Mary Roach delves into the sense of taste in her book “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal,” where she describes how humans can identify five basic flavours but an endless number of aromas. She states that “olfaction accounts for 80% to 90% of the sensory experience of eating.”
That’s why the smokiness of grilled chicken legs blends so well with the scents of sunscreen and beach air, grass and beer in the summer. It’s the kind of smell that makes me think of church picnics and block parties, social events when you’re surrounded by your community rather than just your friends, coworkers, or even friends that you like.
Anyone who inhales that distinctive burnt chicken aroma will be taken back in time to happier days, making it well worth the effort to recreate. The easiest place to begin is with components that already have skin on them, such drumsticks or legs. The chicken’s fat renders and sizzles as it cooks, releasing a meaty cloud that satisfies an immediate, primitive desire.
The key is to ensure the meat is properly cooked and moist while softly charring the skin to a crackling dark brown. The chicken generates flames to lap around the grill as fat drops off. If the chunks are consumed by flames, the raw meat within will be chilly and the skin will be charred to an unpleasant ash.
Some people prevent it by cooking the chicken slowly over a portion of the grill where there are no embers or when the hob is turned off. There will be no recurrences if you use this strategy. However, this process also produces skin that is as pliable as an old rubber band and meat that is very lean.
Grilling chicken with the skin on produces the most flavorful and juicy meat when done over direct heat from coals or gas burners. Starting with a moderate heat allows the meat to cook all the way to the bone while also allowing the fat to gently melt, resulting in a skin that is both thin and somewhat crackly. The rawness of the meat may be lost uniformly and the fire can be kept under control if the grill is covered during cooking. Leave a part of the grill unlit and transfer any items that start to burn like candles to that area.
A little coating of oil helps the chicken skin crisp without burning. Chicken needs nothing more than salt and pepper since the fire adds its own flavour, but a simple soy glaze brushed on towards the end of cooking may provide sweetness, savoriness, and spice. (Chicken with a marinade is more likely to catch fire.) The glaze becomes caramelised on the skin and penetrates the meat as it cooks. Chicken that looks as wonderful as it smells thanks to a last coating of sauce after coming off the grill.