A smoky grill is a great way to add loads of flavor to food without added fat. But it comes with some risk.
The high and dry heat of this favorite backyard cooking method can suck the moisture (and flavor) from your dinner faster than you can say shoe leather.
This is especially true when cooking lower-in-fat meats such as boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pork or beef tenderloin, which have less flavor to begin with.
Marinades and flavored brines, which pump moisture into meats, can definitely help in the battle against dryness. But care still needs to be taken not to overcook.
An easier option is to go for a protein that's a bit less lean, such as boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which are flavorful, economical and cook quickly.
True, chicken thighs are somewhat fattier than the breasts — about 7 grams per 3-ounce cooked portion. But that fat brings extra flavor and moisture that chicken breasts lack.
That extra fat also means your recipe will be harder to mess up, even with fast, high-heat cooking. Unlike with chicken breasts, it's difficult to end up with flavorless, overcooked, dry chicken thighs.
For this recipe, chicken thighs get a double dose of intense flavor from a tangy, apple cider vinegar- and herb-based marinade, plus a blast of hardwood smoke on the grill.
By placing either a pierced foil packet of damp wood chips or a smoker box directly on the heat source, it's easy to use a gas grill to add a pleasant smoked flavor to foods. If you like, prepare this recipe on a charcoal fire and scatter the dampened wood chips directly on the coals.
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes (40 minutes active)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped shallot (about 2 medium)
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh tarragon
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 cup wood chips for smoking, such as apple, oak or hickory
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and salt. Stir in the shallots, parsley, tarragon and garlic. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate, in the refrigerator, for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in a bowl of water for at least 20 minutes.
Fold a 12-by-24-inch piece of heavy-duty foil in half to create a 12-by-12-inch double-thick piece. Drain the soaked wood chips thoroughly and transfer to the center of the foil. Create a packet by folding two ends of the foil over the wood chips and then folding the open ends to seal them. Using a skewer or the tip of a sharp knife, poke several holes in one side of the packet
Place the packet of soaked wood chips, pierced-side up, under the grill rack and on top of the burners of a gas grill. Light the grill and turn the heat to high. Close the lid and heat until the chips smell smoky and smoke begins to billow from under the lid, about 10 minutes (the packet may temporarily catch fire).
To oil the grill grates, oil a folded paper towel, hold it with tongs and rub it over the grates.
Transfer the chicken to the grill, allowing any excess marinade to drip back into the bowl. Discard the marinade. Grill the chicken, turning once, until cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Serve immediately or chill, covered in the refrigerator, and serve cold later.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 231 calories; 125 calories from fat; 14 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 95 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 23 g protein; 0 g fiber; 345 mg sodium.