In the midst of planning the cooking for the December Holidays*, I started plotting to barbecue a big bird for Krampus Eve. Last year, although we hosted the December 24 meal, the capon had to be transported up to us from the mother-in-law’s, because our little gas bottle oven isn’t big enough for a small chicken (or indeed a standard baking sheet), let alone a capon.
I’ve not had turkey for Holiday dinner since the early 90s. We generally have a capon – a cock which has been castrated. It’s my preferred option because it tastes like chicken (a good chicken). We’ve had goose two or three times, which was okay, but I don’t really like dark meat. At least one of those times I thought the goose was very lean beef because it has the appearance and texture of such. Anyway, my plan was to get a capon and barbecue it. In Britain, you have to order capon from specialist suppliers, whereas in France, land of food cruelty, you just find it in the supermarket.
So I looked up the brining technique that has become trendy recently, and decided on a dry (or wet) run. I got a 2.5 kg chicken, brined it overnight, and put it on the barbecue on Sunday morning. I was aided in this project by my new toy, the iGrill Mini.
The iGrill is a barbecue meat thermometer which consists of a base unit and a meat probe, connected with a heatproof lead. The base communicates via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which tracks the internal temperature of the meat and informs you when it has reached a pre-set level. The Mini is very small (above you can see it with the Apple logo on an old MacBook for comparison)
The first thing I wanted to do was convert from Fahrenheit which I don’t understand, to Celsius, which I do. I couldn’t see, in the app, how to achieve this, even though I think I followed all the steps required. I had to contact the technical support, who replied (quickly, considering it was the Thanksgiving weekend), and told me to do what I thought I’d already tried to do. In short, you have the probe connected, select your probe, then go into the More>>Settings bit of the app and switch the units. The reason I didn’t see this option the first time I looked, it turns out, is because the contents of the More tab change, depending on where you are in the app. Without selecting the probe first you see general settings (see left). Once you select the probe, you see probe-specific settings (see right).
You stick the meat probe into the thickest part of the breast or leg. In an oven, my 2.5 kilo chicken would have taken two and a half hours to cook, allowing 25 minutes per 500g plus 25 minutes. I didn’t want the barbecue too hot, so I set the burners to hold a steady 170° C, and put the chicken in one of those big foil roasting trays. I stuffed it with a couple of lemons, sprayed it with Lurpack and sprinkled on some seasoning, but the main seasoning was the brining process, which allows salt and water to penetrate the meat overnight.
My iGrill mini supports just the one probe. I’m not the sort to be barbecuing lots of different things at once, although of course if you were cooking four chicken breasts it would be nice to know when each was done. In practice, I’ll just stick the probe into the thickest and judge the rest from that. It’ll be great knowing when things are just done and not risk undercooking them or drying them out through overcooking. The other benefit is in keeping the lid of the barbecue down and not losing heat to the air every time you lift it to check on progress. Trust in the probe. For those who do want more probes, the bigger and badder iGrill 2 will support up to 4 colour-coded probes, which can be individually monitored through the app. So if you’re roasting a gammon, cooking a salmon steak and grilling chicken breast at the same time, you can monitor all of it
The Bluetooth connection was easy and reliable. It worked from within the house and seemed to be very accurate. My one complaint is that I have so many Bluetooth devices now that I’m crying out for a second Bluetooth radio so I can connect to two things at once.
The temperature of the meat slowly climbed from its base of about 60°F to the ‘cooked’ temperature of 165°F. I say ‘slowly’. I think the first forty degrees was slow, but after that, progress was rapid. The graph shows a dotted line between activations of the probe. You can just about see the beginning of my chicken cooking left (temperature still in °F at that point). I put the chicken on at about 8:40 am, thinking it might take around 3 hours. In the event, it took somewhat less than two hours. I was skeptical and sampled the temperature in different places and with another meat thermometer (just a basic one with a probe and an LCD display). Considering the barbecue wasn’t tremendously hot, and that it was a cold day, I was surprised – but of course the 25 minutes per 500g plus 25 minute rule is a kind of belt and braces food safety thing. With a thermometer, you know when the meat is actually cooked rather than having to play it safe, and in this case, it was well and truly done after less than two hours.
I covered it in foil and left it to rest. This would have been for a couple of hours on a normal day, but the rest of the family were out shopping, so the time stretched. The chicken was still warm when we finally got around to eating it 2-3 hours later. The flavour was good. This was a cheap Tesco chicken as opposed to the capon I’m hoping to cook on December 24, but the verdict is: this technique works, and will free up the oven to warm hors d’oeuvres, roast potatoes, and suchlike.
What difference does brining make? It means that the seasoning (salting) of a chicken is more than just skin deep. I think the flavour of all the meat was good, and it tasted especially good cold. It also theoretically keeps the meat more moist. That said, using the iGrill meant that the chicken spent no longer on the grill than it needed, so it didn’t get a chance to get too dry. I’m in two minds about what to cook for the holidays, though. I actually prefer the option of two medium-sized birds, which gives you four breasts, four legs etc. But I’ve only got the iGrill mini, so I can only monitor one bird at a time in real time.
I’m very pleased with the iGrill. It was easy to use, very little faffing, and now I’ve got it set to Celsius I’m perfectly content. Recommended!
*I have decided to call the winter festival season ‘the holidays’ in keeping with my policy to, wherever possible, use language which enrages Tories and the Ukips. Give ‘em twenty five millimetres and they take 1.6 kilometres. For similar reasons, metric weights and measures, unless I forget.