When folks ask me what I think the best barbecue in Central Arkansas is, my immediate answer isn’t any of our sit-down restaurants — although we have some fine ones. No, the best barbecue I’ve had in Little Rock came at a tailgate party last year thrown by Kelly Gee, a man whose skills at the grill are only exceeded by his gifts with making terrible puns on Twitter. Kelly’s a Blytheville native who learned the art of grilling and smoking meat from his dad “at more cookouts than I can count.” He makes his home in North Little Rock these days, where his hog roasts have become something of a legend.
Kelly’s normal setup is the rather large smoker you see in the picture to the right, a beautiful custom-made cooking apparatus that he funded through a popular Kickstarter campaign. And while he generally uses his smoker to cook pork shoulders and ribs “slow and low,” the recipe he’s sharing with us today is geared toward the backyard grill — since not everybody can bum money off their friends to buy a monster smoker (full disclosure: I donated to the Kickstarter and would do so again). It’s grilling season, so if you’re getting ready to fire yours up, you could do worse than try out this recipe — but you probably won’t be able to do much better.
Hot Smoked Chicken Wings with Alabama White Sauce
Kelly says of the sauce: “I used to make fun of this type of sauce because, you know… Alabama. As it turns out, I happened upon it in Birmingham one day and decided to try it. I was immediately sold. I’ll most likely never say that about anything from Alabama ever again. Anyway, this is the recipe I’ve settled on.” We’ll let him slide on it, I suppose, since the man is such a Razorback fan that he won’t even use Tide to wash his clothes (or any other kind of soap, but that’s another article).
*1 – 4lb Bag of Frozen Party Wings (Thawed, Rinsed and Patted Dry)
*4-5 Small Wood Chunks (Soak at least an hour in water)
*3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
*3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
For the dry rub:
*2 Tablespoons Coarse Kosher Salt
*1 ½ Tablespoons Coarse Black Pepper
*2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
*2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
*2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
*2 Tablespoons Oregano Leaves
*1 Tablespoons Paprika
*1 Tablespoons Cayenne
*1 Teaspoon Dry Mustard
Optional: Wicker’s BBQ Marinade & Baste for basting. (I make my own but back in Blytheville we always just used Wicker’s. It is made in Hornersville, MO just north of the border and it is perfectly acceptable. It can be found in pretty much any Kroger store in Arkansas and it is great on burgers as well.)
*1 ½ Cups Duke’s Mayonnaise
*1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
*1 Tablespoons Coarse Black Pepper
*1 Tablespoon Coarse Ground Dijon Mustard
*1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
*1 Teaspoon White Sugar
*1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne
*2 Teaspoon Horseradish
*2 large garlic cloves finely minced
*1/4 Cup Water
Make it happen:
Take the sauce ingredients and whisk together well & refrigerate at least an hour.
Thoroughly mix your dry rub ingredients together and coat the wings with as much or as little as you think you can handle. I like my wings with some sting so I use it all. If you are one of those ‘extreme eaters’ who likes pain then feel free to double the Cayenne and Paprika.
Once coated in dry rub add the olive oil and gently mix around until the wings are lightly coated with oil, then do the same with the soy sauce. Set aside and start your coals. You want them to be shallow but cover the entire bottom of the grill. I use a small Weber Kettle Grill and I think either those or the PK Grills are the finest small grills on the market. Make sure the vents on the bottom are open at least halfway or a little more. This will allow air to pull your wood smoke up and over the meat. Vent the top vents ¾ of the way open.
Once your coals are mostly white and smoldering, add your wood chunks and close the lid for about 5 minutes to let the wood get going. I prefer a 3 to 1 mix of fruit or pecan wood to a heavier flavored wood like hickory or mesquite. Hickory and mesquite are very common in stores, but they really can overpower meat in a small grill. If you are using just hickory or mesquite alone then you only need 1 or 2 small chunks. However, fruit wood chunks in all varieties are easily found in most grocery or hardware stores these days. My favorite combination is cherry with a little mesquite.
Place the wings on the grill and cook with the lid closed. Cook times can vary quite a bit depending on the temperature of the grill, but typically you will cook them with the lid on for around 20-30 minutes. Turn them about every 5-7 minutes until they are done, basting at each turn and being careful of your wood flaring up when the lid is open. If it does just close the lid and let it die down then start again. Once the wings are done, let them rest a few minutes and then drizzle with a little Alabama White and enjoy!
Anybody out there that tries this one, let us know about it in the comments! And if you’ve got your own way of doing dry rub or sauce, we want to know about those, too — don’t keep all the secrets to yourself. Thanks again to Kelly Gee for taking time to write all this down, because this one’s a keeper.