chicken because its skeleton was falling apart at the joints — that's how fall-off-the-bone it was. What I don't remember is the value of X — the number of minutes to wait between turning the heat down each time. Anyone?
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:49 AM on May 8, 2007

I don't think you need a smoker or special equipment to get tender chicken.

I have very good success with butterflying the chicken.
* Preheat the oven to 475 F
* Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the backbone out of the chicken. Set it aside to use for stock.
* Trim the chicken's interior and underside of dangly, ragged stuff.
* Turn the chicken right side up, and smash it in the middle of the chest to crack the breast bone. This makes sure it lies flat.
* Work your favorite herbs and seasonings under the skin. At minimum, do the whole lot with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
* Salt and pepper the top
* Tuck the thighs over the top. You can cut slits in the skin and tuck them under to hold in place.
* Pop it into the hot oven and reduce the heat setting to 450. Cook until browned all over and the thigh joints wiggle freely. About 30 minutes, but I'm typing this from memory, so my timing could be wrong.

Moving the thighs and wings to the top of the pan does good stuff. You get crispy skin, and evenly cooked breasts and dark meat. And the dark meat should be sliding off the bone.
posted by nita at 8:25 AM on May 8, 2007

Also, beware the Alton Brown cardboard box smoker. The fish I smoked in it took forever and ended up tasting more like smoked cardboard than smoked hardwood.

Electric smokers are cheap (60 bucks or so) and easy to use!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:28 AM on May 8, 2007

First of all, consider buying a grill. You can get a throwaway grill at some supermarkets for $20 or $30 dollars. If I were to try and get grill type fall off the bone chicken in an oven I would use a broiler first for about 15 minutes then switch to a low oven setting, or possible a slow cooker (i.e. crockpot).
posted by xammerboy at 9:25 AM on May 8, 2007

Use a brine. The high fat content in most barbecued meat keeps it moist, but since chicken doesn't have that high fat content, cooking for extended periods of time (which is required when using that low-heat method) will dry out chicken. There are a few good brines listed at The BBQ FAQ (under the chicken section 10.3; I like Don's Poultry Brine), that work well even if you are baking in an oven. I usually brine boneless/skinless breasts for an hour before smoking them, so you'd want to go at least an hour with a whole bird, probably more than that.

And don't let the chicken sit out until it gets to room temp; that's ok with some meats, but not chicken. If it's whole I'd leave it out for a half hour tops, you can't be too careful with chicken.
posted by scottymacten at 9:48 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

These answers are all wrong, or at least too complicated.

Dark meat chicken (the legs) will always fall off the bone if you cook it long enough. That's all there is to it. Low temperature, high temperature, whatever. Just cook it long enough at that particular temperature. The nice thing about dark meat is that it's fatty enough that you don't need to worry about drying it out before it gets sufficiently tender (as is the case with the white meat).

Personally, I like tossing chicken legs (or just drumsticks/thighs) with olive oil, salt, sugar, and some Goya Sazon, and roasting at 450 F for 40-50 minutes.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2007

to redeem Alton Brown (and I totally dig his approach, he's redeemable), try using his terracotta method of roasting chicken. He uses a large unglazed terracotta pot and dish to roast chickens that are so juicy and good.

I think the technique is in I'm just here for the food 2.0 (I'm at work, so it's not like I have the book at my fingertips). Most local libraries seem to have a copy.

The idea is that you preheat the oven with the dish and pot inside. The you put the chicken on the terracotta dish/plate/under-planter-thingy-that-keeps-the-water-from-running-into-your-carpet and cover with the pot. The terracotta heats up and provides wonderful even heat, and keeps in the juices. And terracotta planters from your local garden store are a whole lot cheaper than buying leFakeFrenchChef terracotta cookware.

I seen to recall that he recommends a dish diameter of at least 10" and a pot that will just fit onto the dish.

Obviously, please don't use a glazed pot, cuz you might die, and that would be bad. Killing yourself in kitchen related activity in general is not so good, so please use common sense. /channeling mom
posted by yggdrasil at 11:42 AM on May 8, 2007

Bear in mind that if the chicken from your local BBQ place truly leaves a clean bone when you pull the meat off, chances are they're using frozen chicken.

Anyway, how big are these chickens? Fryer-sized? Roaster-sized? The age and size of the bird is a factor. Next time you visit the place, ask the manager what kind of chicken they use. Pretend you're worried about melamine.

(I prefer to use old stewing hens--what my market labels "fowl"--for chicken soup, and they do result in big pieces of meat and clean bones. [Also, absolutely delicious soup.] And older chickens work very well for slow, wet roasting. However, I'm disinclined to think their use is commercially viable for a restaurant. But ask--you never know.)
posted by MollyNYC at 8:15 AM on May 9, 2007

I am not a great cook, but I made the Zuni Roast Chicken from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook for the first time a couple weeks ago and it was a revelation. Crisp skin, moist succulent meat, and it fell off the bone like you described. You can find the recipe online here, but the trick is to use a smaller chicken (about 3 lbs) and to salt and/or season the chicken at least 24 hours in advance, leaving it loosely covered in the fridge.
posted by AceRock at 9:03 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bear in mind that if the chicken from your local BBQ place truly leaves a clean bone when you pull the meat off, chances are they're using frozen chicken.

Can you elaborate on this? As I already said, cook any meat long enough and it will fall off of the bone. For BBQ ribs, this is generally considered "overcooked."
posted by rxrfrx at 10:42 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: So many conflicting ideas! I'll try a few of these out and post them back in this thread if it stays open long enough. Thanks everyone for your help!
posted by proj at 4:29 PM on May 9, 2007

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