8 & $20: Barbecue Chicken With a Finger Lakes White

Make a complete upstate New York meal with Cornell Chicken and Riesling

8 & $20: Barbecue Chicken With a Finger Lakes White
The natural sweetness of grilled peaches makes a refreshing complement to salty Cornell Chicken. (Christine Dalton)
Sep 8, 2015

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Ask 10 people to describe American barbecue. More likely than not, you’ll get 10 different responses. For a cuisine so ingrained in the fabric of our culture, a national consensus on the most authentic iteration of the cookout staple is impossible to come by.

For some, real barbecue lives in Texas. Others look to the Carolinas, both North and South, for slow-cooked pork inspiration. Kansas City natives love their burnt ends. And don’t get started with a Tennessean on the merits of Memphis-style ribs.

Leaving aside debates over cuts, cooking techniques, choice of wood, dry rubs and sauces, most people perceive barbecue as a uniquely Southern tradition. But I’d like to suggest that it’s time to give upstate New York barbecue a chance.

Unlike in the South, where pork and beef reign supreme, upstate New York barbecue means chicken, and more specifically, “Cornell Chicken.” In the 1950s, Cornell professor of poultry and food science Robert C. Baker developed the now widely used recipe in an attempt to encourage Americans to cook more chicken, a healthier and cheaper alternative to red meat. The simple barbecue sauce became an instant hit.

While newer than the traditions of the south, this upstate New York barbecue is no less a part of the local culture. Drive through Binghamton, Syracuse or any of the small towns dotting the shores of the Finger Lakes, and you’re destined to see “Chicken BBQ this Saturday!” in front of firehouses, community centers and more.

If you’re unable to make the trip to one of these roadside barbecue gatherings, Cornell Chicken can easily be made at home. The traditional recipe requires basting chicken in the sauce while it cooks over a grill. However, I prefer marinating the chicken beforehand to impart the maximum flavor and to keep the meat moist. And if you don’t have a house with a grill, you can still make it on the stove in a grill pan. (Would purists call it barbecue? No. But it’s still delicious.)

Preparation is straightforward—simply mix the sauce ingredients together and coat the pieces of skin-on chicken. I typically put the marinating chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator until I’m ready to grill. This can be done hours in advance, and the meat is easily transported in a cooler. With football season around the corner, there’s no better time to add this handy recipe to your tailgate rotation.

When I made this dish in late summer, I chose to throw some halved peaches on the grill. The sweet fruit was a wonderful contrast to the salty chicken, but a number of other fruits, vegetables or grains could also round out the meal. Grilled butternut squash would be a wonderful autumn alternative for a salty-sweet route, but if you serve the chicken with traditional sides—coleslaw, macaroni and cheese or baked beans—you’ll be sold on the versatility of this Yankee take on barbecue.

When I eat beef or pork barbecue, I usually gravitate toward a red wine, so I began my pairing exploration with a Merlot. Tasted on its own, the New World wine had silky, soft tannins and an abundance of fruit that I hoped would complement the peaches without overwhelming the flavor of the chicken. Unfortunately, the salty marinade clashed with the wine, turning it bitter and harsh. I went back to the drawing board.

This time, I decided to return my focus to the region where Cornell Chicken originated: the Finger Lakes. I chose two fresh whites, a Gewürztraminer and a semi-dry Riesling, assuming that the latter would be my favorite match, which it was. The touch of sweetness was a welcome accompaniment to the peaches and the natural acidity cut through the savory chicken skin. I was happily surprised, however, at the success of the Gewürztraminer. The spicy, floral wine brought out the freshness of the herbs in the marinade. Try either option for an authentic upstate New York meal.

Barbecue Chicken With Grilled Peaches

Pair with an off-dry Riesling, such as Anthony Road Riesling Finger Lakes Semi-Dry 2013 (85 points, $17).

For an alternative, try a Gewürztraminer, such as Glenora Gewürztraminer Finger Lakes 2013 (85 points, $15).

Adapted from “Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce” recipe by Robert C. Baker, Professor of Poultry Science and Food Science

Total time: 3 hours
Prep time: 15 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Approximate food cost: $25

  • 4 half chickens
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for peaches
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning, such as McCormick's Poultry Seasoning
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 peaches
  • Fresh herbs, for example sage and oregano (optional)

1. Mix oil, vinegar, poultry seasoning, egg, herbs, salt and pepper. Place chicken in a shallow pan or a resealable plastic bag and pour the sauce over the halves. Marinate at least 2 hours or longer in refrigerator.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Using tongs, place chicken pieces over grill. Turn every 6 to 8 minutes to prevent skin from burning. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, until skin is slightly charred and meat is cooked through.

3. While chicken is cooking, peel peaches, if desired. Halve the peaches and discard the pits. Brush with oil and place directly onto the grill. Grill to desired doneness.

4. Remove chicken and peaches from the grill and garnish with fresh sage and oregano. Serves 8.

Pairings White Wines Cooking United States New York Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer Riesling Recipes

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